Art on a Bus, Art in a Museum: How Do YOU See It?

Promotion for the Cleveland Museum of Art's new East Wing

Friday morning, while navigating a stream of rush-hour traffic, a bus whizzed by. Usually rattled by anything five times the size of my car, I grumbled and looked up. But what I saw on that big ‘ole bus made my day! Why? Splashed on the side was a huge banner (above) advertising the Cleveland Museum of Art’s new East Wing (fabulous, by the way — all glass, glossy floors, and a bow to the 19th century original building). Its message was magnificent!

“How Do YOU See It?” read the caption on the banner in milk-colored script. The museum was inviting the public to share their views of what the art means to them. Usually you walk through, read the placards, and take away the curator’s view. Or if you take a tour of the museum, you come away believing the docent’s view. Or maybe when you stare up at the painting you only try to figure out what the artist herself was saying. Here it’s all about the individual viewer and their impressions. What does the artwork make the viewer feel, see, think about?

[Shameless plug, but this is exactly my theme in my book Degrees of Freedom.]

When you enter the galleries, you are invited to share your take on the CMA’s works of art by submitting comments using interpretive cards available on-site at the museum. The Cleveland Museum of Art cards, which are an assortment of works by Modigliani, Avedon, others, read: 


Everyone interprets art differently. Consider this an invitation to use this card as a canvas upon which to describe, draw, paint, decoupage, distress, haiku, or whatever will best communicate how you see this piece of art.


Now, if I can just get my hands on those cards (which will be used by the museum for promotional purposes) – what a feast!



  1. It’s a great idea for a museum to become less pontifical and more interactive. I’m curious about the poster. What is the work pictured? It seems a rather tame choice, though they’ve mirrored its structure and colors in the typography.

  2. Fred, hi! It does seem a rather lame choice if you are trying to spur thinking/conversation. A better one (extreme!) might be anything by Damien Hirst.

    The girl in the work they feature on the marketing banners is “Romaine Lacaux”, by Renoir in 1864. I think CMA uses this painting in several other marketing ventures as sort of their logo/brand marketing (e.g., their Twitter avitar).

    The 4 glossy cards that they ask you to fill out feature easy-to-recognize artists: Avedon’s “Beekeepers”, Edgar Degas’ “Dancer Looking at the Sole of her Right Foot”, Modigliani’s “Portrait of a Woman”, and Roszak’s “White and Steel Polars”. All of these also have one striking/simple concept at heart (susceptibility, grace, the ubiquitous long neck, and geometry), which might have attracted the CMA to use these for this project because they are “soft-balls” to analyze by the viewers.

  3. Hi Lori!
    It’s quite interesting that I should finally get to return your comment when your latest post is on the very topic that made us discover one another!
    Thanks for linking me! I have now reciprocated 🙂
    About the Cleveland Museum of Art advertising campaign: it all depends on how it is actually followed up. The second step after provoking opinions about art in people is to actually respect and value them, and show it in your institution. But surely a step I appreciate: good luck CMA!
    As for what you said on my blog:
    – I am not directly involved in the Young Graduates project (too old unfortunately!) but I do think it is a truly great initiative. Did you find anything similar at your end?
    – Your story about the Picasso museum just reminded me I was not allowed to sit on the floor there!

  4. Eleonora! I’ll keep you in the loop on the CMA’s rollout of the public’s opinions.

    I did look around to see similar programs to the Young Graduates project – and I found some interesting results! Among the many prestigious youth art internships at MoMA, Smithsonian, Guggenheim, Philadelphia Museum of Art, only the Smithsonian offers internships to students starting at age 16, like the Young Graduates project. All of the other institution’s programs require college-level interns.

    So, it seems that in the US, we are not promoting arts education/immersion as early as Europe!

    Your memory of the Picasso museum is hilarious. I love those spectular “deer in headlights” stories. Those are the memory makers! The more of those, the better!

  5. Actually, what makes the Young Graduates programme even more special to me is that it is aimed at people who for cultural or familiar ideas would tend to avoid a career in the cultural sector as it is “not for them” or “not serious enough”. It aims to show that there is a lot to the management of the cultural sector where they might find their space. That arts or culture does not need to be relegated to the status of “hobby”.
    I might post a more detailed entry about this (if I ever finish my dissertation and get blogging again).

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