“A painting has many functions. It’s a cultural artifact, an aesthetic object, an insight into a time and a place, and a piece of commerce.” as this New York Times article Off the Beat and Into a Museum correctly states.
But it is so much more. It is an invitation to sharpen our senses, to wonder, to challenge our perspectives, to broaden our mind, to grow a little bit, and to get to know our friends and colleagues much better.
The “sharpen our senses” part is what the NYT article is about: police officers, medics and other professionals who have to find answers in visual data, are learning to be more perceptive by looking at art. A side effect of this very pragmatic use of art as a tool seems to be that the colleagues get to know each other in new ways.
One wonders if, as perceptions differ, they also get to know themselves better too, which is what Bildung is about. (No, I did not misspell the headline; “bilding” must be the English present participle of the verb bild derived from the noun Bildung.)
Luckily, one does not have to wait for one’s employer to send one to the art museum in order to become a better visual analyst, one can go there out of one’s own initiative, alone or bringing a friend.
This kind of social activity has a number of advantages over going out for drinks or meals together: it is usually cheaper, it sparks new and other kinds of conversations, and one doesn’t gain weight. It even beats shopping: two hours in a museum is WAY cheaper than two hours in a department store or mall (especially if one can bring one’s own lunch), but if one does choose to eat there or to have coffee, the ambiance is generally peaceful and most museums have now figured out that museum foods should be as aesthetically pleasing as the content of the exhibitions.
The really great advantage, though, is that visits to museums with a friend, generally stay with us longer than any shopping spree or even the physical products we might buy. There are visits to museums 20 years ago and insights from them that I remember to this day, not a single visit to a department store or a mall can come to mind.
The sculpture featured at the top is from the Gardermoen Airport in Oslo. I have no idea what the artist (or the airport authorities) were thinking!