Why can’t I touch the Art?

Why can’t I touch the Art?

I have volunteered at at my local state art gallery for years now, and it has always intrigued me watching children experience the art. Their first impulse is to touch, so sensory is their learning style.

Touching artwork, in my mind, gives them a sense that it is real. They can understand it through this medium; is it soft, is it hard? Why does it look 3D but when I touch it, it is flat? This is the mastery of painting. But of course, touching the fine art is not allowed, for its longevity and ability to be enjoyed for generations to come, there are myriad reasons we must not touch the art. 

However, just this week I had the most wonderful experience. I was in the Atrium. I was dressed in a silk Chinese robe, embroidered in a rainbow of colours. An emerald pencil skirt peeked out underneath and my head was adorned with a high turban, topped off by a spray of light pink orchids, placed nonchalantly to the side. I was wearing 2 sets of earrings on each ear, a tassel and a golden snake. I had false eyelashes on and dramatic pink blush on my temples.

I heard my name called from behind me and as I turned around, a gallery guide was surrounded by about 20 children. They were entranced. Questions started to fly about what I was wearing, the wonder in their eyes made my heart sing.

I believe in getting on the same level as them to connect, so down I knelt. They gathered in close around me and asked about all these things I was wearing. I said “You can touch my coat, feel the silk. Its so soft.” They did, and as they did, it was like they had finally gained permission to touch a piece of art they were interested in. Little curious hands and inspired faces surrounded me. It was incredible!

They wanted to know about the tassels, about Chinese culture, “are the flowers real?”, “how do you put your eyelashes on?” “What is silk?”. What they didn’t ask was “Why do you get dressed like this?” which for most adults, is their first question.

The children understood quite plainly what I was doing. I was creating art on myself and in doing so, style became a touchable form of art. They understood you can touch clothes, you cannot touch art. But here, the line was blurred. Is it art or fashion? It was so extravagant, so exotic that at first they were mindful of touching the coat before I allowed it.

You might remember those days where you snuck into your mother or fathers wardrobe and caressed their sunday best. These things were so pretty, I know I could barely resist touching them, especially when it came to my mothers scarves. I saw my young self in these children around me and I remembered where my love of dressing up came from. In dressing up, I became a living work of art that I could touch and play with. I wonder if this is the only blurred line between fine art and style, one you can touch, and one you cannot.

It was a darling experience and it illustrated the power of dressing up and connecting with other humans, young and old. The world is full of wonder and we can choose to add to it on the street in our fabulous (clothing) art creations. In fashion, yes, you can touch the art.

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New York, New York

New York, New York

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Workshop Series: Dressing Up IS the Secret to Happiness