What I learned on Museum Day

Texture, Blanton Museum of Art - Austin, Texas

Texture, Blanton Museum of Art – Austin, Texas

I don’t know much about Art. Though as a photographer, some might consider me an artist or a creative of some sort. I have a passing knowledge of the big trends in Western Art. The move from primarily religious subjects to the non-religious. The trend from realistic to impressionistic to abstract. I know this is a gross oversimplification.

I’ve never been much of an art museum guy. I find them too static and detached from reality. When I visited Europe, decades ago, other than hitting the highlights like the Mona Lisa and The Last Supper, I stayed away. Architecture, product design, typography, graphic design and of course photography are what I prefer. Walking around the city to experience its pulse is what I really like.

Abstract, Blanton Museum of Art - Austin, Texas
Minimalism, Blanton Museum of Art - Austin, Texas

Austin had its annual Museum Day last Sunday and I went to the Blanton on the University of Texas campus. The museum has a collection of mostly Western Art with a smattering of classic reproduction statues, Greek vases, through the Baroque period and all the way to abstract modern. Was I moved by the Art? Not really.

Farrah, Blanton Museum of Art - Austin, Texas
Stairs, Blanton Museum of Art - Austin, Texas

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I was surprised by the apparent liberal photography policy — the docents didn’t say anything as people snapped away. Emboldened, I decided to shoot the patrons observing the artwork. That’s what I most enjoyed about the experience. That and the architecture of the place.

I did learn a couple of things however, especially when applied to photography.

1. It seems like anything can pass as art or a work of creative expression. That minimalist art that people make fun of, yup it was there. It seems like all you need is the creative intent and a good story behind what you are tying to do. Photographers are too conservative in what they consider valid photographs. Some complain about HDR, for example, which is tame compared to what I saw. Perhaps all you need is a good story and intent behind those highly saturated and textured images.

2. Many photographers seem to shy away from the overly colorful but the artworks I saw were often bold and saturated. That’s one of the challenges I have with digital, I often find the colors too muted. Film, I think, can have more richness and complexity. Ironically, I’m shooting a lot more black and white these days because, at times, I can get more boldness from monochrome.

Classics, Blanton Museum of Art - Austin, Texas

Photography is about exclusion and simplification. Traditional Art, inclusion. Opposite and different. Yet, I think art can influence photography and it can open my mind. While my trip to the Blanton might have not been eye-opening it has left an impression. Perhaps Museum Day has served its purpose.

Skylight, Blanton Museum of Art - Austin, Texas

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8 thoughts on “What I learned on Museum Day

  1. I didn’t know we had a museum day! I was at the Blanton recently to see the Natalie Frank exhibit. Wonderful works of art and looks like there are good photography ops. I have to admit that I didn’t take any photos during my visit. I tend to get lost in the pieces on display and usually end up getting chased out when I neglect how long I’ve been there and they are trying to close.

    1. I enjoyed Natalie Frank’s work, especially the vivid colors. The the depth of the Baroque portraits were the most impressive. The abstract modern, not so much. However, I often like art museum buildings more than the art itself. My architecture bias, I’m sure.

  2. Museum design has undergone some very strange changes that make them significantly less friendly to anyone who is actually trying to see exhibits and live to tell the tale. We just got back from Cooperstown where they took a great, interactive Baseball experience and turned it into a long, confusing slog through dark room with too many cramped exhibits and no seating at all. Who thought that was a good idea? Even if you love baseball — and we do — it was a crappy experience. And that was my third trip to that museum … so I knew the difference.

    1. Marilyn, that’s too bad about Cooperstown. Not sure, perhaps Art Museums are somewhat different since you need good light to present the work. I know a lot of the new ones ingeniously use natural light without directly hitting the artwork.

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