I was in Los Angeles for some work this week. Given that I’m traveling a lot these days, I’m trying to make more of an effort to enjoy the cities I’m working in.
So between meetings, I snuck away to the Museum of Contemporary Art.
1. I knew that I would have a negative initial reaction to much of the art. I generally enjoy little of modern art, but the pieces I do enjoy, I tend to love. So I was worried that I would judge the art too harshly and overlook a piece of art that I might actually love. I therefore went in with this in mind: someone thinks this art is amazing; they know a lot more about art than I do; so I should try to understand why they think this art is so great.
2. To ensure I was giving each piece its due, I inquired about an audio guide, which I generally like to use at art museums. They did not have an audio guide. Instead, they had a system where you could use your cell phone to call a number, which then instructed you to press the number of the piece of art you were looking at. I found this terribly annoying, both because I had to keep on calling this number, and also because the actual audio narration was not very informative.
3. I did not like most of the pieces of art. If I had to summarize why I didn’t like them, I would say that they were on the whole self-absorbed, simple, and aesthetically unpleasing. I am open to the idea that if I had a better understanding of art I would have better appreciated the work.
4. My favorite piece was by Jasper Johns. An image of it is below:
4. There were numerous school groups there. Most of the students seemed to be late elementary to early middle school. I was curious about how they were being instructed, so I eased dropped often. I was not impressed with the instruction; the question asking was of low-quality and mostly centered on technical aspects of the art. I heard remarkably few questions about what the artists were trying to convey.
5. The students seemed to be divide into roughly two categories: those who were earnestly engaged and those were totally checked out. Given the low-quality of the instruction, and the banality of much of the art, I was surprised at how many students remained engaged. I felt bad for them; mostly because I was thinking: you deserve so much better.
6. But I had a quite pleasurable experience. I loved the Jasper Johns piece. I enjoyed the general aesthetic of the museum as a whole. And, most of all, I loved the way the experience slowed mind, caused me to reflect on issues other than education, and brought forth a feeling of mental peacefulness.
7. In some sense, I enjoy art museums as I much as I enjoy art.
I hope to visit more museums as I continue to travel.
Conflict Note: Eli Broad, who has funded some of my work, has also donated to the Museum of Contemporary Art. I don’t think this influenced my opinions, but one never knows. Maybe my fondness of the Jasper Johns piece is really just my subconscious trying to secure additional work with the Broad Foundation.