Saturday, August 30, 2008

The Art of Looking at Art

“The average time museum visitors spend looking at a work of art is roughly two seconds,” reports Sister Wendy Beckett.

Beckett, the South African born British art expert talks further on the art of looking at art:

Art cannot be fully experienced without our cooperation, and this involves, above all, our sacrifice of time. Sociologists, lurking inconspicuously with stopwatches, have discovered the average time museum visitors spend looking at a work of art: it is roughly two seconds. We walk all too casually through museums, passing objects that will yield up their meaning and exert their power only if they are seriously contemplated in solitude. Since this is a weighty demand, many of us perhaps must compromise: we do what we can in the imperfect condition of even the most perfect museum, then we buy a reproduction and take it home for prolonged and (more or less) distractionless contemplation.

If we do not have access to a museum, we can still experience reproductions—books, postcards, posters, television, film—in solitude, though the work lacks immediacy.

We must, therefore, make an imaginative leap (visualizing texture and dimension) if reproduction is our only possible access to art. Whatever the way in which we come into contact with art, the crux, as in all serious matters, is how much we want the experience. The encounter with art is precious, and so it costs us in terms of time, effort, and focus.

Source: ‘The Art of Looking at Art, Britannica.

Dr Geoff Pound

Image: Sister Wendy Beckett, standing in front of The Colossus by Francisco de Goya. From a BBC documentary (unknown title) broadcast on US public television station WLIW on 18 January 2006.