portable art historian

In my first year at uni all my lectures were recorded except for my art history lectures. The whole department never recorded their lectures, it was as if the Architecture, Landscape and Visual Arts department were technophobic (one architecture lecturer still used ye olde slide carousel). Now my art history lecturer, who was always amazing and I took units just so I could have him, said that the reason he didn’t want the lectures to be recorded was that he didn’t want us sitting on the bus with his voice in our ear telling us what to think. On the one hand I understood that it was important for us to develop our own point of view and understanding of art, on the other hand I wanted to be a lazy student and sleep in instead of going to lectures.

I only think of this now, 5 years after I first had those lectures, because when I’ve been going to special exhibitions in many galleries and museums around London I seem to be one of few people who don’t have an audio guide. I understand that a lot of people who visit these exhibitions are tourists so need a different language to understand the displays or are just interested in developing their personal knowledge about art. A lot of time and effort has been put into creating these exhibitions and so an audio guide can help enhance the experience and give people everything they can get out of the art. But I personally never take one. I don’t think I ever have and I probably never will. I just want to see the art for what it is and make my own conclusions about it. If a particular work interests me I’ll go home and research how it was made or its meaning in my own time. Standing in the gallery, in front of it, I want to just see it through my own eyes and enjoy the experience in the moment.

This art related rant has been ignited because when I went to the Veronese exhibition at The National Gallery I experienced something I never had before. Every other visitor had an audio guide. This may be in part to the extremely pushy audio guide giver-outer (what would I call her?) who really tried to convince me I couldn’t enjoy the exhibition without it (“It’s really good, come back and get one!”). I found that I had enough information already in the extremely thick paper exhibition guide which gave the story of every single painting in the show, something I rarely see. Most exhibitions, such as at Tate, have the text that explains the whole room that is usually displayed on the wall in the handout so you don’t have to read it off the wall (16-22 pages). The Veronese hand out seemed excessive (70 pages!) but helpful as this commentary was not on the plaques next to each painting like it usually is in normal permanent displays.




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