Over the years, I have attended many art openings which featured my sculptures. Too many times it seems that even when I invite people to touch my art, I hear, "Oh, no, thank you. Museums have trained us not to touch anything." Back in the early 1990s, I worked as an image preservationist at Stokes Imaging Services in Austin, Texas. We had a satellite operation in Washington, DC, which photographed the original films at the Library of Congress and National Geographic.
My job was to monitor the developing process (plotting graphs) and to examine the copy films (negative and positive). I ordered make-ups (re-shoots) and later spliced them into the original rolls of copy film while updating the database that recorded the ID number of each image, its orientation, and frame position on the roll. When I was satisfied that all was in order, I sent the roll and data to our video department for transfer of the image to digital format.
Why did we do this? Well, for one, the original films were in peril of self-destruction and the first desire was to preserve our national images for future generations.
Also, the library conservators realized that not everyone who came to see the images needed to actually handle the originals. Much of the research could be done visually on a monitor, especially when trying to decide which images really did need to be accessed. Putting images on a videodisk saved a tremendous amount of wear and tear on original film.
So where am I going with this? I guess that I am trying to say that I fully appreciate the need for and work involved in preservation. But I also want to point out the flip side:
Archivists do not preserve junk (we hope). Ironically, works deemed untouchable have generally been seen by a society's preservationists as significant and important to the times in which they were created. To achieve this status, I suspect these works have been touched, used, or otherwise enjoyed by many people.
For example, when I visited Italy in 2004, I saw baptistery doors with bas reliefs of figures. The slightly protruding heads had been rubbed free of detail and patina, the bronze a now shiny gold against the otherwise green sculpture.
Yes, centuries later, part of me felt the loss. But I also felt that the sculptor had achieved the greatest compliment - these works were well loved. On each visit to their place of worship, people would touch these heads for good luck. That touch became a beloved ritual in their lives. The art was important enough to personally connect.
Touch is our most intimate and universal sense. In our modern world with current sensibilities and technologies, are we so uncomfortable or uncertain that we are losing our innate longing to touch?
This is our time. When museums instruct, "Do not touch," they are referring to works they intend to preserve for our children to view. But today's artists should be enjoyed by today's public - more specifically, you. Even as children we learn that some behavior is inappropriate in one setting, while totally acceptable in another.
Please do not allow a museum's rules to affect how you act outside of a museum. A gentle caress, especially when invited, is sharing love. Enjoy today's art so that it becomes beloved enough for tomorrow's generations. Seeing is definitely a joy, but touching is where the real pleasure begins.
I must apologize - my correspondence has slipped in the last month. I was busy with the recent stone carving workshop and then enjoyed a surprise family visit from St. Paul. Now, I hibernate a bit to keep working on new stone carvings that I hope to share with you next month.
With all of this going on, I forgot to tell you about the opening of "The Life Drawing Show" hosted by the Austin Visual Arts Association. I had all three entered works accepted, including this new sculpture of two female models relaxing together:
New Art - Nude Art:
After the Bath:
Although the packed reception was 9 March, the exhibit continues through 29 March. I will be at the space this Thursday, 16 March, from 4-6 p.m. if you would like to come by to visit.
For details, click on www.avaaonline.org
and a new painting of a beautiful and creative musician named Dana:
Other upcoming art events of interest:The show is open to the public on March 17, 18 , & 19, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
"Unclad Art 2006"
My painting titled Dana's Backside was accepted into this exhibit in Stanwood, Washington (north of Seattle) and may travel to Portland, Oregon, in April.
Gallery director Gayle Picken told me that they are expecting a local nudist colony to show up at the opening to support art of the human form.
My only experience around nudists happened when I was a freshman in college. My father and I used to sail his Hobie Cat on Lake Travis in Austin, Texas, and end our day cheering the sunset at the Oasis Restaurant high up on the steep hill overlooking the water.
One afternoon, Dad decided to lightly heckle his 18-year-old daughter as we sailed near some scalloped limestone cliffs. He pointed up to the shore and said, "Hey, look Kelly, it's a naked man!" I responded, "Nuh, uh, Dad, that guy is just wearing tan shorts." Then the man turned around and we both laughed at my ignorance. Locals will know that I am referring to Hippie Hollow.
