Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Touch the Art; Or, Give Me Some Point of View

PhotobucketYou might know I work in an art gallery.

Unlike some of my colleagues and friends, I didn't grow up familiar with galleries. My parents weren't the type to bring me to those sorts of places, and somehow, I never had a class trip to an art institution.

I'm not sure where my awareness of art gallery etiquette comes from; it seems like I've "always known" how you're expected to behave in thesesuch surroundings.

So, this post is a request for some information. Enlighten me.

Is it common knowledge that you're not supposed to touch artwork in art galleries?

I would have thought so. I assumed so. But my day to day existence is peppered with the statement "Please don't touch the art", "Please step back from the art" and my current favourite, "Please don't pick at the art".

Now, for those of you who are tactile learners, or just perhaps really keen to pet artwork, I understand the appeal. Let me tell you, there's a few artworks with some great, thick impasto paint that are very difficult for me to resist.

But touching it? Don't people know you're not meant to?

Granted, there are no velvet ropes, no barriers, and in some cases, no glass to "protect" the pieces, and I have to admit, I like it that way. It's nice to walk around and not have your experience hampered by physical obstacles that shout "we don't trust you to have common sense!".

Buuuut... is it common sense?

You tell me! Please leave a comment. Tell me about your art gallery experiences, if it is indeed common knowledge that you don't touch artwork, and especially, give me your opinion on the topic!

17 comments:

Anonymous said...

I work at an art museum too. The director was telling us about another museum she worked at that didn't have anything protecting the art either. One day she found a half eaten candy bar sitting on one of the framed paintings.

I would think most people would realize that in traditional museums you're not supposed to touch. Some people don't understand that it's because touching can destroy the art, so they want to do it anyway. Some people are just jerks.

ChrisC said...

Well, I didn't have a normal upbringing in this regard -- I spent a lot of time in museums as a kid. But it seems to me that this ought to be common sense. I mean, everyone goes to some kind of museum on a school field trip when they're young, right? And you certainly learn there that you can't touch the art. I think people just don't have any manners! Or, perhaps, they don't associate the art they're looking at in a gallery with the art they've been taught not to touch, y'know? Like, because it's for sale and not in a museum gallery it's somehow less sacred?

Gynx said...

Well, as someone who has been exposed to art her whole life (art major parents and I also majored in art) I might not be the best to answer this, but I've always known not to touch the art. I am someone who really enjoys textures and touching things, so I do really enjoy when art pieces are supposed to be touched. Unless it says I can, though, I never ever touch art.

Jennifer said...

Yes, it's common sense. It's just that many people have a hard time remembering the things they do affect other people, whether by creating more work for someone (leaving trash in the gallery) or by damaging art. Not everyone remembers to think beyond their own experience of an object or place.

It's selfish and often self-defeating, but it's also a hard habit to break if you didn't grok the idea in elementary school.

Bonnie said...

I think it's common sense. If I touch this, then the oil from my fingers gets on it. What would happen if THOUSANDS of people touched it? For me, it's about wanting to make sure this beautiful thing stays around forever... or at least for as long as possible.

ekittie said...

I've never been to an art museum, but unless there's some kind of indication (sign, rope, glass, etc) I would never have known it wasn't ok to touch the art without being told.

Since I do know now, however, I wouldn't touch the art unless it was expressly permitted.

I don't think everyone "just knows" and I wouldn't call it common sense, really, but I guess it depends on how you define 'common sense'.
Again, unless there are signs and stuff up at the museum.

Laura Beutler said...

I once went to an art museum where there was an installation that involved several strands of thick black string hanging from the ceiling. My brain interpreted the strings as sides of a great sheet of glass which parted to form a door. I believe I gave the impression of a mime while attempting to walk through it. I was half-convinced I was about to break my nose on a glass pane. My brother, who was also with me, thought the string was an electrical cable, and, as he walked, brushed against it. Instantly, the security guard rushed at him and told him not to touch.

In this situation, I would say that in order for me or my brother to avoid touching the artwork, we would first have to recognize a piece as being...artwork. We both knew better than to reach out and touch a painting, a sculpture, and so forth, but two single strands of black string with no other identifying marks or attribution to an artist? We were confused. And also mortified, for obvious reasons (mime walk).

