In 2020 so far, there seems to have been bad news everywhere we turn, from political protests, to the COVID-19 virus, to the scary economic fallout. Events, travel, celebrations, and festivals have all been cancelled, giving us fewer distractions, and fewer places to turn to keep our spirits up. Another way to view this time however is a great opportunity to rediscover something that has kept humans enthralled for thousands of years—art, in all its shapes and forms.

People, (myself included some time ago), often find themselves intimidated by fine art. Given the astronomical prices we routinely read about at auction, it is easy to believe art is the exclusive purview of high end galleries and wealthy collectors. As I started my art collecting journey a few years ago, I found to my pleasure, that such is not the case.

The first thing I learnt on my collecting journey was art can come in many forms. I have been privileged to witness exhibitions of traditional paintings, learn about works on paper and the technical skill involved in printmaking, seen performance art, visited photography exhibitions, and continued to build an appreciation for music. 

Art is critical for the evolution of society and provides an important platform to discuss the social issues of today. Art is also a space that allows artists to express thoughts and ideas that would often be attacked if put out in print, simply because so much of art is subjective analysis and interpretation. Gatherings at gallery viewings, museum shows, and talks often spark immensely meaningful conversations and ideas, with art acting as the catalyst.

Art has always played an important role in society, from cave paintings thousands of years ago, to the famous Renaissance painters, to contemporary art today. Today, with all of us connected by Instagram and Facebook, and borders between countries coming down, accessing art from different parts of the world has never been easier. However, it requires an effort, an effort that it is all too easy to forego and blame our lack of interaction with art on how “inaccessible” art is.

Art is around us every day—all over the world graffiti artists are gaining more recognition, and some such graffiti artists such as Banksy are fetching record prices at auction. In India as well, public art, or art for public consumption in public spaces, are becoming more and more visible. Organisations such as St+art are doing a fabulous job bringing art to public spaces. 

Moreover, every city in India has museums, galleries, and events happening all the time. Galleries that are active have regularly scheduled exhibitions, and I have found to my pleasant surprise all galleries are always welcoming of visitors, even if you don’t plan on buying anything. Most galleries offer walkthroughs of exhibitions by the artists, and this is one of the best ways to understand, learn, and appreciate art from different perspectives.

Personally, I always find it very therapeutic to visit a gallery or museum show, watch a piece of performance art, or listen to a piece of classical music. Galleries and museums, if visited at the right times, give you privacy and space to lose yourself in the art you are looking at. I have often found myself in a cool viewing room, with no one else there except me and a painting, walking back and forth to view the work from different angles, thinking about what it could mean, and how and why it strikes a chord with me in my own life. Before I know it, long minutes have passed where I’ve been in another world. Similarly, watching a graceful dance, or losing myself in a piece of music allows me to escape from the everyday world, and even when the experience has ended, I am left with plenty of food for thought.

Art is around you in your daily life. Look at every ad you see in a newspaper and think of the design and thought process behind it. Examine the label on a ketchup bottle and analyse what the person designing it may have intended. Instead of only following meme accounts on Instagram, follow galleries and artists as they post their works, their shows, and their experiences. 

Many museums have also significantly increased their online presence over the last few years, and these online opportunities offer a great way to view great collections in all their shapes and forms, especially during these trying times when we are all at home. With everything under lockdown, most galleries have given online access to the public to browse through. 

Museums such as the National Gallery of Modern Art, New Delhi, Louvre, Paris, have developed sections of their own websites with virtual tours of various parts of the collection. Others like The British Museum have collaborated with Google Cultural Institute to provide a fun interactive way to browse the art objects in their collection over hundreds of years. The Rijksmuseum from Amsterdam and the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Seoul have partnered with Google Arts and Culture for virtual tours. Or try touring the Guggenheim’s (New York) famous spiral staircase to view fascinating works of art from various historical periods all thanks to Google’s Street View feature. (See links below for more virtual tour options)

You can even try spending time browsing art platforms such as Artspace and Artsy. We are indeed privileged to live in a world today where art is literally at our fingertips!

You can also browse through:

Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam

J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

Musée d’Orsay, Paris

MASP, São Paulo

Pergamon Museum, Berlin

National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

Picasso Museum of Barcelona

Tate Modern

Benaki Museum, Athens

National Palace Museum, Taipei City

Museum of Modern Art, New York