Johan Idema on How to Visit an Art Museum

By Laura Curwood

Art opens up to us when we engage with it, and when we talk about it.


The digital age has rapidly changed the way we interact and prioritise our attention. So much content to absorb with so few hours in the day has made engagement and focus become precious resources. Now, think of the time we take to interact with art.

Attention to Detail by Chuck Close, 2008. The FLAG Art Foundation. Photo: Genevieve Hanson

Dutch creative agency Vandejong claims “ a museum visitor spends an average of 27 seconds looking at an artwork.” The agency then poses the question: “does an artwork leave an impression in this short amount of time? Why do we spend just 27 seconds looking at art?”


Today, the arts world is having to face major obstacles in audience engagement. There are significant attempts to break through the white walls and provide access and understanding on a global level. Currently, institutions are exploring a variety of approaches to connect with the community and compete internationally.


The best answer thus far for the key art players and innovators have been to take advantage of interactive technology by using it to attract it’s audience. Here, you can consider Tate Modern’s partnership with Bloomberg Philanthropies and Artsy’s mission to make global art shows and works reachable. The question remains: are we engaging more with art?

Tate Modern’s extension, the Switch House, incorporates a major expansion of Bloomberg Connects.

Johan Idema’s outlook on this matter is strikingly different yet interconnected. For him, art is a cultural product mediated and created for human connection: liking or disliking the art is less relevant than the impact it has on you. And this impact you have, heavily contingent on the surrounding environment (I.e. the institution’s framework), Idema believes is up to you to manage.


Johan Idema’s How to Visit an Art Museum

Idema adopts a cultural methodology, in relation to space and behaviour, uniting art with reality and emphasising human interaction. He provides the foresight needed to create our own context in relation to the art: how to embrace our thoughts and feelings, to express ourselves and to then share our insight with others. With this ideal, there is much to be learned here.


Idema proves to both novice and expert that enjoying art deeply and meaningfully is dependent on the human consciousness: contextualising and explaining art via interpretation and conversation. The modern institutions and platforms must articulate their role in supporting the relationship between the art, the world and human consciousness. The tech toys are nice, but without substance, they are mere tools at best.


For more about the book, click here.

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