FOR THE SAKE OF ART

I am no expert when it comes to art. On the contrary, as much as I know about books, I only have a basic knowledge of famous artists and paintings. Well, of course that I know the big names and I have been to museums in Paris, London, Rome, Prague and now in Amsterdam, but I have never studied art per se. So please, take this rather as a reflection rather than as a criticism.

As I happily purchased Museum Card (which gives you an unlimited access to about 400 museums all around the Netherlands for a year) I have started exploring the world of art more than ever, especially with all the options Amsterdam has to offer. After reading Murphy's book Van Gogh's Ear, I couldn't wait to finally go to Vincent's museum that promises to contain the majority of his work in one place (I mean, if that does not sound exciting than I do not know what else could!). But I must admit that leaving the place, I was more disappointed than excited. 

Do not take me wrong, the museum displays many of Van Gogh's paintings as well as his correspondence with his brother Theo, and you do learn some new things. Yet what did not impress me was the overbearing feeling of business and money making over the actual art. The museum is divided into two sections - the main one follows Van Gogh's life and offers some of his most well-known art works (although still, some pretty famous paintings are missing as they are scattered all across the world, like the Starry Night, that is apparently in New York's MoMa). The other part presents various sessional exhibitions, introducing artists that were in some way connected with Van Gogh. And yet, alongside four floors dedicated to the famous painter of yellow sunflowers, the museum also has three shops (two shops with souvenirs and a bookshop) plus a small pop-up shop that accompanies the sessional exhibitions. Did you know that now you can buy not only postcards and pens but also watches, suitcases, dog collars, cushion covers, (I am sorry, but really ugly) t-shirts, rubbers and even copies of Van Gogh's paintings certificated by the museum? I do not want to be a hypocrite, of course that I did buy some postcards that are now promptly decorating my bedroom. But I guess what I am trying to say here is that the museum felt much more like a gift shop than anything else (Rijksmuseum, the national Dutch museum, has only one shop with souvenirs, although it is much bigger than Van Gogh Museum), which made me ask: for the sake of art or for the sake of money? 

And that was not the only thing I noticed.

With the fast-paced world that constantly changes in the age of Internet when you can find and see everything online, I guess it is more and more difficult to keep people interested. And yet, I am not really keen of the audio guides you can now get in pretty much every museum (and for which in Van Gogh Museum you have to pay 5 euros while in Stedelijk, the museum of modern art that is right next to the Van Gogh's it is for free, just thought it would be interesting to point it out). Walking from one room to the other, people's perception of the paintings is inevitably altered by what they can hear from the audio guide. You might suggest that it does not make much difference and on the contrary, at least you learn something. What I argue, however, is the fact that while doing so you will never experience the painting in the same way once someone tells you what you should see in it. 

A couple of years ago I was talking to my friend and a student of art in one person, and she told me that she always tries to examine a painting and make her own opinion first before she even reads its title or description. Back then I did not really understand what difference it would make, but now I think I finally get it. Try it yourself - the next time when you are in a museum, use your own senses to judge what you see in front of yourself before you let anyone else to tell you what you should find in the painting. Because after all, that is exactly what makes art 'art'. It makes you reflect, think, look longer and further than you normally would, it causes fights with your friends about what art actually is and why this painting/sculpture/installation/photography is better than the other. It makes you forget the outside world and time...

So for the sake of art, let's try to stop making money out of brilliant painters by opening three gift shops in one relatively small museum (and yes, I do understand that these shops help to run the museum, but having the same three on different levels of the building, really?) and rather celebrate their work. Or is it just me who has noticed the recent change in the experience of visiting a museum?