New book answers questions most frequently asked in galleries

Photo: Breisky

Why should I go to galleries, when everything is on the Internet? Do I have to study to become an artist? And how do I recognize a work of art? These are just some of most frequent questions asked by teenagers in galleries. A new book, called Proč umění? or Why Art?, attempts to answer these questions, using various works of art from galleries in the Central European region. It also aims to get teenagers interested in art and attract them to galleries to see some of these artworks in the flesh.

Photo: Breisky

I discussed the title, which has been nominated for this year’s Most Beautiful Books Award, with one of its editors, Martina Freitagová.

"Before we can talk about the book, we have to go back to the educational platform that published it, which is called Máš umělecké střevo?, which could be translated into English as Do You Have a Knack for Art?.

Martina Freitagová, photo: archive of Anglo-American University
"It is a platform that was established in the Czech Republic and has expanded to other countries in the Central European region. We started working with the Slovak National Gallery, with the Ludwig Museum in Budapest and also with the State Art Collection in Dresden, Germany.

"This is where we got together with our partners and realised that art education in our countries faces the same challenges and that the questions that people keep asking in galleries are very similar.

"So we proposed the idea of putting the most frequent ones together and attempting to provide an answer. Not a definite answer, but more of a direction of how to think about contemporary art."

Who are the people behind the initiative?

"Rather than individual artists, the initiative joins together various art institutions. We work with the National Gallery in Prague, with the Dox Centre for Contemporary Art and with the Moravian Gallery in Brno. Those are our three main partners. But we also collaborate with other institutions, such as the Rudolfinum gallery, so there is actually quite a wide network of partners in the Czech Republic.

"And abroad, it is the three institutions that I have already mentioned, the Slovak National Gallery, the Ludwig Museum in Budapest and the State Art Collection in Dresden. Working with those institutions gave us the benefit of reaching a wider audience and presenting art in a more accessible and more eligible way."

Photo: Breisky
Each of the 32 chapters in the book starts with a question about art that a teenager might ask and these questions are then answered by various artists who use particular works of art to illustrate their point. How did you come up with these questions?

"The questions come from the actual experience of working with school groups and the general public and repeatedly hearing these questions. We asked each of our partners to bring the ten most frequently asked questions and then we had an international meeting where we discussed and picked the most typical ones. One of the criteria was to use a question to illustrate a particular art work, art movement, technique or processes that are used in art."

Do all of the works of art mentioned in your book come from one of the galleries joined in the initiative Do You Have a Knack for Art? Was this your intention?

"Exactly. It should serve, in a way, as a presentation of these great galleries that we have in our immediate proximity. We wanted to point out that you don’t have to travel overseas, to New York or to London, to actually see great artworks. That it is actually around the corner that you can see Picasso, Rembrandt and other great works of art. That’s why we also included a map to show that it really takes you about two hours by train to get to all of these institutions and to all this world-class art.

"The choice was also based on discussions about which art works are to be illustrated. Again each of our partners was asked to state their preferred choices, which we then discussed."

Photo: Breisky

Photo: Breisky
Who is the book intended for? And can it be regarded as a textbook of sorts?

"Students of primary and secondary schools are our primary audience. In fact we intended the book as a textbook, although a rather unusual one, since the texts do not explain everything in detail.

"It doesn’t contain information that you would find in a traditional textbook, such as artist bios, or short descriptions of art movements. It should serve as a first step for students to think about art and to learn more, as a sort of a provocation to really get them interested in art. And then they can search all the artists and artworks on the internet.

"But one of the most important points for us is to get them to visit galleries. To learn more while seeing the artworks live and seeing them in the context of a gallery or a museum.

"We have also prepared worksheets that accompany the book, that we provide to lecturers. They offer more questions and tasks as well as advice on how to work with the book in the classroom. So teachers can use this as their starting point, so to say."

Photo: Breisky
One of the most obvious and also the most difficult question is What do we need art for? What would you answer a teenager if you were asked this question?

"I guess none of these questions have a single correct answer and they are indeed very difficult. I think art is super-important, because god art should make you ask questions. It should really make you curious about the world around you. Maybe you don’t even notice art in your everyday life, but sometimes it can evoke certain emotions and help you to understand things.

"It is similar to reading books. It could take you on a journey and not only be a source of inspiration, but actually offer a completely new view on the world around you. For me, art is an integral part of our everyday life and thinking about it."

And would you say Czech galleries are doing enough to attract kids and teenagers?

Photo: Breisky
"I think it’s getting much better. There are many activities and workshops and galleries are really trying to open up more. I would say there is still more emphasis put on how the actual exhibition look like and the exhibition apartment, so to say, is always superior to the special programmes and to educational programmes.

"Whereas I think in the ideal world, they should be on the same level. They should work hand in hand from the very start, from the very initial idea about an exhibition. It should actually begin in collaboration with art educators."

“Why Art” has been nominated for the Most Beautiful Book of the Year Award and it is, in a way, a piece of art in itself and it. Who is behind the graphic concept of the book?

"The graphic design is the work of Klára Zápotocká from studio Breisky. She is truly a genius as far as we are concearned. We have collaborated with her on several other projects in past years. I think she really understood the way we wanted to address our audience in a very playful and approachable way.

"It really worked very well with the illustrations. They were done by Kakalík, our long-time collaborator, who can create genial visual shortcuts with a funny twist. I think they are as important as the actual reproductions of art works and hopefully make this book a piece of art as well."

Photo: Breisky