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In the defense of art galleries, by Pailin Bennett

Art in Paradise

There’s a lot of people out there who wonder ‘What’s so fun about staring at a picture for a few hours?’. Though I’d love to say I always loved the activity of walking silently through large rooms and staring, the words ‘museum’ and ‘gallery’ used to evoke feelings of absolute boredom even before I stepped into the building, a relatable feeling, I’m sure. It wasn’t until I received a ‘Friends’ member ship for the Royal Academy to help me with my Art GCSE that I shockingly started finding joy in these little visits, visits where for a few hours all I was left with were my thoughts and the legacies of the artists who came before me.

Rouffignac's mini train

I’d say that my childhood home was an art gallery in its own right, with copies of Waterhouse and Kandinsky scattered across the walls. Waterhouse’s 1895 painting ‘St. Cecelia’ has a special place in my heart as my father commissioned a copy that replaced the angels faces with the faces of mine and my sister and St Cecelia’s with my mother’s. I had the pleasure of seeing my first Waterhouse painting, ‘The Lady of Shallot’, in real life in October of 2022 in the Tate Britain. I think that to be able to see something in real life like that is really special, and no you don’t have to shed some tears after seeing the Mona Lisa in the Louvre or anything like that but to be able to lock eyes with her and see the marks and indentations left behind by the Da Vinci is intimate in itself. You are brought into the mind of the artist and into the environment of the painting itself.

Paintings of bison

One of the most amazing experiences I’ve had with art was when I took a tour of the Scuola Grande di San Rocca in Venice, a building with a room filled entirely with paintings done by Tintoretto that depict the entirety of the bible. He took 24 years to cover the ceilings and walls with paintings, this was completed in 1588. It was an incredible experience to walk through the hall and though my neck did hurt from staring at the ceiling for so long I would do it again. It always amazes me when I come across paintings that are over hundreds of years old. This was especially true when I visited La Grotte de Lascaux and La Grotte de Rouffignac in France, though the original Lascaux cave was closed in 1963 seeing drawings left behind by people from possibly 17,000 years ago was so hard to wrap my head around. To see handprints that resembled mine and animals that still exist makes you realise that art has always been art and will always be art. Yes, these places aren’t the ‘conventional observe the art silently’ type of galleries but to be able to sit on a mini train while moving through a cave just to look at prehistoric art, stalactites and scratch marks left behind by cave bears is still truly something. What made it even more fun for me was the fear that cave bears had not gone extinct and would pounce on our train at any second, which was only made worse by my classmates who kept pretending to see them and screaming.

Handprints in Lascaux

You may be starting to realise that art can be fun and memorable, especially when it is interactive and fully immerses you into the piece. There was a gallery in Thailand when I was younger that I used to visit with my mother and sister called ‘Art in Paradise’. My sister and I loved how the paintings were done in a way that made you look apart of them, while yes it was more of a photo opportunity gallery there was still a wonderful variety of paintings on the walls, floor and ceiling. Exhibitions like Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Mirror Rooms, the immersive Van Gogh Exhibit and the Twist Museum are some current examples of fun and interactive art galleries that may be more appealing than the hallways of the Tate Britain.

Scuola Grande di San Rocca, Venice

I feel that art galleries are an integral part of our society, they are places of relaxation, inspiration but at the same time may inspire disgust and annoyance, especially when it’s a piece that you just don’t quite understand the point of. To be able to exist in a space that conjures so much emotions is cathartic but at end of the day I realise that an appreciation for art galleries can’t be forced. It doesn’t mean though that you can’t or will never appreciate art. Art comes in many forms, such as reading books, listening to music, or watching movies. All that these forms of art have in common is that they were created by someone with love for people like us to enjoy. It’s a wonderful world that we live in that so much creativity can be accessed so quickly it’s just up to you to go out there and find a form of art that inspires you.

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