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Saturday, July 17, 2004

Welcome to From the Floor

I’m glad you’ve found your way to my new blog, From the Floor.
I plan to use this space to write about how people experience the visual arts today. Like others who follow the visual arts closely, I read a good deal of arts journalism and criticism. I’ve noticed, though, that there’s a gap in most media coverage of the subject.
Journalists and critics often write from a desk instead of from the gallery or museum floor. By this I mean that they go somewhere, look at art, and then return to their offices to write about what they’ve seen. In most writing on the visual arts, I get no sense of immediacy—of what happened when the author stood in the presence of the work and experienced it.
That’s the space I want this blog to inhabit.
I plan to write about what happens during those moments of experience when a new work unfolds, when a viewer develops an understanding, and when opinions are formed.
There are a several variables at play in this moment. There is, of course, the work itself. Then there’s the artist who created the work. There’s the viewer’s willingness (or lack of willingness) to engage with the work. There’s the institution that is presenting the work. And there’s a set of strategies the institution deploys for mediating the viewer’s experience of the work. These variables and their intersections will be the subjects of my posts.
Although these topics lean toward the theoretical, I plan to avoid theory for the sake of theory here. This blog will be accessible to anyone who’s interested in the contemporary visual arts.
I’ve always looked to the literary critic Edmund Wilson’s writing from the 1920s as a touchstone. Wilson was one of the first critics to write for a lay audience on such modernist authors as James Joyce and Gertrude Stein. Wilson attempted to explain, without simplifying, their work for his readers. Wilson’s peers accused him of being a “popularizer” for doing work that allowed interested, non-specialists to approach and appreciate the fiction of their day—fiction that was intended to be resistant to the average reader.
Because of Wilson’s work, though, many people came to appreciate, enjoy, and have meaningful engagements with these writers’ work. If this blog can do something similar for people interested in the contemporary visual arts, I’ll proudly wear the mantle of “popularizer” should more academic art critics want to toss it my way. Perhaps the blog can go a step farther by giving viewers strategies for approaching difficult contemporary works. And if it’s somehow able to get them to see how their experiences with these works are managed by the institutions that display them, all the better.
My writing and strategies for approaching art were developed through a training program I completed to become a docent at the Whitney Museum of American Art. Half of the program was spent on the floor of the museum after hours working with the museum’s educators to learn how to talk about art for a general audience while standing in the presence of the works themselves. 
I still work as a docent for the Whitney. I’ll be listing a schedule of my gallery talks in the right hand navigation bar on this site. If you’re in New York on one of these days, please join me at the museum.
I want to end with a final note on the geographical bias of this blog. Many of us who live in New York tend to wear blinders (aligning roughly with the Hudson River on the west and Williamsburg, Brooklyn on the east) when it comes to the visual arts. My writing will probably tend to focus most closely on what’s happening in New York. That doesn’t mean that there’s not good, engaging, interesting work being done by artists, curators, and gallerists elsewhere. Fortunately, I do travel nationwide for my day job, and I try to see art when I’m on the road. I’ll be posting occasional observations from some of the more out-of-the way places I visit over time.

 Thanks for visiting, and please send your friends.

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