In Search of the Genuine

It is more difficult to get tickets to view Leonardo Da Vinci’s Last Supper than to Milan’s Fashion Week. These tickets can cost up to 60 dollars and viewers are only allowed to see the painting for 15 minutes. Lines outside the Louvre in the summer can range to up to five hours and those at the end of the line risk not being allowed entrance due to overcrowding or closing. Similarly, in Bozeman it is not necessary to list Bridger season pass prices or talk about the lines on powder days; needless to say prices are high and lines are long. Touring, exploring and adventuring is fun, but also exhausting.

Amidst the chaos, and at a time when nearly every famous painting or historical site is visible online, it is more pressing to ask a very straightforward question: Why do we care? What is the difference between looking at the Last Supper on a computer screen, comfortably in bed, than waiting in line, wrangling with tour companies and spending the month’s food-money?

The answer lies in what the sensory value has to offer spectators. According to Patrick Perry, a historian of art who teaches at both l’Université des Beaux Arts and Paul Valery, it is absolutely imperative that students, artists and laypeople alike visit art museums to take in the works face-to-face.

“Art is like a glass of wine. You can look up a white wine on the internet, but how can that possibly replace the sensation of holding the glass in your hand, tasting it and taking in the surrounding environment?” Furthermore, Perry explains, “the more you taste of wine, the more you interact with the environment, the more your tastes will be shaped. Coca-cola tastes the same your entire life, but wine changes every time you drink it.” This opinion extends towards spending time in galleries of all sizes and is an attempt to push students towards considering seeing not just the Mona Lisa in Paris, but finding obscure art shows put on by students or working through difficult exhibits like those found at the Centre Pompidou, Perry’s favorite museum.

Local museum curator Georges Mannequin adds that when you look at a work of art or a historic artifact in a book, it is two dimensional. You are incapable of seeing the differences and complexities of interactive art. He emphasized, “There is a distance when we see something in a book, and there will always be that distance. When we see a painting in a gallery it is an existential questioning that challenges us each time.”

These questions are again reflected when considering the importance of environmental interaction in Bozeman. It is obvious why Bozemanites make the trek each weekend to Bridger as opposed to just watching Warren Miller movies on the weekend. The synthetic experience, no matter how comfortable, will never come close to the feeling of speeding down a mountainside with our blood pounding in our ears and fresh snow flying in our faces. There seems to be an additional quality that draws everyone to the “genuine experience” when adventuring or traveling. When we interact with a mountain or a work of art or an archeological site, we invest a piece of ourselves and form an attachment that is even more meaningful because it is something tangible in a digital world.

Every day as students and participants in daily life, we are inundated with images of famous paintings, sites and the natural world. How can we take meaning from those images if we have no tangible experience invested or if we have no relation to what we are experiencing? When we no longer have this investment as a tool with which to relate to the world, we lose imperative facets of environmental ethics and our individual enjoyment of the human experience.

For example, famous German artist Joseph Beyous used historic olive oil presses in one of his most celebrated exhibits to demonstrate the reviving power of the natural world on the cold and dead stone. Upon entering the gallery, visitors can smell the light perfume of the olive oil, automatically connecting the audience with external qualities. This sensory experience cannot be had in any synthetic way. When viewers use the internet or books to experience art, the sensory experience is limited to sight. In place of this experience, when visitors work to see an oeuvre, they engage sight, smell, touch and sometimes sound. This then connects them to the artisanal and historical production of olive oil as well as the natural world itself.

Without the tangible experience, be it waiting in line to breathe in the twelfth century dust of a church in the center of Milan that houses the famous “Last Supper” or be it gliding down fresh snow on Lone Peak with the scent of sweat and pine in our nostrils, we no longer have a stake in what happens around us. Our replacement with the synthetic is a tempting and comfortable option as it removes us from not only danger and discomfort, but attachment to the past four thousand years of hard-earned human history.

So next time we travel and explore, maybe we should go for more than the picture or Facebook story. Maybe we should go to enrich our own individual preferences in wine, art or mountains.