Looking or Observing?
Looking or Observing?
They say that the average time spent looking at a piece of art, by someone browsing in a museum or art gallery, is 3 seconds. At first I thought that was ludicrous. How on earth could anyone spend so little time on an object designed to be looked at. Then I thought back to my early days looking round and I can see that figure is probably not far from the truth. How often have I seen a painting and passed on without really LOOKING at it even if it’s something well known and that I liked? I decided to put this idea to the test today when I paid a flying lunchtime visit to Kettle’s Yard, a museum and gallery of modern art situated in Cambridge about 500 yards from where I work. I’ve known about this collection for years but like so many things, the fact it was on my doorstep meant I’d never got around to visiting it. However, with a growing interest in modern art it was ridiculous that I didn’t go and so with half an hour to spare I nipped in. And wasn’t I glad that I did? I will talk about the museum in a later blog as it really is a gold mine of art treasures but on this occasion I decided to concentrate on a single painting and it was a revelation. The picture was a fairly large piece hanging in a plain frame on a bare white wall. It was, I was told by the lady looking after the museum today, by an American artist I’d never heard of before, one William Congdon (1912 – 1998). At first glance, my three second browse as it were, it appeared to be an off white tree against a smudgy swirling background. But as I LOOKED at it and observed the minutae within it I discovered a world of plants and trees, horses, unicorns people and small stone crosses all hidden in vignettes but somehow interlocking to provide a wonderfully fascinating whole. And the more I looked the more I found. What appeared to be a swirl seen from the distance was actually a fish, a fish out of water certainly, but somehow not a fish out of place (or should that be plaice!) So I suppose what I’m trying to say is when you next look at a painting, a sculpture or anything else don’t just look at it and pass by, look at it, then observe it, then look at it in detail and I’m sure you’ll discover far more on that canvas or plinth than the countless number of browsers who have gone before you or indeed those who will come after you. Happy observing!