Lost in the giftshop

tokyo bikes
Tokyobike store, right off the Bowery, NYC.

Is art about owning?

Is the mere act of looking somehow acquisitive? As predators, when we look at something, we are tracking it, stalking it. “Just looking” can actually be an act of aggression. Is drawing even more invasive? Why do we worry that people will resent us for drawing them on the subway? We all know the cliché of the primitive societies that feared that cameras would steal their souls. When we do a good drawing, why do people say “you’ve really captured it”?

Is drawing also stealing?

Why does every single museum have a gift shop? Why do we feel drawn to shop in them?

When we have just seen the originals, why do we want postcards, tea mugs, coffee table books of the same images?

Why do people walk through museums snapping photos of every piece on the wall? Are they just adding them to their own collections?

Are museums themselves just giant closets full of acquisitions on display?

Much of the history of art has dictated by those who would own the art, the clients, the patrons.  They set the theme, dictated many of the choices for the artist.

Museums are filled with portraits of the rich and powerful. The artists didn’t choose these subjects by chance, the market dictated them. And they have survived because their various owners preserved them. The pieces that were most valuable have become what we call ‘art history’. So buying and selling and choices about importance are all bound up together.

Can art be valuable — if it’s never bought or sold?

15 thoughts on “Lost in the giftshop”

  1. on a related theme, are we making white elephants? I met lady who paints pictures on t-shirts and tote bags. I told her “you are not making white elephants.” Someone accused me of that once.


  2. Through Sketchbook Skool, I am learning that art (at least the art I am learning to make) and everything that I am learning about myself and life in general as I create, is far more valuable to me than anything I could buy or sell.


  3. Recently I was sketching while waiting for my grand daughter’s ballet exam. I friend looking at my drawing of my car keys said:
    “But you can’t do anything with that can you?”
    And that’s precisely why I love my sketchbook – it’s just for me – and perhaps to share online…


  4. Hi Danny, I’m loving your blog posts and I’m spending the summer traveling as you and Jenny just did-and so glad you made it to Baltimore again to nibble on crabs. I’m about to head back out on the road again but just wanted to say I have filled 4 sketchbooks since Sketchbook Skool started and I’m in the process of two more-one a journal of my latest trip, which I’m still finishing (glueing in all the ephemera and detailing some of the sketches) and another of my everyday life. I never miss a day. Sketching is my go to thing now-all the time-not posting a lot cause I’m too busy traveling and sketching and that’s my priority-documenting life, whatever is in my head, and practicing new ways to draw and paint. Haven’t missed any classes either-love being in Skool while I’m on the go. Thanks again for creating this amazing experience. I look forward to future semesters and more awesome teachers.
    Oh, I go to a lot of museums while traveling-always hit the museum store and load up on art books. Right now I’m looking at Jamie Wyeth’s amazing drawings of Nureyev-done with graphite and gouache. That’ll inspire a lot of sketches!


  5. Many of us have had the experience of some bystander asking us, as we sketch, asking us if we sell our art. They seem disappointed when I tell them that my sketches in my sketchbooks are just for the joy of doing it! LOL! But, I love those postcards, catalogs, art books with images I can take home and pour over, from the museum shops! Yes…it is a kid in a candy story experience….love those museum shops! And they are inspiring, too. Danny your marvelous books with your sketches propelled me into sketching my world!


  6. Oohhhh you Deep Thinker you! I’m pretty certain I have only the thoughts of a Simple Soul on this but I have a friend from Seattle and whenever we’ve visited a museum/gallery together she always insisted on heading for the shop first. Her reasoning??
    Well, she figures that the shop will disclose to her what’s the most inspiring/important/ essential exhibits, rooms or paintings to check out, especially if her time is limited.
    I have to admit that I’ve tried her technique and there is something in it.
    See! I told you I was a Simpleton.
    I mostly buy postcards in museum shops of the paintings or items that have touched/moved me. They get pegged to my wall of inspiration.
    I wonder what Danny and Jenny are buying in gift shops on’th travels??…worthy of a blog post perhaps? :o)


  7. During a visit to a recent John Singer Sargent watercolor exhibit I was told not to take photos of any of the displayed paintings. I was told I could purchase a book of the exhibit for $45 in the museum bookstore. I did not purchase the book as I knew that it would only be ephemeral and never looked at again.


  8. Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes! To borrow (badly) from The Merchant of Venice, art is twice blessed. It blesses him that makes the art and him that takes it in. That’s the real value, the real exchange, not the money. I know that because I’ve been taking in the good stuff from SBS artists for weeks and it is priceless.


  9. I am still trying to figure out the Goldfinch…nose to nose with it at the High…and yes its nice but..Maybe its valuable because it was painted by Vermeers teacher and its the only one of his works that survives. Give me The Girl with the Pearl Earring that one just glowed under the lights. I did buy postcards of both so I could contemplate them…and try to understand WHY the Goldfinch is popular. I dont think art has to be sold to be valuable…I sell some of mine BUT I don’t care if its sold or not…its valuable to me …the process is what’s valuable to me and the fact that I arrived where I intended to when I started painting.


  10. Our small living room/dining room is full of original art and craft works I have bought at local galleries and art/craft festivals over the years (my small budget permitting). I have always tried to buy the works from the artists themselves so I can chat to them about their work and ideas. Each piece brings me joy every time I look at it. Sometimes I will buy a postcard from an art gallery/museum shop and pin it to my noticeboard, it is nothing like seeing the original but it is still a wonderful reminder of the essence of what I like about the particular piece. Art gallery shops are great (I was in the wonderful Tate Britain’s yesterday) and they help to keep the galleries financed, plus even a postcard can add colour and energy to the humblest room.


  11. I think of the finished piece as a manifestation of thought, a part of me. It’s about getting the idea out from behind the bone wall of the skull and into solid form. There is something magic about the communication aspect of it: you get the image plus how I saw it. I’m investigating the experience of being human and in (our) viewing the piece we understand our own self to a deeper extent. It’s also miraculous that if we each go down there and draw tokyobike, our image will be different from yours. Yet- it’s the same store, isn’t it?


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