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Visitors in the drawing studio. SMK-Photo: Frida Gregersen

Visitors in the drawing studio. SMK-Photo: Frida Gregersen

Behind | Exhibition | 13.nov.2013

Can grown-ups be tempted to draw right in the middle of an art exhibition?

Hundreds of people chose to spend time at the drawing studio set within the exhibition Flowers and World Views, which ended very recently. Before the exhibition was officially opened we thought we would probably need to draw a few drawings ourselves to make sure that new content was added to the portfolio on a regular basis, but as it happened we were positively flooded by drawings created by exhibition visitors ....

As one of our many experiments with new forms of museum communication we placed a large drawing studio aimed at adults in a very central location within the Flowers and World Views exhibition.

Unknown artist. 16th century. German. Portrait of Heinrich Füllmaurer and Albrecht Meyer. From Leonhardt Fuchs: Historia Stirpium[...], Basel 1542. Woodcut, SMK

Inspiration for the drawing studio

The drawing studio was directly inspired by the artworks featured in the exhibition, including this woodcut showing the two artists Füllmaurer and Meyer observing a bouquet of flowers and translating their impressions into lines on paper and wood. Note the intense atmosphere surrounding the two artists and their scrutiny of the flowers – we wanted to transpose that kind of mood and that kind of interaction between people to the exhibition. 

In addition to this small woodcut we also drew inspiration from our excellent experience with another exhibitions staged at the museum in the past, Woodcuts, as well as from our Sketching Room, which is a feature within our permanent display of Danish and Nordic Art 1750-1900. Both of these examples have shown us that combining art exhibitions with the opportunity for users to try their hand at practical exercises creates a whole new, stimulating way of presenting art.

Putting things into practice, for example by sketching, allows museum users to connect with the practices behind many of the works on display. And it allows more time to settle into a different – perhaps meditative or recreational – state that matches the visitor’s overall objective behind their museum visit.

The drawing studio’s architecture

The drawing studio was designed to match the atmospheric and sensuous staging of the Flowers and World View exhibition in general. The space was arranged as a stylised version of the geometry typical of older gardens. The walls mimicked garden hedges, leading visitors through a range of different rooms and along various paths. The drawing studio was like a clearing amongst tree trunks, located right in the middle of the exhibition garden. An inviting, comfortable, and safe space.

According to the American experience designer Nina Simon only a very small percentage of visitors will express themselves creatively as part of their museum visits (Nina Simon, 2010, chapter 1), and so we were very curious to see how many people would actually use the drawing studio.

For many people the act of sitting down to draw might be quite a departure from their usual habits, and to accommodate this it was important for the room to have a safe and inviting feel. It should be a pleasant place to be, somewhere you would want to linger and perhaps, eventually, draw. The tables were arranged in a restaurant-like style with everything within easy reach, and fresh flowers protruded directly from the tables, inviting all visitors to study them closely.

The objective behind the drawing studio

We wanted to try to make the way we presented this subject matter – pictures of flowers – resonate with visitors on a bodily level, too. Here they could find something more than artworks and texts: they also had the opportunity to translate nature into lines on paper, just like the artists behind the works. In this part of the exhibition museumgoers could change their own role from being observers to become active participants.

The drawing studio tied in well with the overall concept of the exhibition: to demonstrate the processes of interpretation from nature to picture – from flower to image. And to show how interpretations of nature are not stable, but change as our overall worldview shifts. A picture of a flower is a picture of its own time.

The drawing studio at Flowers and World Views was not intended as a competitive environment where visitors would aim to make the loveliest drawings of flowers possible; rather, it was envisioned as a space where visitors could explore the material addressed by the exhibition.

We can discern certain patterns in the hundreds of drawings created in the drawing studio: Many have signed their drawings with their name and age (and the submissions cover the full age spectrum), and they have often included a greeting, thereby demonstrating that they have visited the museum and participated actively in the exhibition.

Many have enjoyed sitting for a while inside the exhibition area, drawing, reading, and/or simply sitting, contemplating the artworks and the other museum visitors from a calm, quiet location.

User surveys tell us that out of sheer habit many perceive a drawing studio as something that is dedicated entirely to children. We are not used to seeing spaces specifically targeted at prompting adults to act on a desire to carry out practical exercises within an exhibition setting. In this drawing studio we saw that many adults would initially simply watch their children drawing, but gradually became increasingly interested and wanted to draw themselves. The drawing studio became a social venue within the exhibition, a social venue that was highly relevant to the artworks on display in the exhibition. 

Having a social space within the overall exhibition space proved a great strength, and YES, some adults can in fact be tempted to draw in an exhibition venue when the setting is serious and target-specific – and a nice place to be.

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