I recently completed my training as a student tour guide at the Princeton University Art Museum. As part of the training, the new class of student tour guides attended and participated in the annual Faculty and Staff Open House at the museum; It is this very museum experience that stands out to me today.
When I usually visit a museum, I enjoy exploring galleries alone, and at my own pace. I find that this experience allows me to understand, interpret, and appreciate art independently, and I generally avoid guided tours.
However, for the first time, I found myself on the other side, talking about art, art that I had grown to love, with visitors who were genuinely curious and excited to learn more about the art on view. There is, I realized, great value to speaking about art – the exercise allows both participants to learn about, and identify interesting elements about the work. It was thrilling to have the opportunity to allow others to enjoy the museum experience just like I had done all through the previous week, to enable them to view art differently, and to navigate an artist’s motivation alongside someone else.
From young children recognizing Marilyn Monroe by Andy Warhol and excitedly scrambling over Greek mosaics, to graduate students studying economics, with no background in art, the range of people I had the opportunity to interact with almost made me feel like I had left the orange bubble! This interaction, to me, represents the true power of art, to connect and bring people together.
This experience made me realize, above all, the value of conversation in deepening one’s understanding of art. And ultimately, isn’t art created to spark conversation, discussion, debate, and dialogue? Finally, I feel a part of something larger; I am not just an individual who enjoys just looking at paintings, but am someone who can engage with artwork, and engage with others through art. This, for me, represents art’s great power and potential.