I’ll be brief.
I am working to put words to this concept I refer to as “democratic viewing”. It seems in the last while or so (maybe the last 10 years, but it’s hard to quantify), there has a been a significant shift in the attitude of viewers in art institutions and vice versa. The shift has been the topic of museum educators as they work to encourage viewer centered learning, and meanwhile art viewers, especially enthusiasts such as University art students comment that “the museum isn’t stuffy, and pretentious like years past”.
Overall, the power dynamics involved in viewership are leveling out. The question regarding who holds the most power while viewing isn’t as relevant. In the past, the museum and its staff had the authoritative voice about art: how to view it, the value to society, the context, and so on. Now, this is not always the case, and it provides a dual benefit for viewers and the museum. The viewer is empowered and engaged in art that is relevant as it wasn’t in the past, while still regarding the contribution of the museum as an enrichment of their viewing experience. Meanwhile, the museum and its staff offer an authentic experience that promotes the viewer’s understanding and is in line with their
Democratic viewing, to me, translates to viewing for all. No longer are many viewers instructed how to look by the educated, authoritative few. A shift has occurred that allows a mutually reverent interaction between all people, the well informed, and best of all art itself. Together there is a synergy occurring that is hard to describe. Need an example? See the post I wrote recently here on Shine a Light 2013.
Want to help formulate this notion of democratic viewing? Comment with your thoughts and additional discussion points! I will likely write more on this next week.