Violet Towne and I sometimes like to venture out on the weekend to one of the many places in Melbourne-and-surrounds where we might take in some of that magical stuff which is given the name ‘art’. One of our very favourite such venues, the TarraWarra Museum of Art is not even too far from where we live, and it was there we trundled last Saturday to experience their ‘Sonic Spheres’ exhibition, “an assemblage of contemporary Australian visual artworks engaged with music, sound and voice”.
TarraWarra, a privately funded public visual arts gallery, is one of the few of its kind in Australia, and is a purpose-built art museum situated among vineyards in the Yarra Valley. It’s a lovely place. It always maintains a high standard of exhibition and as is usual, our visit there provided an appropriately diverting & thoughtful hour or so. But I am not, Faithful Acowlytes, going to pontificate on art in this post, something for which I can sense palpable gratitude out there in Cowland.
No, what I want to talk about today is the survey which were handed upon our arrival at the gallery, and which we were asked to complete on our departure.
In my experience, surveys can be divided into two kinds:
1: Surveys where the point is to find out something useful.
2: Surveys where the point is to get a bunch of diffuse and obfuscated data that can be read in any way the surveyor chooses.
You know I wouldn’t be writing this post if it was the #1 variety that VT and I faced, pencils ready, at the end of our visit. I wish I’d snaffled a copy away for accuracy’s sake, because I will unfortunately have to go from memory as I attempt to draw you a picture of the confusion that beset me as I tried to answer as truthfully as I was asked.
The first portion of the survey annoyed the crap out of me because it was full of the kinds of questions that tried to stick me in a pigeonhole as a certain kind of person:
•Would you consider yourself the type of person who visits TarraWarra art museum?()
Thinks: Well, no. I got lost on the road, saw the sign that said ‘Art Gallery’ and thought I’d come in to see if glimpsing a Pollock might refresh my sense of direction.
•Do you like to be among the kinds of people who visit TarraWarra art museum.
Thinks: No! I wish they would jolly well stop those people from coming here, so me and my friends could come instead.
And so forth.
But then came the section that was the kind of thing that makes my Grumpy Old Man antennae start waving around like those of a grasshopper on acid:
•If the TarraWarra Museum was a person, would you say it was (check all that apply):
Acowlytes, I was forced to scribble my incredulity on the page at this point. When the creators of a survey decide that by anthropomorphising an institution this will help reveal something useful about said institution, they’ve ventured well into cloud cuckoo land and thrown away their compass.()
The problem with even beginning to attempt to sensibly answer the questions posed above, is that you are on EXACT LOGICAL FOOTING with the following:
•If the TarraWarra Museum was a person (check all that apply):
☐ Would you ask it out for a drink?
☐ What colour eyes do you think it would have?
☐ Should you give up your seat for it on a bus?
☐ Do you think it would be appropriate dinner company for the Fire Station, the Public Library and the Chinese Restaurant?
It doesn’t matter how I try to frame it, I can’t see any possible way that any quantity of answers to this kind of question can provide data that might be helpful in making your art museum a better place – or even a controllably different place, for that matter. There is simply no sensible yardstick by which to measure things. Should the majority of respondents determine, for instance, that if the TarraWarra Art Museum was a person it would be charming and intelligent with a dash of insouciance, what the hell are you going to do with that information? Bash that damned insouciance out of it by removing the sand-blasted glass panels on the gift shop doors? If you thought TarraWarra-the-person was a little short on, oh, charisma, say, could you correct that by installing some crazy paving at the front entrance? You can, I trust, see my perplexity with this scenario.
And really, if you just can’t see your way around it, and you really must anthropomorphise your Art Museum, at the very least allow your respondents to have a creative personal say:
•If the TarraWarra Museum was a person:
☑ Other (please use your own words, or make a drawing):
I imagine the TarraWarra Museum as a somewhat eccentric spinster with a penchant for French rosé. It has a good, if slightly peculiar, sense of humour and prefers chairs that face the window. It laughs a little too loudly and self-consciously at other people’s jokes, has a morbid fear of stick insects and visits a distant cousin in Ibiza every couple of years out of a misplaced sense of familial obligation.
At least reading the results of the survey would be entertaining. They might even make an amusing artwork.