We can look at art in books or online but nothing beats seeing them for real in a gallery. Visiting a gallery, particularly for the first time, can be an emotional experience. It is more than just the looking at the artworks, it is the whole experience of being in the building, hearing the sounds, seeing how the work has been displayed and soaking in the cultural atmosphere. Once in front of the work, you also notice so much more, you see the brushstrokes and can imagine the artist movements in making them, you notice how actually a mix of different colours and tones have been used to create that particular hue and you notice the layers and different textures created by different mediums and in doing so, begin to understand the thought processes of the artist. You can also immerse yourself in the pieces, feel like you are right there in the painting witnessing for yourself the sights, the sounds and smells before you.
We are also often surprised by the actual size of a piece of art once we come face to face with it, the Mona Lisa being a prime example. It is much smaller than people imagine whereas Matisse’s ‘The Snail’ has the opposite effect being larger than we may expect. Seeing something first hand will always have more of an impact, whatever that may be.
Whatever we feel about an art work when we see it for real, we are learning. We are learning about our history, different styles of world art and how art formed as a reaction to the society of that time. We learn about our own likes and dislikes, artists we are drawn to and artists we are in awe of. We learn about the lifestyles of the artists and how their feelings have been conveyed through their visual story telling and we learn about our own views in our responses to them.
One thing is for sure, I know that the children I took on a visit to the National Gallery last week will always remember van Gogh’s ‘Sunflowers’, Rousseau’s ‘Surprised Tiger’ and Holbien’s ‘Ambassadors’. They will remember because they have stood in front of these amazing paintings, visually examined them and engaged with them as an active viewer. This experience will stay with them for a long time and over the course of their lives and schooling, they will be able to make links with what they saw last week and their knowledge and understanding of the world of their past, their present and their future. As a teacher, I am so proud to have been a part of that.