A Review of "Overheard at the Museum" by Judith Henry
by Kathleen Lang
Has this ever happened
to you? You enter a crowded museum gallery with a friend and see
a painting that is so bizarre you want to loudly declare to all
within earshot: "What is THAT supposed to mean?"
Most museum visitors
are never this bold. If an opinion is expressed, we tend to whisper
our admiration, criticism, or bewilderment to our companions in
a hushed voice, as if these comments are interrupting a solemn
Why is this so? Museums
are not churches; do we feel that expressing our opinion will
interfere with others who are involved in some sort of "artistic
communion" with a work of art?
I don't think the
need to respect other visitors' experience is why people tend
to whisper in museums (just recall your last movie-going experience).
I believe the real reason they whisper is because they don't want
their comments to be overheard by others. Most of us can feel
very intimidated standing in front of a confusing work of art
and when we voice our opinion we will whisper to avoid being overheard
by others, who surely must know more than us. Right? Wrong!
What would happen if
you moved around a museum or art gallery and began to eavesdrop
on the conversation of others; what would you hear? Would everyone
else be any more enlightened than you? Hardly, as author Judith
Henry cleverly reveals in her new book, "Overheard
at the Museum."
This very small, 80-page
book is composed of large, colorful quotes superimposed over blurry
photographs taken at a museum. That's it-it's an especially quick
read. This extremely simple format has many applications to eavesdropping
at other public settings. I only wish I thought of the idea first!
Henry's book contains
museum visitors' comments that range from the commonplace, "I
wish someone could explain this to me," to the bane of every artist's
efforts, "I really love this painting but it has way too much
green in it."
There are however,
some revealing remarks that demonstrate the delicious rewards
of listening to the conversations of others: "Being crazy…that's
the privilege of being an artist" or "Self-portrait? Good grief…is
that what he looked like?" And then there is my personal favorite:
"Untitled, Untitled, Untitled! Couldn't someone with so much imagination
think of a title?"
Now, some might feel
that participating in this sort of activity is mean-spirited and
characterizes the snobbery that is often associated with attending
a museum exhibition. But admit it-we've all engaged in eavesdropping
at one time or another. And besides, the fact is that each of
us has probably been overheard making similar comments. It seems
no one is immune from voicing their opinion about the art they
see at a museum or gallery. After all, art exists to be looked
at, examined, and judged by you, the viewer.
I don't care who you
are or how much you know about art-after a long day at a museum,
most would be overheard to say: "I've seen enough art for today."
at the Museum
by Judith Henry
Our Price: $10.36