Why touching art is so tempting -- and exciting
Featured on cnn.com
Imagine an empty gallery in a museum. It's just you, a 200-year-old masterpiece and the quiet. The brush strokes of a Rembrandt painting draw you in, and with your hands behind your back, you lean in to study the colors and textures.
Looking sideways, you spot the security guard at the door, standing bored and inattentive. You could easily reach out your hand and steal a quick touch, rules be damned.
Fiona Candlin, a professor of museology at Birkbeck College in London and author of "Art, Museums, and Touch," is all too familiar with these clandestine moments. She spent years investigating the motivations behind why visitors touch exhibits without permission, what they choose to touch, and how these unauthorized touches make them feel.
As it turns out, this type of rule-breaking is a common part of the museum-going experience. While she was observing unauthorized touching at the British Museum for a report published in The Senses and Society journal, a security guard told Candlin, "You stop a hundred people touching and there are 200 more ... It's like trying to turn back the sea."
Museums are often seen as sober places, where visitors are expected to silently walk from gallery to gallery and contemplate art from a distance. But Simon Hayhoe, a lecturer at the University of Bath who specializes in art education and disability, suggests we often want to close that distance and interact with works more intimately.
He links this to the original purpose of Renaissance artworks, which were hung inside churches to teach people about Bible stories. The pieces were hung in a way that created a sense of remoteness and reverence, and made the viewer feel like an outsider.
"What the church did was put the art out of reach. They never put it close to the people so they can stand in front of it. They were designed to be seen (up) high, and so people would look at them in awe and wonder," Hayhoe explained in a phone interview.
"So there is a sense of power there as well. There is a sense of you are not allowed anywhere near this painting, because it's imbued with God, it's imbued with power, it's imbued with something you're never going to be close to."
According to Candlin, there are numerous reasons why museum visitors are so tempted to touch art, one of which is classic empirical investigation -- simply put, the desire to learn more.
Click here to read the full article.