Tuesday, March 15, 2011

We Know What We Like, and it's Not Modern Art!


While visitors to the Tate Britain spent fewer than 5 seconds examining works of Modern Art, several
museum-goers spent as long as 30 minutes regarding Sir John Everett Millais' Ophelia (above).

In the March 13th edition of the Daily Mail, author Philip Hensher writes about an experiment the British newspaper conducted at the Tate Britain.  Hensher was curious to see if visitors spent less time examining traditional works of art as compared to the more highly publicized pieces of Modern Art recently added to the museum's collection, so he set about monitoring viewers as they stood before certain key artworks and recording his observations.  The results, published in an article titled, "We Know What We Like, and it's Not Modern Art!  How Gallery Visitors Only Viewed  Work by Damien Hirst and Tracy Emin for Less than 5 Seconds," confirm what contemporary representational artists have said for years:  to interest museum-goers, these institutions need to rethink their bias against realist art.

To read Henshers full article, visit the Daily Mail's website.



Kevin Mizner said...

They had me with the title!

Karen said...

Yep, there defiantly needs to be a re-think with gallery owners, most people out there love realist paintings

Judy P. said...

Finally, a documented moment of clarity!

David said...

A little arrogant. If length of time spent with art were the true measure of the value, is that true for books, are poems the lowest form of literary art followed by short stories? Does this mean Warhol’s movie Sleep is more than twice as good as any 2 ½ hour movie? For some people it might be. Art is subjective after all. The tub got a longer looksee than Sargent's piece. What does that mean? It resonated with someone.

The author mentions the density of subject matter and storytelling being part of what is at play for views engaging the audience in a piece of work, which I think is a fair correlation to make… I don’t know why he wouldn’t conclude or suggest that modern art may not require sustained contemplation to get it. Some art isn't complicated and doesn't need to be. I think most of the stories of modern art are simple: color relationships that are evocative of a impression or mood, harmonies of shapes or patterns or even “this once living creature is now encased in resin.” I hate formlaic attempts to quantify who is better or what art is best. It's all subjective. Last I heard, the MOMA does pretty well for itself with visitor turnout.

David Gluck said...

I honestly think that there is an objective way to formulate an end to the age old debate of which is better; modern or representational art.
Every movement in art must choose 9 artists who best exemplify that particular genre of work. All of the artists, which should number in the hundreds, will be armed with a weapon which will be drawn at random out of a hat. When all the artists are armed, they will enter a giant arena and fight each other to the death. The last man standing will decide which art form will reign supreme.
I honestly don't know why no one has thought of this before. The only problem I see with this scenario is that us artists are inherently wimpy, so the battle could take a long long time.

innisart said...

@ David - Warhol's film isn't really a good example as a counter argument- Hensher already states at the beginning of the article that movies, plays, symphonies, etc., require a certain amount of time to experience (providing you just don't walk out before it is completed). The time spent viewing artworks in a museum, he explains, is up to the discretion of the museum-goer.

I think the time spent examining artwork in this study reflects the WILLINGNESS of the visitor to spend time with a work of art, not its complexity. For example, Millais' Ophelia, as a narrative, can be discerned in less than 5 seconds, yet people remained with the work longer.

And just because a lot of people visit MOMA doesn't necessarily make the work in it good or bad. As art critic Robert Hughes pointed out in "Art & Money," visitors fairly run through the MOMA just to say they'd been there (Check it off the list!).

If you want to play Devil's Advocate, I think the better point to make is that the experiment took place in the Tate Britain; assuming that visitors had a choice between Tate Britain and Tate Modern, those who chose the former did so because they were predisposed to liking traditional works, otherwise they would have visited the other location.

@ Mr. Gluck- I nominate you as a representative of the representationalists. Your weapon- a fish.

Fine Art Inside Out said...

My first trip to the MOMA involved quite a bit of time in front of various modern works anxiously trying to decipher what it was that made them "masterpieces". Perhaps this is the sort of thing that was going on at the Tate Britain by lovers of modernism.

David said...

I've walked out on films but your point is well taken innisart. : ) And I brought up the MOMA because it is the modern collection I am most familiar with and I am a fan of many movements in the history of art and don't see the need to put one above the other. It bothered me to turn data into something as binary as, "people like this art and don't like that art" so I apologize for my previous rant (and if I do it again.)

