photo credit: Kirsty Kelly
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by Rebecca Hazell
Do you own a pair of jeans? Eat from dishes? Live in a dwelling? Then you have contact with art. Someone designed those jeans, dishes, homes, and though they may call themselves clothing designers, artisans or architects, what these people do is make practical art that allows you to enjoy and appreciate your life.
Art galleries do the same thing: they too beckon you to enjoy and appreciate your life.
But you might think, “Oh, art. That’s just stuff on walls. It has nothing to do with me. Besides, I can’t even draw a straight line.” In school, you might have doodled on margins but felt that math and science were the real things. In an art gallery, you learn otherwise, and your world gets bigger and more interesting.
Here’s what art galleries do and how they do it. They do have stuff on walls, and often in the middle of the floor (sculpture), and sometimes even on the ceilings (installations). Some art nowadays includes writing or music or video. Some invites you to get inside it or interact with it. Every piece of art is like a window on a new world that says, “You could see in this new way! Come in and laugh or cry or be annoyed or puzzled, and ask questions!”
Galleries serve everyone, too. Children ‘get’ art right away unless they’ve been misled to believe that drawing a straight line defines an artist. (The secret all artists know is to use a ruler—there’s lots of math and science in art.) They know that art is both play and work in happy balance. Nowadays, galleries offer many ways for children to participate in both making and understanding art as a way of leading fuller, more creative lives—art is a form of problem solving that engages both brain hemispheres.
Galleries serve every age group, of course. Young parents bring babies to be surrounded by colour and to enjoy the calm of a place dedicated to appreciating instead of rushing; so do savvy grandparents who want to broaden their grandchildren’s world. And walking through a gallery instead of a mall is more entertaining and likely less expensive!
Galleries also offer programs that show us how to see and experience more fully both inside them and when we go back home: they are a celebration of what makes us human. Such programs, and the art they illuminate, open vistas into seeing every moment of our lives as new and amazing.
So, a gallery does many things: it hosts, it helps, it informs, it inspires, it challenges us to grow bigger and to appreciate life.
There are different kinds of art galleries. A commercial gallery represents a handful of artists and promotes and sells their work. It’s basically a private business, so entry is free. Another kind of gallery is member-run by artists. It’s partly commercial, and it may offer excellent programs to the public. These galleries showcase members’ art, which is a great way to expose local and emerging artists to the public eye, but members pay to participate in shows and then hope for sales. Often these shows are free, too.
A third kind is a public gallery. It is funded by a broad general membership, not an association of artists. It is also partly funded by government in countries like Canada where art is recognized as a true form of wealth and as part of their heritage. A public art gallery hosts traveling exhibits of international status and also creates a collection that represents the best of local and international art. So you don’t go there to buy but to enjoy. Public galleries pay artists; they honour what artists contribute to society (and we wish all artists could be honoured in this way). They also run educational programs, host special events, store archival materials, and sometimes offer cafes and gift/book shops. Yes, you often pay to get in, especially for traveling shows, but you pay more for a movie with treats. And members receive free admission or steep discounts on exhibits and programs.
Some galleries, usually the National Gallery of (name of country), or the (name of city) Art Gallery, are government owned and operated, with supplemental memberships. They exhibit the best of their country’s or city’s art and run on the same lines as public art galleries. You generally pay to get in there, too, but the cost helps support all those galleries and their programming and shows.
There is one last kind of gallery: an art museum. Often found in major cities, they generally focus on a particular kind of art like Asian or modern or First Nations or medieval European. They are similar to public galleries and offer the same services. Sometimes they are privately owned but are open to the paying public. Wealthy art lovers have often founded that kind and filled them with their private collections of really famous art, often from previous centuries.
But it doesn’t much matter what kind of gallery you go to: just go! Discover your inner artist, who is begging for attention. Your life will be enriched beyond measure.
. . .