Slowing down to look

This is a heads up on thought provoking article about how we Slowing down in a Museum from The New York Times. Make a cuppa and read the article as the key point Stephanie Rosenbloom makes is to slow down and spend time with a painting. I am suggesting you slow down, read the article and think about how we encounter artworks in a gallery.  Stephanie Rosenbloom suggests that 20 minutes in front of painting will reveal more meaning to the viewer than racing to see the top 10 pieces in a collection. I agree with her.

Much of contemporary life has become about collecting experiences and catching a selfie in front of not only famous works of art but in front of famous icons such as the Sydney harbour bridge or the Eiffel Tower, London Bridge, on the Great Wall of China etc. I have nothing against selfies as such, but I do wonder what does this experience mean? What is actually happening when people dash here and there, seeing this and that? What is this fetish with collecting experiences? The activity becomes similar to someone collecting stamps.

The process puzzles me. In the case of viewing a painting if people treat the gallery experience as if they are scanning text on a computer screen the quick fleeting impression they gather will be only be partial at best and shallow at worst.

Stephanie Rosenbloom article in The New York Times opens with an image of everyone taking photos of the Mona Lisa. The last time I stood in that room I know I spent my time watching people (because I could not really see the painting) and I felt many did not quite know why the painting was so famous. In the hall next door there are 4 paintings by Leonardo da Vinci that people just walk past. There is even a seat in front of them that you can sit and contemplate the works but tired tourists sit with their back to paintings, facing the door to the room that holds the Mona Lisa usually waiting for their spouse or fellow tour companions to exit that room after seeing the Mona Lisa. Who am I to tell someone to turn around and see the Leonardo da Vinci behind them but I was left wondering what people took away from their day at the Louvre.

Cycladic figure page spread

Cycladic figure sketched at the Louvre

I will happily plonk myself down in front of any of the works in the major galleries of the world as usually if something is in their collection it is worthy of being thought about. Even if I know little about the history or context of the work usually something will reveal itself if I just pay attention and actually look with my brain engaged.

I  pull out my sketchbook and take a note of the key elements in famous painting or no so famous. The note itself may not be very important, but what is important is the slowing down to make it, the slowing down to look. I like seeing the brush strokes and seeing how the painting was made or something about the composition might catch my eye so I sketch it out.

This is important in those big block buster exhibitions where people scoot through the rooms quickly. I use a sketchbook to pace myself because if I am in a crowd that is moving at certain pace, I find I will move with the flow too. It’s like I can easily become part of heard and whisked through the exhibit. So I pull out my sketchbook, stop and stubbornly take notes! I will note the colour scheme as it is an interesting combination and before I know it I have spent a good few minutes in front the painting and I have learnt something. This ‘something’ is a discovery I have made. It is not a snippet passed on by a guide which is useful to place a piece in context, but it something I have discovered and as such will texture my mental life and become something I reflect upon.

Egyptian sculpture in the British Museum in travel journalIf I want to slow down even further I will often sketch an object. This is particularly the case in a museum, as doing so makes me slow down and look at what I am seeing. As I draw I notice all sorts of little things about an object and quite simply I get much more out of the experience of seeing one thing well than twenty things quickly. I find this is really important when travelling as often my senses are on overload and slowing down allows me to focus on key elements of the experience.

OK here is my confession. I have just said that often it appears to me that people in galleries are collecting experiences like they collect stamps yet I love books like 1001 paintings you must see before you die, or 1001 books you must read before you die. What is that contradiction about? I think some of it is that I like to secretly disagree with what is recommended. I am worse with lists of books to read than paintings to see, as I am a real sucker for a good list! In the case of book lists I love being exposed to things I may have not sought out. So there is my contradiction, I like lists but insist on slowing down and not following the crowd.

What are your thoughts? How do you approach a gallery visit?

Thanks to Danny Gregory for the link to the thought provoking  article.

More Drawing in the British Museum

I have 2 page spreads of my travel journal to share as I did some more drawings at the British Museum.  Jerry wanted to see the London to Brighton veteran car rally and I didn’t. So he hired a car and followed the rally while I toddled off to the museum to draw. We both had blissful days. No doubt he will share some (not so boring) photos of cars soon.

Egyptian sculpture in the British MuseumClick on the image to see a larger version.

This statue with the head of a lioness is Sekhmet, who is an ancient Egyptian goddess associated with destruction. Her name means ‘she who is powerful’. It comes from Thebes and is dated around 1350 BC, making it over 3,000 years old. You can read more about the sculpture on the British Museum website

Here is the page spread in my travel journal.

