A lot of people feel they know nothing about the visual arts. They think they need a wealth of artistic knowledge before they can properly understand artwork. But whether you’re an art connoisseur or a casual viewer, art has no clear-cut answers.
Perhaps the biggest issue when it comes to understanding artwork is getting people into the gallery in the first place. Front desk attendant of the Owens Art Gallery Katie Patterson, shares that “the majority of those who visit are community members, and if there are students, they’re usually in fine arts.”
In fact, Dr. Gemey Kelly, director of the Owens Art Gallery, makes it part of her mission for the gallery to bring in people outside of the art world. “One of the things we started a few years ago are the Hand Made Study Breaks which take place in the evenings. These are workshops led by local artists in things like silk-screening, embroidery, knitting, zine making, animation, etc. These events are aimed at all students—not just those in fine arts. You don’t need any special skills or experience to take part in the Study Breaks, and they are really fun.”
So are those involved in fine arts and those who are not really so disconnected? I decided to bring Chris Balcom, a Mount Allison student who describes his knowledge of art as “pretty slim,” to the Owens Art Gallery to see how his views compared to those of art history students, as my canadian art history class recently visited the Gallery to discuss works that are currently on display in the lobby.
Initially, Balcom did not have much to say about the works, but after a bit of prodding he started to share more and dig deeper. I was not surprised to find many of his comments where almost identical to those of my art history classmates.
In particular, his description of a painting by John Christopher Pratt, called “Suburbs Standing West,” as “a boring suburb neighbourhood that was very standard to North America,” was very on-par with comments made by our class.
Kelly had this to say about experiencing artwork: “Well, for sure, tip number one would be that there are no right answers to looking at art. Value your own reaction and response. The second thing is that those of us who work in the arts don’t know it all. Everyone brings their own perspective to the art on view. It’s one of the things that makes art interesting.”
If you are still craving more information about the work on display, Owens offers plenty of opportunities. Exhibition openings, artist talks, workshops, or a behind-the-scenes tour during one of their Open House events are all valuable resources, not to mention the receptionists at the front desk, who are more than happy to talk about the works on display.