Kusama, art and “the other” – part 2

This was the question I ended with in part 1:  Some museums are free and even ones that do have an admission fee, there are student discounts that I have benefited from.  So why have I felt out of place and often like “the other” when I’ve been a visitor?

There are two reasons that I am aware of:

1- Art museums are often very quiet places, exuding a formal, almost sterile feeling.

2- Some people in art museums appear as if they are onto something, or understand something that I do not, which has left me feeling like I do not fit in.


New York City is beautiful, even in the rain.  (Photo by: Tracy Smith)

Last year, while visiting my favorite city, my friend and I walked through the MoMA.  At the time, I would have proudly called myself a “non-art” person.  She would identify herself in the same way.  She still does, actually.

We found ourselves people-watching more than enjoying the art on exhibit.  Together, we quietly mocked the artsy looking individuals that were standing in front of what we called, the black square.  What was there to really see?  Why were they staring at it for so long?  What were we missing?

It was just a black square.

Then we watched as people gathered around and stared at an ace bandaged wrapped brick that was encased in a protective glass box.  Can you guess the name of this piece, created by artist Bruce Conner?

Ace Bandaged Wrapped Brick.  No, I’m not kidding.

Not only was there a pronounced silence throughout the museum, but others seemed to be truly enjoying themselves and the art that surrounded them.  We felt like outsiders, and this museum wasn’t even free!

What made us feel like “the other”?

Towson University professor, Mark Sullivan, provides a great explanation of the term “other” in this video.

Other is: “Something different than the norm;  the norm is whatever group of people that are dominant in a culture…If we don’t fall within that group, we are automatically ‘other’;  we are different than that norm.  It is seldom consciously told to us that ‘you are different,’ but you’re on the outside, you feel you’re on the outside…”

While Mark did not have two proud “non-art” people in mind while giving this definition, it’s an accurate description of how we both felt at the MoMA on that rainy afternoon.

Different.  On the outside.  Not part of the “museum” norm.

At times, we can all feel out of place, like we don’t belong, like we don’t fit.  Often, this experience is self-induced, as we compare ourselves to others around us.   Is our comparison even accurate though?

Unless we actually know the people we are comparing ourselves to (which in our case, we did not), aren’t we basing those comparisons on how we perceive them?

I do have a point in all of this rambling and I promise that it connects to the concept of otherizing.


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