I love museum book stores and gift shops. Sometimes when the exhibit is lacking or you’re just feeling overstimulated from too much looking, buying something at the end or simply browsing consumable goods is the perfect antidote for eyes glazed over by low lighting and endless gallery walls. It marks a reentry point, a transition point from the sacred halls of a museum which can feel so other worldly, back into the world we know we can connect with through capitalism.
Reducing art to consumable goods can be tacky, kitsch, or just plain wrong. Impressionist paintings on everything from shoes to umbrellas abound. The opportunity to have a piece of the immaterial is simply too tempting for some. The museum gift shops hold other treasures for me however, books. The libraries of titles I have always wanted or have not yet met make me drool. While I was in San Francisco I took a trip to the De Young Museum. Other than the sculpture garden and the James Turrell installation, I can’t say the museum was the highlight of my trip, especially after my sublime experience at the Museum of Craft and Design the day before, but I did manage to pick up a couple of good books.
One of them called The accidental masterpiece on the art of life and vice versa, by Michael Kimmelman was really delightful. Many of the reviews refer to the book as a transcendent experience, but that’s really what the book is about as well as what is does to the reader. As the chief art critic at the New York Times, Kimmelman has had intimate experiences with art and artists that many of us would only dream of. But rather than write about the underbelly of the art world his privileged access gives him, he writes about the variety of experiences that constitute art in the lives of artists and others. Chapters are titled as the art of something, from the art of collecting light bulbs, the art of maximizing your time, to the art of the pilgrimage.
The chapter on the art of the pilgrimage resonated most closely to our up coming topic for me. When I think about what it means to have a sensory experience, I think about the physicality of that experience. Last summer I traveled with a group of some of my most favorite people to Marfa, TX. We stopped along the way in New Orleans, Austin and Houston where we ate wonderful food, two stepped and saw art. Once we finally made it to our destination, we did feel like pilgrims. We had the chance to feel the presence of Judd’s 100 aluminum boxes. We saw the morning light on the concrete structures and we had some sense of the wonderfully quirky place that is Marfa, TX. Being in the presence of art is an experience. Arguably, it is that experience, that fleeting ephemeral moment that is the art itself. The digital world provides us with endless records of art, but we still need the pilgrimage to have an experience with the piece itself.
One of the things I enjoy most about letting Night School prompt ruminate in my head for several weeks, is that it forces me to pay attention. It forces me to look for connections and embrace the every day sensory experiences that could connect to that prompt. Simply paying attention can be the best sensory experience of all.