Art ap­pre­ci­a­tion with­out prej­u­dice Mind­ful­ness Man Martin Ste­pek

The Herald on Sunday - Sunday Herald Life - - MIND & BODY - Nar­ra­tive is Tramway, Glas­gow, Nov 10Dec 22 Martin Ste­pek’s tour day, on Satur­day, Novem­ber 25 at 10.30am, is free but book­able art­mu­si­clearn­ing@glas­ uk Martin Ste­pek is founder of Ten­forZen, of­fer­ing guided mind­fulne

ANEW art ex­hi­bi­tion opens at Glas­gow’s Tramway this week. I have been in­vited to play a role in the show – called Nar­ra­tive – for one day only. My task is to ac­com­pany peo­ple who have signed up for a “mind­ful tour” of the ex­hi­bi­tion, and help them ex­plore two deeply re­lated sets of ex­pe­ri­ences. The first is to look in­side at var­i­ous points and try to no­tice what they them­selves are bring­ing to the ex­hi­bi­tion. This may be ex­pec­ta­tions, as­sump­tions, per­haps even prej­u­dices. Prej­u­dices may of course be favourable or neg­a­tive to­wards a par­tic­u­lar thing. All these pre­con­cep­tions colour how we ex­pe­ri­ence the show’s con­tent.

The sec­ond set of ex­pe­ri­ences is view­ing the ex­hi­bi­tion it­self. Does it con­form to ex­pec­ta­tions? Does it con­firm as­sump­tions? Does it match prej­u­dices or con­found them?

How did we come to have such prej­u­dices and ex­pec­ta­tions in the first place? Imag­ine two in­di­vid­u­als go along to a Dali art ex­hi­bi­tion. One goes along be­cause she loves Dali’s work. The other at­tends sim­ply be­cause he has noth­ing else to do. The lat­ter has never even heard of Dali.

Now, in er­ror, the Dali paint­ings have been mixed up with a set of Jack­son Pol­locks, and each artist’s work is now set up in the wrong ex­hi­bi­tion space. Our first vis­i­tor en­ters with prior knowl­edge of Dali but has no knowl­edge of Pol­lock’s work. She is shocked at how dif­fer­ent the art on dis­play is to what she ex­pected from a Dali ex­hi­bi­tion, and yet, as­sum­ing that the works are Dali’s, she al­lows this “dif­fer­ent” ap­proach to fil­ter into her un­der­stand­ing of Dali as an artist. The sec­ond vis­i­tor sim­ply sees the in­cor­rectly hung Pol­lock paint­ings as Dali works. He ei­ther likes or doesn’t like the paint­ings.

The first vis­i­tor has as­sim­i­lated her new ex­pe­ri­ence into a pre-ex­ist­ing view of an artist’s work. The sec­ond has reg­is­tered for the first time a per­spec­tive of an artist’s work. One started with a prej­u­dice, a set of as­sump­tions. The other didn’t. But now both have new as­sump­tions about Dali the artist, and both as­sump­tions are false.

The Tramway ex­hi­bi­tion is of art works cre­ated in pris­ons, se­cure hos­pi­tals, se­cure chil­dren’s homes, immigration de­ten­tion cen­tres, and com­mu­nity jus­tice ser­vices. It is held by the Koestler Trust, which uses art to help pris­on­ers, and to change peo­ple’s views of what pris­on­ers can be­come. It is curated by the Scot­tish nov­el­ist, Jenni Fa­gan.

Can any of us at­tend an ex­hi­bi­tion know­ing the back­ground of the cre­ation of the works of art, and still ex­pe­ri­ence them, purely, with no pre-con­cep­tions? If we view ex­hi­bi­tions by peo­ple from these back­grounds favourably is that not it­self a veil through which our view of the ex­hi­bi­tion is in­evitably coloured?

All this de­mands that we face up to ma­jor chal­lenges about our­selves, our pref­er­ences, in­deed the de­gree to which we can trust and man­age our minds. Why do I like the art of Wil­liam Blake but don’t like Da Vinci’s work? Why do I hold the po­lit­i­cal and so­cial views I hold rather than the op­po­site views?

The sci­ence of the mind tells us our artis­tic views, like our po­lit­i­cal ones, are grounded in the genes we in­herit. All our life ex­pe­ri­ences then deepen, chal­lenge or re­shape these views. Over time we come to think of them as our own, ra­tio­nally cho­sen, and there­fore ob­jec­tively cor­rect per­spec­tives.

The prac­tice of mind­ful­ness helps us shake off these pre­con­cep­tions and, cru­cially, the false no­tion that our own views and opin­ions are nec­es­sar­ily cor­rect. This is im­mensely lib­er­at­ing. My aim at the ex­hi­bi­tion tour is to try to help peo­ple out of that de­luded view.

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