A few months ago I went to see “Surrealism Beyond Borders” at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Let me start with, I don’t really love surrealism, except for some Magritte, so I probably should not be the one to give you a review of the art.
However, what I can give you a review of is how the exhibit was curated…
Too many words.
Way way too many words.
For every work of art there were three descriptions. Long descriptions. After reading the first few plaques my eyes were tired…and I was only in the first gallery. And there were at least six galleries in the exhibit…
I was so lost in words I neglected to actually look at the art, and looking at the art was what I came to do. If I wanted to get this much backstory, I would have read a book with a few pictures tossed in. I don’t know if you know this but I like to read and have been known to read a few books every year…
When you are at an ART exhibit, do you want to focus on the works before you, or do you want to read about them?
Is there a case to be made that if art needs that much description, it’s not really that good?
Should art be a clear cut case of show don’t tell?
Lucky for you, I’m going to give my opinion. I think that art, books, movies, etc should stand alone. If I need to read anything more than a sentence or two about the work, I think the work missed its mark. If I need it to be interpreted, it can’t be very good.
Now, I do realize that sometimes you need to have historical context- knowing when and where a work was done is helpful. But what’s the right amount of information to include next to a work?
When I go to an exhibit, I like the opening credits…the introduction of what you are about to see. It usually gives a brief bio (if it’s one artist) and what the works/artist have in common. There’s probably a little historical context. But then I want to see the work, and I want very little accompaniment to the actual works unless there’s an interesting anecdote…ie I saw a Jasper Johns exhibit recently and one of his works was influenced by the suicide of a poet- this made me look at the piece in a different light… I don’t want the six volume bio, and unless it’s really relevant, I don’t need to know the names of every child they went to school with…
When dealing with a book, movie, work or art, whatever, do you want just the work? Or do you want the whole backstory? Is just a little enough to satisfy your curiosity? Are you OK with just a little because you figure you can always research more if you like?
Is showing not telling enough? Or do you long for showing and telling?