The Official Blog / Diary / Journal of the Denver Art Museum's Artist-In-Residence Program

From the Flobots: An Institution of Liberation?

If you put it in a building and make people pay for it, does it become an institution?  If people pay for it, and only those who can afford to immerse themselves can understand the value, is it a space of invitation or exclusion?  Are these questions obstacles in themselves or instructions to condition ourselves in a way that recognizes everyone?  

The experience of an art museum is largely a monolog.  And it is not the people who are speaking.  The tone of the museum, if I were to give it a voice, would sound like Wilford Brimley.  Warm, resonate, and recorded, making responses and questions impossible.  The voice would assure you that you are welcome, and provide as much pertinent information as it deems necessary, and gently encourage you on your way, reminding you to “have a good time.”  That tone is not the institution talking, that is the ornate confluence of practice and programming that takes hold as we walk in this world.  The ones who get how to do this whole museum thing right are children, usually ages 4-6.  They haven’t learned to be embarrassed about their questions, they are open in saying what the art makes them think and feel.  They are having fun.  

When we are trepidatious about curiosity, we are preparing for oppression.  

(whoah strong words….let me explain)

For children the museum is a place of dialogue, for adults it is a monolog with commentary “this is a fine example of pre-raphaelite”, “eww that’s gross, I wouldn’t buy that for five bucks!”

The oppression lies in the silence that we subject ourselves to, and how it limits what we take away from the experience.  Artists are communicating something, and though the nuance may only be understand by the indoctrinated, what is communicated to us is an area where we are the only experts.  

If we change the experience from whether or not we “like” a piece to what is the artwork saying to me, we are liberating ourselves and the experience of the museum from the tedium of being entertaining.  

Fun vs. Entertainment

There is freedom in one and tyranny in the other.  To have FUN implies that someone has gone to special pains to prepare themselves for joy.  Entertainment means that you have paid, or arrived and expect to by pleasantly occupied without having contributing anymore than you already have.  There is nothing wrong with one or the other but it has its place.  The museum is not a place to entertain, it is a place to find fun, stimulation, and sometimes transformation.  The tyranny does not come from an external authority, but an internal one. One that essentially is telling us not to be curious, not to enjoy exploring other worldviews, not to see what all these acts of communication are saying to us.  

An Institution of Liberation

The museum would rather be a house of question than an house of answers, but that is ultimately in the hands of the people who go there, us.  The application of curiosity is powerful particularly when it is paired with the faith that something valuable is being communicated.  It holds true not only in building filled with art, but in communities, filled with untapped power..