Talking About Contemporary Art: The Formation of Preconceptions During a Museum Visit
While looking at art in an art museum, visitors often verbalize their visual experience in order to interactively construct meaning. By placing the artwork in different contexts, interpretations keep changing and multiple interpretations of the same artefact are formed. A key role in this contextualization is reserved for the viewer’s self. Umberto Eco asserts that an artefact is ‘open-ended’, meaning that viewers have to complete the art object by interpreting it. The differences in interpretations lie in what the viewer knows and has experienced. Does this mean that an art object is limitless open and viewers can use free interpretations? Critical reflection is necessary to direct the different possibilities of interpretations while giving meaning to an artefact. Only then meaning gets communicative value and does not lead to interminable discussions without linking the intention of the artist to the reaction of the viewer.
The communicative process between artefact and viewer is very complex. What the viewer perceives cannot be separated from what he knows. As a consequence certain expectations are formed during the meaning-making process. Some of these expectations lead to prejudices.
This paper reflects on qualitative research that explores how adult visitors interpret artworks in a museum with a collection of contemporary art through conversations. From the analysis of the speech data we explain the major themes and overall structure of the conversations. Special focus lies upon preconceptions visitors have during their museum visit.
Keywords: meaning-making, postmodernism, narrative, preconceptions, art education
Eva Van Moer
Researcher, Faculty Psychology & Educational Sciences