Over the last few weeks I’ve noticed a lot of media interest in, and some quite strong critique, of the National Gallery’s decision to allow people to use their mobile phones to take photos of artworks in its galleries. Several writers lamented this decision, suggesting that photography hinders rather than encourages engagement with artworks.
Commenting on this debate, journalist Archie Bland, writing in The Independent, quoted some interesting and conflicting opinions about the time needed to look at and understand or ‘appreciate’ an artwork. Here are some of the amusingly alternative timescales suggested in his article:
- As long as you like.
- Longer than you think.
- 100 hours.
- The time it takes to peel an orange.
- A lifetime.
Bland compares these with the average audience time spent with an artwork reported by some gallery visitor studies:
- 15 seconds (for the ‘Mona Lisa’ at The Louvre).
- 32.5 seconds (Metropolitan Museum of Art , New York).
- 17 seconds (research at Rutgers University).
While we might traditionally consider the gallery as the place for more concentrated and contemplative looking and public space/public art as a place of the ‘glance’, this research makes me think that actually these art experiences may not be so dissimilar. Do the accumulated moments of glancing and passing by or even the half an hour spent with a public sculpture over a summer sandwich count towards an incrementally deeper or extended encounter?
What the shortest or longest time you’ve spent with a work of public art? What might this add up to over the course of a lifetime?