I went to a museum yesterday and got yelled at because I touched a work of art.

I couldn’t help myself.  It was a sheet of fabric hung on a wall with flowers stitched onto it, and I had to feel the thread on my fingers.  It was called “All in the Field,” made by an artist named Jim Hodges sometime in the early 2000s—understand, this piece was not old or falling apart by any means.  It’s not like I was touching an ancient mummy or something…

“All in the Field” by Jim Hodges, 2003

But the lady yelled at me anyway.  From across the room (where did she even come from?) she screamed “DO NOT TOUCH!” the second my fingertip traced the edge of a flower. I knew it was going to happen.  As I raised my arm toward the fabric, I knew I would get in trouble, but I really couldn’t help myself.  And I honestly didn’t care.  I mouthed a quiet “I’m sorry” but forced myself to not run away in embarrassment.  I stood there for a few minutes “reading” the info plaque before slowly walking around the corner to escape the art Nazi who was probably still watching me.

I looked at a few more pieces before sitting down and thinking about what had just transpired.  I had just been yelled at for barely touching a scrap of fabric hanging on a wall.  Some lady who looked bored out of her mind though beautiful art hung all around her got mad at me, the one person in the room who actually cared anything about that stitched flower.  I realize she had rules to follow.  I realize artists are all uptight about people messing up their stuff.  But come on…

As I sat there watching people walk by beautiful sculptures and canvases and frames with their hands clasped behind their backs and lips tightly shut, I couldn’t help but wonder if we lose something in art when we reduce it to only being looked at.  Isn’t art meant to be experienced?  To be seen, touched, smelled, heard, and even tasted, if need be?  (No one better try to argue with me that food isn’t an art…).  I’m not saying we should all take turns touching the Mona Lisa and sitting on the statue of David—if something is fragile, keep it behind glass or rope it off.  But otherwise, why don’t we let people experience art fully?

I’m no art connoisseur, but I can tell you I appreciated Hodges’s work ten times more than “DO NOT TOUCH!” lady.  I hope she learns to let loose some and starts to love her job a bit more.  I bet she’d have a little more grace and a lot more happiness all around.  Oh well.  Until then, I’ll be avoiding her if I ever go back to that museum and will try to get better at just taking in art through the one tiny dimension I’m permitted.


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