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Opening to Art

Collective art created during training. Photograph by Alan Greensmith
Collective art project created during training. Photograph by Alan Goldsmith

Todays post comes from Delphine Douglas, class of 2018 and Art Center Multimedia Student Assistant.

Most Wednesday afternoons, the student docents of the Art Center gather for training. At each meeting we discuss a different topic or approach to conducting tours and helping the public experience the museum. On November 11, Alan Goldsmith, an artist from Beacon, NY came to share a beta version of his “Opening to Art” workshop. We began by sharing any “peak” experiences we had with art, which illustrated Alan’s idea that the most powerful interactions with art are emotional and not judgmental or analytical.

With this in mind we went into the gallery and after a centering and relaxation exercise, broke off to interact with different works individually. Alan asked us to observe how our experience of a painting changed as we walked towards and away from it begining at the opposite side of the room, and engaged in an imaginary dialog with either it or the artist at regular intervals. As part of that conversation, we were encouraged to thank the painting for allowing us to visit.
We then chose a different painting and examined the frame and edges for several minutes before looking at the work in its entirety. I appreciated the chance to look more closely at paintings I hadn’t previously spent much time with, and liked approaching them in a more personal and conversational way than I usually do. After coming back to the group and discussing our reactions I realized how different everyone’s experiences were.

Working on the project. Photograph by Alan Goldsmith

For the next activity one of us acted as the docent and called out a random shape that the group had to maintain while moving around the gallery. Next we gathered in a circle and Alan emptied a large bag full of paper towel and toilet paper rolls out on the floor. He showed us a picture of Robert Smithson’s sculpture, Map of Broken Glass, at Dia:Beacon to jokingly point out similarities between the two forms. We then took turns altering one thing about the pile until its appearance began to transform. We ripped, crushed, and moved the rolls, and some docents even chose to insert themselves into the piece.

After discussing our art-making project we separated again and each imagined ourselves immersed in a painting. I chose to look at Mark Rothko’s No. 1 (No. 18, 1948)and enjoyed imagining myself swimming in the different colors. Finally, we each chose a final painting or sculpture and imagined the gallery we were sitting in in the style of that piece.

I appreciated the workshop and felt that it was fun to approach art creatively and not analytically. The activities made me realize that I have a tendency to interact with a work of art by asking myself what the overall effect is, how it makes me feel, and how the form is related to meaning. While I often tell myself there’s no “right” way to interpret art, our training reminded me that there’s no “right” way to approach art either.

Alan Goldsmith is a photographer and visual artist with a long-term commitment to participatory, multi-disciplinary, arts-based experiences that strengthen human bonds in both public and private spaces. He is also the creator of Noodle Talk, a collection of more than 500 questions designed to enrich interpersonal communication and relationships. His personal photography can be viewed here.

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