We have become used to seeing hundreds of images everyday. In our highly visual culture, how can we encourage people to pay attention to art?
American painter Mark Rothko wanted people to be required to make a real effort to be able to view his work. He wanted people to travel a fair distance in order to see it and he likened the journey they should have to make to a pilgrimage. According to Rothko, the paintings would not ‘receive their proper regard’ unless the viewers had ‘serious intent’ in seeing them.
There seems to be some sense in this. In art galleries we are faced with so many works that it becomes impossible to truly consider each piece individually. Sometimes it is better to focus on just a few pieces in order to gain a fuller understanding of their meaning.
But using Rothko’s method would surely isolate art even further from the general public. Rather than asking people to make a pilgrimage, artists should be focusing on showing people that art can fit into their everyday lives and that it can carry universal messages which are relevant to everyone, not just to the avid art fan.
Antony Gormley’s projects seem to have greater impact on the public than much of the art which is confined to galleries. His ‘Event Horizon’ project, for example, brought art to the people by placing sculptures, casts of his own body in fact, on London’s rooftops. The strangely hypnotic figures caused many a passer-by to stop to consider the sculptures and what they had to say about humanity. It seems that such results can only be achieved on such a large scale by making art accessible and taking it directly to its intended audience, rather than asking them to seek it out for themselves.
“During the installation of EVENT HORIZON in London in 2007, it was great to see an individual or groups of people pointing at the horizon. This transfer of the stillness of sculpture to the stillness of an observer is exciting to me: reflexivity becoming shared. The conceit in all this is that in observing the works dispersed over the city viewers will discover that they are the centre of a concentrated field of silent witnesses; they are surrounded by art that is looking out at space and perhaps also at them. In that time the flow of daily life is momentarily stilled.”