How I visit an art gallery

I love visiting art galleries.  I have no formal training in art. I suspect I know a lot less about techniques, media, style or even artists than most other people who enjoy visiting art galleries.

Sometimes someone tries to fill those large gaps in my knowledge  which can rather spoil things. Other times I am just free to visit the art.  Like a couple of weeks ago when we went to the Hepworth Gallery Wakefield, which I have already written about once here.  This is about my encounters with the art.

For me, art galleries are playgrounds. They give me permission to think anything I like, to build and dismantle ideas, to clamber around inside them, to swing off them, and see how the world looks from that vantage point.  I find this very freeing. Because I am more verbal (being a word nerd) than visual my responses to art are usually questions and statements.

I am not at all sure that this is the ‘right’ way to visit an art gallery.  But it is for me a very nice way. And as I have said before in this blog we need to create flexible spaces that allow for a diversity of experiences. So this is mine.

On this occasion, I recorded some of my visit  journey with my new mobile phone.

The Willow Walk by Richard Long at the Hepworth Wakefield

Being verbal, I read what the gallery had to say about this.

Not a lot to get excited about there. This is written for a different sort of visitor to me.

That’s what the Museum of Old and New Art  in Hobart , Tasmania call ‘artwank’ (I was so shocked! Being VERY English, I didn’t know whether to faint or giggle endlessly  – so I didn’t).

Meanwhile back at the Hepworth, I went back to the artwork.

Okay, so I can’t touch the willow. But what about the spaces between? Could I put my foot between the willows without touching them Can I stand in this art? Or is the space part of   what I must not touch? And can the artist claim a space like that?


Let’s look at something else.

Another piece by Richard Long.

Lots of interesting spaces in there.  I want to explore them.  But I mustn’t touch the rocks.

The artist has done something to the space; he has claimed it, enchanted, bewitched it so this is as close as I can go.  There is a boundary between my space and his space.

I really don’t like it.  I want to overstep the boundary. But Art stands rock-heavy waiting to see if I will really push against it. I don’t.

I lie down on the floor and stare at the spaces that I want to explore – if only the art wasn’t stopping me.

I am obsessive. In a small act of rebellion I decide my phone can explore so sent it on a small video journey into the heart of the spaces in the sculpture. (No, I don’t know why no one stopped me either.  Maybe because I was NOT TOUCHing. More likely because I am a woman of a certain age. Or because I was so very serious about looking at these spaces – a behaviour that would seem very odd in the street.)

So there I was with a large part of my headspace filled with the question about whether the space is part of the art and how the artist can make it so and walked straight into …

Katherine Hepworth sculpture Wakefield… Barbara Hepworth, and my answer.  The hole is the whole point.

A very satisfactory visit. And as original, or not, as I am.

I have been very involved over the last three or four years in the use of audience segmentation at cultural and heritage attractions. I have been particularly excited by the   Morris Hargreaves McIntyre, whose work has strongly influenced my own.  Working closely with first the National Trust and more recently with RSPB and, particularly, the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust has convinced me that this is a very useful tool in thinking about visitor provision.

Anyone who has attended any of my workshops where we discuss visitor segments should be able to recognise exactly which category I fit.  Maybe I fit it in an an odd and idiosyncratic way, but I still fit it. Maybe I am rather more confident in my use of the gallery space than most, but the process I went through will be familiar to other visitors, even if their imagination takes different flights of fancy.  What matters to me (an to others like me) is being able to explore and have my own relationship with the art.

And no, of course not all visitors are like me.  I didn’t see anyone else lying on the floor.  That makes this whole business of visitor experience and interpretation development not  only great fun but also endlessly fascinating. Our understanding of the visitor segments makes it more precise.

About susancrosstelltale

Great visits to heritage and natural sites do not happen by accident. This blog is about the work that make special sites great places to visit. I hope it will be useful to visitors and host alike. Find out more at me and my blog.
This entry was posted in Attractions, Culture, Good places to visit, Museums, Visit experience, Visitors, Writing and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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