HeHa said...

I think it should be common sense. It should also be basic manners. I was raised that if something isn't yours then you don't touch it without asking first.

Chancy said...

I feel like as a kid I knew not to touch things that were framed...paintings, photographs, drawings, but with sculptures it wasn't as intuitive. Also these days some pieces are so tactile that it can be hard to believe that you aren't supposed to touch.

Nyssa said...

i didn't spend time in galleries when i was younger, it was something i did when i was pretty much a grown up, but i knew you didn't touch the framed works -- i think it comes up in cartoons and on kids shows. but with sculptures and other installation works, the lines can be a bit blurred, especially if you're not roped off from the art.

mind you, common sense isn't everyone's forte...!

meredith MC said...

I Know not to touch- I can;t remember when I learned it. Sometimes it takes a great effort though, as I am so drawn to my sense of touch. It's interesting to me that some people ( like my husband) aren't compelled to touch certain pieces of art. He doesn't have to stop himself from touching because it doesn't occur to him in the first place. I feel sometimes like I'm missing an important part of the experience, even as I understand, absolutely, why I must resist the desire/urge/compulsion to touch art.

Barbara said...

In Holland, most parents tell their children not to touch anything in shops and museums("look with the eyes, not with the hands")! Most people therefore would not dream of touching a painting, but I confess with some modern art installations it is difficult not to touch it. Maybe that's why over here so many people walk in a museum with their hands on their back ;)

Hilary said...

I guess I grew up going to a lot of museums, but I don't ever remember my parents having to yell at me about not touching art work...it seems to me it was just a common sense sort of thing. (Or maybe it's selective memory...and of course it could have been different with my rascaly brother. :)) For me this falls under the category of "What is this world coming to?!" I don't remember people being so rude in theatres fifteen years ago either. Not that I go to the opera/symphony/ballet all that often, but it seems whenever I do, there is at least one (but usually more) really irritating person checking his/her email or texting on a really bright and distracting smart phone or talking to his/her neighbor. Same thing at the movies. One time at the opera the gal in front of me was practically hacking up a lung onto the woman next to her and got really angry when she politely asked her to please cover her mouth when she coughed. Barefoot Rooster had a thoughtful post about this once that I wish I could find...I think she had gone to a lecture and was shocked by how many people were talking or using noisy devices. I know it's not *everyone*, but it seems like people these days are so unaware of how their actions affect others; they seem to think that art or performances are there for *their* amusement only, and they can do whatever they want with it, especially if they've purchased admission. In the case of the coughing woman, her argument was that she could do whatever she wanted in "HER" seat. It's so upsetting to me. Or maybe I'm just getting old.

alligator said...

I was lucky enough to visit lots of museums and galleries growing up and the idea that you DO NOT TOUCH was thoroughly ingrained from a young age. For me, if I see someone touch something in a gallery it is a similar feeling to see someone littering. Very hard not to say anything.

Unless there is an explicit invitation to touch something I won't and even then I feel a little naughty.

Christina said...

I agree wih a lot of the commenters before me. First of all I also got raised not to touch anything that didn't belong to me without asking for permission. And secondly I have been working in museums for quite some time and you'd be surprised about what people expect to get away with like phoning loudly, big hiking backpacks, children on their backs or even going in barefoot! Always on the premise that they don't "intent" bad things to happen and selfishly forgetting that there are other people and that they didn't buy the museum, just the visit. Btw there are usually Visitor's Guidelines next to the cashdesk in museums (often even shown as pictograms). One just has to bother reading them...

Laura Beutler said...

You're right about the need to clarify the difference between interactive and non-interactive art. Although in my case...I wonder if maybe the piece was fitted with a video camera in order to prepare for a later video installation made up of recordings of people responding to the dangling strings. They could have called it "String Theory" or some other clever thing.

Anonymous said...

The museums that my children have visited so far are ones where they ARE allowed to touch everything - family science museums, children's museums, the local art centre classes. The exhibits are interactive, some are even messy. Maybe there is a generation that was not taught the difference between children's museums and "adult" museums?