Now, who they put up against the representational artists... it may be too early to tell if it was a fair fight. Do Hirst and Rachel Whiteread have as much mind share among people as Sargent, Millais and Whilstler? I'd guess not. Will they ever? Maybe not. Perhaps the people who spent time in front Sargent, Millais and Whistler's work were more familiar with their names and felt a sense of cultural obligating to 'check them off a list' and spend more time with them. I liked the one woman's response to Hirst's dot painting, 'It just looks like wrapping paper to me. Pretty pattern though.' I agree, there's not a lot to it, I wouldn't have gotten much more from that painting than she did. But that's okay, and a point I probably failed to make. Some art I like because the design is succinct and poetic. Even if the wrapping paper doesn't float my boat, I wouldn't be so quick to dismiss it entirely. I think I would have found Whiteread's Tub pleasing to look at. The simplicity of shape, the weight. I probably would have touched it but I may not have spent much time admiring it. I also like it when there are layers of complexity in subject and technique. I'm sure I would have spent far more time with Sargent, Millaise and Whistler in that room because there were more layers to absorb. Again, all subjective (I would have quickly skipped over the Hogarth... and the wrapping paper.)

Even so, fashion moves and I think there are many interesting and varied steps in the history of art that do not need to be pit against one another for supreme ruler over other art movements. The Vienna Secessionists had a motto on their building: To every age its art, to the art its freedom. I think that's as good a motto for art as I've heard. Time is probably the best test of what will be judged as "good" or not. Let's revisit this in 100 years.

Johan Derycke said...

An interesting and in depth theory about art, and if modern art is actually art or not, can be found on the website of Stefan Beyst, a Belgian art critic and one of the few in Europe I know that isn't just accepting to agree with the current "standards" of what is considered art.

Too my knowledge he is one of the first (if not the first) critics in Belgium to have such a solid opinion about modern art, that differs from the "main stream".

Some of the so-called "greatest" contemporary artists like Tuymans, Delvoye, McCarthy and others are critiqued by him.

Personally, I'm hoping this man can set a trend. Hoping that other critics will realize what is going on and somthing or someone will make the European art world open the eyes in time.

Here's the link to Mr Beyst's website:

sara star said...

I think that the time spent with a work of art does say something. I wonder if they would repeat the study looking at how long people look at major pieces in the TATE Modern. It might be more telling as people who prefer modern art would be there.

However, even if you prefer modern art, it is rather opaque. And if there are more layers, you have to be educated on modern art to get them. I find it interesting that the rather abstract Nocturne piece did get rather long views, because it hasn't a lot of content to absorb.

Johan Derycke said...

sara star, that is what is so typical for modern art, one always needs an explanation to be able to understand what the art is about, while the narrative AND visual qualities of classical paintings and sculpturesn, which make these attractive and interesting to the viewer, usually have a much lower threshold.

Since Tate Britain and other National Musea are so flooded with modern art, while one can hardly find contemporary paintings that meet the qualities of the classic masterpieces of the past, it says something about the influence the people behind the curtains (investors and lobbyists). I wish exhibitions would stop wanting to put Jan Fabre next to Rubens, as they did in the Antwerp Royal Museum of Fine Arts a few years ago, while talking about balance and how well we've evolved... Nothing is more disturbing than to hear some woman scream in your ear constantly while trying to enjoy The Adoration Of The Magi.

Jason de Graaf said...

Does one detract from the other? What is the point of all this? To abolish modern art and have homogeny in museums?

innisart said...

@ Jason - I don't think Modern Art should be ripped from the museums (though it would take me a while to notice- I've learned to avoid Modern Wings). There seems to be a bias at museums under their current administrations against representational art. So while there are contemporary artists painting realistically, theirs is not the work being purchased and shown in museums whose stated missions are to promote contemporary work (contemporary with a little "c").

I don't know what your experience has been. You create beautiful, detailed paintings, and though at times your compositions can verge on the abstract, there is no doubt that your work is highly realistic. I would hate to think a museum would overlook your work because it was considered derivative, just because it looked like something in the real world.

I think the point that should be taken from the article is that "shock art" is losing popularity among viewers (perhaps not collectors), and the museums which need revenue should consider adding contemporary realist works to their collections.

@ Sara - As Johan said, I too don't like the idea that people need to be taught to understand Modern Art. If there was a common language, even just within a particular -ism, then I could agree. If it was a code that needed to be deciphered, but the same rules for decoding the works was employed, it would at least have a language. But it seems to me that each single work needs to be read differently, and each viewer, even when "educated in Modern Art" walks away with a different interpretation. Most would say "that's okay," but for someone to say they can teach you to understand Modern Art, sounds more like they are going to impose their interpretations on you. So instead of a language, Modern Art seems to composed of millions of works all speaking in tongues, and, unlike at Pentecost, the translation is not universal.

Adam Reeder said...

The arts do not all correlate so nicely. Your comment about literature and art has no strength. Think of this, if modernism were like fine dinning, and the waiter brought you an empty plate and called in minimal, you would want money back.
So you see, each art must only be compared to itself. Art is a visual language. Sooner or later, people were bound to gravitate back to a visual language they can read. A visual language using symbols they recognize. These things give solidarity, they provide knowledge, tell stories, and human beings will always know what they are talking about.
I love modernism, but it is in the past now, and in 1000 years, people might not know what Miro is trying to say, but they will always relate to a Rodin sculpture.

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