Revitalizing the Museum Experience

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By Sarah West

I return to the museum. I revisit my favorite works time and again. Each time, I adopt a new approach.
Contrasting with my previous visit, I examine the work differently, allow for observation and then contemplation. When first gaining introduction to a newly exhibited work, I find myself compelled to gravitate briskly towards it. If the piece strikes me, I waste no time in my approach, first at a distance, then up close; and then I shift about, lean in towards it and then back away. If there is a seat or bench nearby, I’ll sit within view of it. All the while I consider this new image. I avoid the works credentials, statement, etc… In this avoidance, I derive my own authentic interpretation of the work before me. I take into consideration what this piece means to me, and how this piece does move me. Only then, once I feel I’ve spent adequate time with it, do I consider myself conditioned for whatever details, facts and figures might be revealed in written script. This is an approach that works for me, and a method I often convey to my students. But as with all things, I reinforce my belief that what may be right for me may very well differ from what is right for another. Each person must find one’s own way to connect with the things before him.
As often as the topics of approach and observation surface within my class atelier, so does the topic of museums as a whole. I’m unfailingly astonished to learn that most whom I know visit museums rarely.
Being one who frequents museums on a nearly weekly basis, I find this infrequency by others perplexing. Whether it be a museum of natural history, region, government or arts, chances are there is one located within 20 miles from each of us. And there are great chances that there is at least one museum within the same distance which boasts free admission. These are the places of higher learning, treasure keeping and cultural preservation, exhibition and advancements. All of these can only be achieved via attendance and participation.
The museum experience should be anything other than dull. It should stimulate the mind, reinvigorate the spirit and fill us with pride. Within and without my class atelier, I encourage all whom I encounter, to visit a museum, but take with you a new approach. Revisit the places you have been and the things which you have seen, and do so again and again, only each time with a new perspective, a contrasting vantage and expanded sightlines.
Sarah West serves the Opelika Observer as a contributing columnist, with written works of Cultural Arts relevance and prose. She is a preservation and conservation advocate, activist and visual artist of American Illustration with a focus on regional narrative painting. She is the founder of the Sarah West Gallery of Fine Art, a center for cultural arts, Smiths Station’s premier fine-arts destination.

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