02 August 2012


We went to the museum today, Seattle Art Museum, or Sam, as I was told to call it. I realised, upon stepping inside, into a vast grey hall with cars dangling from the ceiling, that something in my internal rhythm had just changed: my pace was slowing down, the humming in my ears was fading. This might have to do with the quality of the insulation used in the building process, but, as much as I appreciate a good soundproofing job, it doesn't instantly give my senses crispness, or my mind focus, and it doesn't make me feel at home even though I am about 5000 miles away from it. This may sound entirely too "esoteric" (incidentally, my "cousin-in-law's" favourite insult directed at everything that diverges from the math-o-logical course of his mind) to some of you, but I trace the source of this feeling, as well as its unshakeable connection with museums, back to my four years of living in Germany.
Indeed, the people I was connected to at that time, romantically or platonically, fuelled my, until then relatively aimless, love for art with their own drivenness to learn and experience, and we ended up visiting museums like other people go to bars, and chasing expositions like people chase rockstars, and the idea of spending afternoons walking through a museum became natural. Whatever we learned about the artists and their work, we learned from reading up on them and just plain staring at them, because we all agreed museum guides were too loud and generally talked too much anyway. We were pretty full of ourselves, but this is what we chose to take seriously.
When I lost touch with those people and moved away, museums once again became something I saw from the outside: I moved to a part of England that has few museums, along with little of most everything else; the weather sucked, which was doubly harsh after spending four years of my life in the sunniest city in Germany, I knew hardly anyone, trips seemed draining and pointless.
And so I went back to my old lifestyle, nay stumbled back into it, ("Wanna go to the art museum?" "Um, ok.") and discovered something that shook me into the state of mind I'd been expecting since I've put my dissertation behind me. Not only have I not forgotten how to behave around art, how to handle it, so to speak, but I have become more apt at understanding it. Yes, there is a way of behaving around art, there is a way to take it in, and I'm not talking hippie pass the doobie kind of way. If I can allow myself to slip back into the "esoteric" side of comparisons for a minute, I'll probably have to compare my dive back into art museums to going to church, not that I know what I'm talking about but bear with me: if you've gotten into the culture that comes with going to church, you will be able to go to pretty much any church (of the same denomination I guess) and feel "at home"; you will know where to sit, how to adjust your voice, what most things are for, when to speak, when to be silent, and who the person reading from the big book on the podium is.
A similar thing has happened to me with museums, apparently most noticeably with modern art museums: I know how to look at a piece of art, I know how long it will take me before its atmosphere starts creeping up on me, and, most importantly perhaps, I know that it will happen. I remember feeling awkward around certain pieces, getting too caught up in how long other people would stare at it, roughly, and the noise and movement around me. Basically, I feel at home, and I don't feel awkward. I feel like I know my way around (even without ever having been there) because I know what I want to get at. And when I get there, I feel like I understand what I am given. This is pretty much the newly acquired "focus"I was talking about earlier; sounds don't interfere with my immersion in whatever I am looking at as much anymore, I don't care in what manner other people in the room enjoy the same works of art I am feeling drawn to, and I feel entitled to whatever it evokes in me. One thing hasn't really changed, however, and that's the loudness of museum guides. Man, are they loud. 

1 comment:

  1. Loved this. Luckily we have a lot of museums, though probably not comparable to those in the States, but it's still a joy to visit them, especially the contemporary art one.