In any event, Gayle guarantees an interesting, although I wonder if a bit cold, weekend.
Then in April, I will help with the opening ceremonies at the 4th Annual Sculptors' Dominion exhibit in San Antonio, Texas.
On Saturday, April 8, I will begin a new stone carving of a green Canadian marble. Show starts at 10 a.m. For more details on this and other events, please click here:
I have been forced to come to the sad conclusion that I can do anything I want; I just cannot do everything I want. So, while I will always enjoy taking photos, I do not have much time to get them out into the world. Thanks to my friend Cyd Madsen who told me about this site:
you can now enjoy some of my photographs for a SONG.
You can find my images by typing in "borsheim" in the site's search - I put my last name into the keyword section of a few of my images. Then click on one of those images. Once there, you can either click on my name (under "File Details" - I use my lips sculpture as an ID icon) or click on "View Member Portfolio". Then you can see all of the images that they have accepted thus far.
Although I will still retain the copyright on all of my images, you would be surprised to learn what you are allowed to do with your downloaded files. And istockphoto inspectors thoroughly examine each image, so you can expect a certain level of quality. Download with confidence!
New Images on istockphoto.com:
While writing today, I spotted our annually returning screech owl in the hole in the oak tree outside of my studio. She must have chased away the possum family that has been wintering there. Spring is on her way.
In addition, I hope that you enjoy tonight's penumbral lunar eclipse, or at least the beauty of the full moon. Also, there is a solar eclipse coming on the 29th of March. I understand that Africa will be the best place to view it. For more information on these celestial events, please visit:
Be well, and indulge in touch, touch, touch . . . when appropriate.
In closing, I hope to hear from you soon and I enjoy your feedback.
You may always check my Web site for the gallery nearest you:
Thank you for reading.
14 March 2006
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One Reader's Response - March 2006:
Your thoughts on touching art work are humanistic and aspirational, but I
don't agree with you. Last week, our art class went to a local well-known gallery.
The works inside were the most delicate ones, and the gallery was full of
discreet but appropriately placed signs saying "please do not touch." Not
to be deterred, our students ignored the signs.
When I was present at an extraordinary sculpture that the artist had painstakingly created in a
polymer in which every human hair had been placed, and a student touched it,
I had to speak up. I straightforwardly, but kindly, pointed out the sign
that said "Please do not touch." His response, in a loud and confident
voice, was "You don't understand, I HAVE to touch it." At which point I
told him what I thought of someone who considers himself an artist, but has
no respect for the art work of others. I had to leave the group and walk
the rest of the exhibit alone because I am so distressed by this
I understand your example of the cathedral doors, and the patina of the
human touch adds such beauty in these places. They are, however, huge and
substantial doors, and the material extremely hardy. Years ago, an artist made for a zoo a series of 3/4" plate
steel pig cut-outs that were placed around the exterior rail of one of the zoo's new restaurants.
Each pig had a wonderful curly tail, and several adults painted them with designs submitted by children. The result was
a wonderful, funny, lively exterior to the restaurant.
Within one week of opening the restaurant, every single curly tail was
missing, It turns out that if every child that wants to touches a piece of
1" wide steel, even though it is 3/4" plate, it will break. It's not the
one touch, it is the accumulated touches. Which, of course, is the problem
with touching art work. It's not the one touch, it's the accumulated oil
and dirt from a 1,000 touches that ruins art work, and can sometimes even
So, I propose that we ask artists to make work that is MEANT to be temporary
if we are going to encourage touching it. And do a lot more education with
the general public about the joy of touching other humans in appropriate ways!
[And another friend o whom she forwarded this newsletter added:]
I do think that there are certain contemporary artists who are not
interested in preservation, or ignorant or lazy if not intentional about
lack of more permanent techniques. Some are consciously making impermanent works.
I do think that the whole concept of permanence or the transitory nature of
art is very interesting. Her work with film is very important. I know that
thousands of major movie films, for example, have deteriorated beyond repair.
