Strategies in support of art appreciation

Viewers’ responses and engagements are often private and muted – no one claps and yells ‘bravo’ upon exiting the gallery.” Peter Dykhuis

The following strategies were presented by Adriana de Oliveira, lecturer at l’École des arts visuels et médiatiques at UQÀM and project leader at Centre de création pédagogique Turbine, as part of the Forum on visual arts dissemination held in Montréal, 20 & 21 February 2015, in conjunction with l’Association des groupes en arts visuels francophone (AGAVF)’s 12th annual members’ meeting.

What are the strategies involved in art appreciation and the issues surrounding the response to contemporary art among various audiences?

  • From the outset, we must emphasize the wide range of audiences targeted by cultural mediation practices, which include non-initiated groups or future audiences for contemporary art.
  • It is also important to ask: WHO is the audience we want to reach, and WHAT methods will be used to reach it.
  • Ideally, cultural mediation begins at an early age; it is therefore important to support what is done in schools.
  • It’s important not to confuse audience development with increases in attendance figures. The quality of cultural mediation lies in how an artwork is experienced, which can’t be boiled down to simply being in the same room with it.
  • The concept of cultural mediation is relatively new in Quebec. It’s part of the desire for cultural democratization, and essentially aims to demystify and raise awareness;
  • To begin with, the artist is also a mediator, the work is a mediation, and opening the gallery is an act of mediation.
  • A development strategy for the appreciation of contemporary art is nevertheless anchored in a willingness to reach audiences that are different than those who are already familiar with it, while recognizing that contemporary art can sometimes be unsettling for all of us.
  • Cultural mediation activities can occur in different forms such as guided tours, hands-on training and workshops, programs aimed at school-aged children or the elderly, or any other activity or program deemed relevant to the target audience.
  • A host of mediation tools are available to us, starting with the presentation of the exhibition itself, to the addition of introductory readings, brochures, didactic panels and video clips in which the artist’s biography, the nature of their practice, information on when and where the work was produced, or the context of its presentation, are all keys to understanding the work.

Some examples of mediation work:

The Portable Exhibition (Dazibao)
One-Eyed-Rabbit touring exhibition by Jonathan Plante (Vox)
The Siren Songs exhibition by Clément de Gaulejac (Vox)

The goal of an art appreciation process is to:

  • Suspend and delay the viewer’s judgement;
  • Foster a full examination of the artist’s work;
  • Encourage the development of their sense of observation;
  • Gather theories that will form the basis of an informed interpretation.

How to engage viewers in this process:

  • By conducting thorough research on the artist’s practice, the work, the condition and context of its production, its dissemination and the response to it;
  • By developing and adapting interpretive activities around the work in relation to the target audience;
  • By applying a structured process for art appreciation;
  • By examining and questioning the work’s relationship to history, to the world, and to art theory, as well as other cultural, historical, and social contexts;
  • By generating questions related to the work;
  • By encouraging a process of active participation that will help develop a sense of discovery in the work;
  • By asking questions that cultivate reflection and lead viewers to articulate interpretive ideas on their own;
  • By using dynamic communication techniques.

By what means:

  • Using clear and accessible language;
  • Creating an environment of trust that is conducive to dialogue;
  • Suspending your judgement of other people’s attempts at interpretation;
  • Respecting voluntary participation;
  • Not forcing others to enjoy contemporary art;
  • Providing in-depth information.

Excerpt from the Report on the Visual Arts Dissemination Forum (Forum sur la diffusion des arts visuels), held in Montréal on February 20-21, 2015 in conjunction with the AGAVF’s 12th annual members’ meeting.