How to steal from Art Galleries. A guide for creative minds looking at art.
I once received a great piece of advice from friend and photographer Simon Harsent a few years back. It happens that the advice first came from Simon’s father - David Harsent who happens to be a poet and TV scriptwriter, recently awarded the 2015 T.S. Eliot Prize for poetry - which I must admit makes his words of advice all the more profound to me.
Several years ago Simon and I were walking through MoMA in New York breathing in the inspiration that hung on the walls. In fact, I was switching between jealousy, envy, frustration, anger, love - all the way through to inspiration. See, as someone who works in the visual arts, it’s hard to just accept and not judge an exhibition. I am trained to constantly critique and direct ideas (my own and others) so to passively accept and enjoy, ironically, takes effort.
I expressed this to Simon and that is when he said, paraphrasing his father -
Three million people visit MoMA every year but only a few realize they can help themselves to the art. As creators ourselves we are the lucky few who can take the colors, take the compositions, the shapes, the ideas, the techniques and then later combine them however we want.
This opened my eyes to an obvious truth - that you can love something about a piece of art without loving the piece of art. You can love the line work but not the subject matter, love the colors but not shapes.
It’s been several years since that day and I have been like a cat burgler going from art opening to art opening slipping in and out without even being noticed - a sack full of colors and ideas slung over my shoulder.
You change, but the art stays the same.
A lot of people judge art with their couch - it’s often about if they would buy it or not, in other words would it match the color of their couch. It’s a sad way to consider an exhibition, more like shopping at IKEA. But, it’s the yard stick for a lot of people. And, that’s their right.
The truth is there is no objective way to say if a piece of art is good or not, and its dollar value? Well, that’s just a stock market which only needs one person willing to pay, to see it valued higher. That’s not objective, that subjectivity with money.
‘Art = the subject + the viewer’.
Maybe even more important is the fact that while the subject will stay the same, over time and experience the viewer will change and therefore so does the art.
When we walk through a gallery or museum or even click through the internet for inspiration it’s important to understand that ‘we’ are mirrored in our opinions of things.
Next time you are looking at a piece of art imagine a circle drawn around it (for illustrative purposes imagine it in the center of the room). Your opinion is somewhere on that circle and your own experiences, thoughts, moods and interests will move you around that circle, metaphorically that is. No position is more correct than any other.
As you look at the art remember that you are fully entitled to think that this piece is the greatest thing in the world or the most irrelevant. But, consider that if you were to re-visit it in later years you might have changed significantly, and by moving around that opinion circle, changing what makes it art. The combination of you and the piece, not just the piece.
In short, you are a reflection of the art you love and the art you hate - they are not separate. Art is a mirror of us in any given time and place.
The main point is that art is as much about the viewer as it is about the creator. So, let’s enjoy it all and try not to judge it, but rather accept it - take what you want and leave want you don’t.