You are right about the touching, which is why curators and
conservators always wear clean white cotton gloves when handling art.
People, including old time curators, say -- but my hands are clean. Oh no,
the slightest touch leaves an invisible but destructive oil deposit which in
turn attracts dust or changes the chemical content of the surface.
-- GC in Australia and BB in New Jersey, USA; March 2006 (posted with permission)
Sculptor Kelly's Responses:
Thank you for your thoughtful response. I agree with you. Context is everything. You will note that my story starts
out with the situation that I, the creator of the art, have invited people to touch MY work and am dismayed by their
trained hesitancy. Also, I stated "A gentle caress, when invited, . . . " and I closed with "indulge in touch, touch,
touch . . . when appropriate."
Your situation in the gallery was easily an example of how too many people feel they are ENTITLED to TAKE.
That was not what I was talking about. Your student/young man was absolutely out of line and rude. Signs were
clearly posted and the owner or guardian of the art made clear what their wishes were. Touching when not invited could be
considered an assault. Like the cliché goes, "Your right to do what pleases you ends when you step on my toes."
(I know that I butchered that, but you know what I mean.) Of course, that student also had the total freedome to purchase
the work. Then his right to do with it as he pleases is almost guaranteed. Entitlement is a real problem for us today.
I hate the advertisements that say, "you deserve . . . " But, I digress . . .
That said, why did the gallery not encase such fragile work inside glass or something?
Regarding your zoo situation, I will own up to a bias. I am married to a mechanical engineer, who sees design flaws in
just about everything (only a slight exaggeration). Also, I choose to work with quality, durable materials. Everyone justifies
his own behaviour so if my next words offend, please chalk it up to that.
Any artist who makes something for a public space that does not consider than many people will touch it is failing
as an artist, unless his intent is to have the work disintegrate. (Even then the artist better design something that
SAFELY disintegrates or he is asking for a lawsuit.) Cute little pigs put in a zoo, and especially in which children
had some input into creating, are DESTINED to be touched by AT LEAST those children. It was a poor choice for the artist
to create a form that would not stand up to the kind of loving those pieces got.
As for fragile sculptures, while I am glad that the world has much diversity in our creative expressions, for me,
fine art that is created with fragility in mind or for temporary amusement is just that -- entertaining while it lasts.
While there are a lot of benefits to a great many people from that kind of art (Christo's "The Gates" come to mind, among
others), my work, my goals, my justifications of my behaviour and choices has to do with the idea of immortality, such
as it is. I like the idea that what my hand and mind creates just might be around in 500 years or more. I like the
idea that my goal of showing the beautiful spirituality in the human form just MIGHT last long after our civilization
is gone (and hopefully replaced by another). I like knowing that people (even blind people) can touch my work.
Sure it may change after hundreds of hands (and change IS the one inevitable and consistent thing in Nature), but my
work still will have a longer lifespan than I will.
All artists make work that is temporary. To what degree is the question. Quality materials and quality workmanship
will still be TEMPORARY, as old master works (and old tombstones) will prove; but time is relative and in this latter case,
temporary is, for me anyway, acceptable.
Now, I hope that that student and others like him are taught how to respect. Congratulations to . . .
And enjoy the fall -- such a lovely season.
Thanks again for allowing me to clarify my writing.
And to the friend's comments via another e-mail:
Thanks again, G.
Yes, I agree with all of this also. Not only do I use gloves or something similar when installing works, I also do
not eat or drink while I work (on art, computer, darkroom, light table, whatever) -- food stays in the kitchen.
Also, all of my work is sealed to protect from finger oils. While it will have to be resealed occasionally, what
happens once it leaves my possession is out of my hands. When I invite people to touch, I also let them know that
I have taken precautions to protect my own work. And I try to education buyers about preservation and care whenever I can.
Thanks. Now, back to work!
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If you enjoy Borsheim Art News, please forward it to friends and colleagues. It comes to you about 6-8 times a year from Cedar Creek, Texas-based artist Kelly Borsheim.