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Is This Art?
July 25, 2013

Laurel Fehrenbach is a Public Programs Coordinator at the American Art Museum, and runs the "Is This Art?" gallery talks with her colleague, Carol Wilson, Assistant Chair of Education for In-Gallery Programs. The next "Is This Art?" program is this Saturday, July 27th at noon. Meet in the Lincoln Gallery, 3rd floor.

Is This Art?

Carol Wilson leads a session of "Is This Art?"

"They call this art?"
"My kid could do that!"
"My kid could do that!"
"My kid could do that!"
"I don't get it..."

Do these phrases sound familiar? If you're walking through a modern or contemporary art gallery they might! What is it about modern art that's so confusing? What does it mean? How are you supposed to "get it" if you aren't really even sure what "it" is?

You're not alone. Many of our visitors at the American Art Museum are often baffled by our 3rd floor galleries full of large canvases, flashing video screens, sculptures that are abstract and sculptures that are eerily realistic. So how do you even get started? Think about it this way: when you walk into a party where you don't know anyone, what do you do? You start talking to people! Walking into a museum gallery is similar. You have to start a conversation around a work of art in order to get to know it.

This is exactly what we're encouraging visitors to do during the "Is This Art?" gallery talks, which are conducted a few times a month in our Lincoln Gallery. During these hour long sessions, a group of visitors and a facilitator dive into just one artwork in our collection. First, we start with a few minutes of silent observation, to look slowly and take in the whole piece. Then we begin asking questions, sharing thoughts, things we noticed, ideas, associations, memories or possible meanings. The conversation takes off from there and is incredibly rich and fulfilling.

During "Guided Looking" sessions, the facilitator will also offer information about the artist, or a curatorial perspective on the piece (to enhance the conversation, not to suggest that there is a "right" or "wrong" answer). During “Open Discussion” sessions, the facilitator functions as part of the group and doesn’t provide any additional information. Instead, he or she uses only the content of the dialogue to build an interpretation, as well as share a variety of tools and techniques that empower individuals to recreate these experiences on their own, with any work of art they choose.

Just as there is an "art of conversation," there is a conversation about art. It's a vehicle for communication between the artist and viewer, the viewer and the artwork, as well as among a group of visitors. So just like meeting a new person for the first time, remember to start with an introduction, ask lots of questions, and have an open mind. We promise, the next time you come back to see the piece, it will feel like visiting an old friend.

Posted by Jeff on July 25, 2013 in American Art Here, Post It



I like your post and have an interesting question. Art in games have been challenged by some critics. There are some art museums that display old video games (second generation games) as art. I happen to think it is art.

Do you consider Video Game images to be art?

I must admit I have used those very words "They call this art?" There are times when I don't think I'll ever appreciate what the artist was trying to convey, yet the person standing next to me seems to "get it" (whatever "it" is) just fine.

Sometimes it's just fun to look at an expression of art that is "out of the box". I am a consultant that provides divorce advice for clients all day long (not so fun) so stepping away from the harsh realities of life to view this type of art is a welcome reprieve!

We absolutely think that video games and video game images can be art! We organized the exhibition "The Art of Video Games" about this very subject, which was on view at the American Art Museum in 2012 and is currently traveling around the country (see our website for locations and dates: Code-based works like video games are a form of time-based media arts, along with video art, performance art, and other digital-born media. We're happy you agree they are art!

"Is This Art?"
Lucky visitors meeting and greeting new forms of art.

I was fortunate to attend Lawrence Alloway's inspirational lectures on "American Pop Art at Stony Brook NY University.

He wrote the book on Pop Art and I was introduced to Jackson Pollack, Jasper Johns, Sol Le Witt, etc.

As a Matter of Fact, Lawrence Alloway was the professor that noted a penchant for circles in my work when I was searching for a style or theme.

I was impressed by Jasper John's Targets and Flag Series. Then I discovered that Le Witt thought manhole covers were fascinating even though he never used them in his art.

I thought to myself Manhole Covers are Round. They are Common Objects, which no one considers to be art. "Eureka!" Manhole Covers would be a "Grate Theme" for me. And I have been creating Pop Art ever since 1979.

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