Egyptian sculpture in the British Museum in travel journal

The next drawing was done the following day in Room 1 which contains an exhibition about the Age of Enlightenment a time where collections, classification and observation of the world enabled people to understand the world in new ways. In one of the cabinets a small figure attracted me.  It was a few inches high and described as a figurine.

Egyptian sculpture in the British MuseumClick on the image to see a larger version.

Egyptian sculpture in the British Museum in travel journalOn this page spread of my travel journal I have edged the pages with strips of a map. It was a free map of the bus routes and I simple cut it up and glued it to the pages. I also had a postage stamp left over after writing postcards – so I added it to the page.

These drawings also fill the EDM drawing challenge 38 “Draw at a Museum”

For more information about this drawing challenge look under the tab at the top of the screen titled EDM Drawing Challenge. The  challenge also has  a yahoo group, a flickr group and Facebook page.


Turner was there – or close by…

Visiting the Salisbury and South Wiltshire Museum just adjacent to Salisbury Cathedral (review in a later post) we saw a lovely view of the cathedral painted by JWM Turner around 1828-29 – so it just predates the John Constable views. But this was special as it was a view from Old Sarum – the ancient hill fort just to the north of Salisbury. Naturally we had to set off to see if we could find it 🙂

Old Sarum is actually a fascinating place – used and re-used over the centuries, it began around 400BC as a late Iron Age hill fort, though some evidence points to possibly early Roman period, and later – following the Norman defeat of Harold in 1066 – the Normans built a castle on top to command the local countryside.

Turner’s watercolour painting appears to have been painted from one of the low ridges around the outer ditch earthworks of the ancient site. We climbed to the top and I took a couple of photos from the embankment above where Turner was painting – I think we came fairly close to his spot, and anyhow it was a fun quest to see if we could find the view, and see what it looks like today.

You can be the judge of how close we came. Here is Turner’s version:

A Distant View of Salisbury Cathedral form Old Sarum by JWM Turner - source: Salisbury and South Wiltshire Museum
A Distant View of Salisbury Cathedral from Old Sarum by JWM Turner – source: Salisbury and South Wiltshire Museum

And here is my version:

A view of Salisbury Cathedral form Old Sarum

A view of Salisbury Cathedral from Old Sarum

Old Sarum is well worth a visit – it is a fascinating place with around 5000 years of history. But first, don’t forget to visit the Salisbury and South Wiltshire Museum – they have some great artworks and artefacts – many from nearby Stonehenge and from Old Sarum.

As you might guess from this – photo quests and challenges are a fun way to begin really looking at a place 🙂


Sketching at the Musée de Cluny

The Musée de Cluny houses a collection of medieval arts and crafts. The Hôtel de Cluny it self is an interesting building as it is an example of French domestic medieval architecture. You enter the museum through a cobblestone courtyard which immediately triggered my imagination.

Cluny Museum drawingIt has a particularly interesting collection of sculptures some of which relate to Notre-Dame. One series holds interesting history as originally they had decorated the cathedral but were vandalised by revolutionaries in 1793. After being cast aside they were purchased by a builder and he re-cycled them using them to shore up the foundations of a private mansion he was building. They were rediscovered in 1977 enabling historians to understand a lot more about sculpture of the period.

These had such an interesting history I decided to draw one of them. The piece I chose is a sort of triangular formation which proved quite a challenge! Click on the image above and you can see a larger version. This also fills EDM drawing challenge 38 “Draw at a Museum”

This is what the page spread looked like when I wrote in it later that evening.

Cluny Museum page spread I included our 2 entry tickets which illustrate items in the museum and map given to visitors.

Cluny Museum page spread

Cluny Museum page spread The Musée de Cluny owns a famous series of tapestries called The Lady and the Unicorn tapestries. They are highly acclaimed and many people visit just to see these. They are however undergoing cleaning and restoration before travelling to Japan to be exhibited there. I was aware of this as the information is on their website, so was not disappointed.

There is a lot to see for a ‘small’ museum such as 12th- and 13th-century crosses, some fantastic illuminated manuscripts, and loads of carvings.

A highlight for me was the fan-vaulted medieval chapel and downstairs are the ruins of Roman baths. It was a great afternoon and since it is a ‘small’ museum there were no lines and no crowds.

Here a snap taken by Jerry of me drawing.

drawing


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