Culture Clash | Experiential expectations | What is expected of the visitor

What is expected of the visitor

Whilst we have ideas about what to expect of the experience – what it will provide us with – we will also generally know what is expected of us, as participants or viewers. When it comes to the cinema we know, for example, that we are expected to sit, to remain silent, to keep our eyes open. Once the film has finished we are allowed to talk about it with others, or to ruminate upon it ourselves. The experience of the cinema is one that is widely understood within our society; the simplicity of its rules, and the passivity required in experiencing it, contribute towards its popularity amongst a wide variety of people.

We can contrast the often-passive experience of the cinema with the more active experience of the lesson. Let’s say we take an evening class to learn a language. When we attend the class we know that the expectations placed upon us will be quite different from those of the cinema (we could, of course, find many similarities between the two areas, but it is the differences that interest us here). We understand the process of learning, that it requires a level of engagement and effort from us; we will be required to think: to remember; to analyse; to reference, and cross-reference. Whilst lessons can be entertaining, their intention isn’t explicitly to entertain, and we prepare ourselves for this prior to the lesson – we prepare ourselves to learn.

What about the experiences offered by the contemporary art gallery? Where, between these two relative extremes, do they fall? Often they can vacillate between the two; some exhibitions will require the visitor to engage with them in the way that they would a lesson, to be active and use thought in the ways described above; other artworks may prefer the visitor to background their thoughts, and engage their emotions.

Whilst the film will often entertain or offer rich audio and visual stimulus whilst it educates, the artwork may not. Through stripping away the attractions (or distractions) of the cinematic experience, it approaches the explicit learning environment – the mindful environment - of the lesson. The gallery asks of its visitors to be prepared for either of these experiences, and everything in between, which begs the question: are its visitors prepared for what is expected of them?

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