Behind the Scenes, Getty Center, J. Paul Getty Museum, Sculpture and Decorative Arts

In the Sketching Gallery, It’s Time to Create!

Of all my docent duties, helping visitors in the Getty Center’s Sketching Gallery is one of my favorites.

What do we offer? The tangibles are not that much: paper, a few pencils, a place to sit, and some works of art to inspire. It’s the intangibles that make this room so much fun. We give any visitor the chance to do what artists have done for centuries—copy from the masters in a friendly, unthreatening space. We offer visitors a moment to try something they might not have ever tried.

We also give visitors a little gift—the gift of looking closely at a work of art. What better way to understand a work of art than to draw it? We hope they’ll keep this gift for the rest of their visit and take it on to the next museum.

Sketching Gallery stamp: Made at the J. Paul Getty Museum

With the variety of visitors that come to the Museum, it follows that we have a variety of experience levels in the gallery. Those confident of their talents will walk right in, assess the options and request materials, while the more timid will poke around a bit and wait for us to offer them a board and pencils. With a little encouragement these timid folk will sit down and give it a try. They are usually so proud of their effort that they take it with them—Oh! but not before we add a stamp that says “Made at the J. Paul Getty Museum.”

Every docent has a favorite story from the Sketching Gallery. Mine happened on a quiet winter afternoon. Two young students walked up to me and we started a conversation—their art teacher had told them about our space. When I told them they could sketch as long as they wished, they were amazed. No time limit?

They both chose to draw the plaster cast of Adriaen de Vries’ Juggling Man, and I provided them with sketching paper, drawing pencils, and charcoal—yes, it’s free. They sat at the art easels and settled in for a long, totally uninhibited drawing session.

A visitor to the Sketching Gallery draws from a plaster cast of Adrien de Vries's <em>Juggling Man</em>.

A visitor to the Sketching Gallery draws from a plaster cast of Adriaen de Vries's Juggling Man.

In a few minutes I was off to give a tour. About an hour and a half later, I checked back with my two artists and they were just finishing their drawings. They each had a unique style, but what was evident was the great care they took in creating their drawings. When I asked if they’d like to take the drawings, or leave them for us, I was secretly hoping they’d do the latter, so we could pin them on the display board. But I understood when they told me they would submit the drawings to their teacher for extra credit.

Not every visitor stays as long as these students did. Most stay for about 20 minutes; but it’s the quality of the time that matters, not the length. Some even leave their work on our board, but not before taking a photo standing next to their artwork “hanging” at the Getty Museum.

On your next visit to the Getty Center, plan a little extra time to sit down and give it a try. You can visit our Flickr set to see photos of other visitors enjoying the Sketching Gallery.

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      It’s been 125 years since Van Gogh’s death, today we celebrate his life’s work.


      5 Ways to See Van Gogh’s Irises

      Through observations, visitor conversations, and some sneaky eavesdropping, we’ve compiled the top 5 ways people enjoy this painting.

      1. In a Crowd
        One of the most obvious ways that people see the painting is in a crowd. The gallery is almost always filled, and you might have to wait before you can get up close. The anticipation builds as you start in the back row, and slowly move until you are close enough to see the brushstrokes of Van Gogh’s thick paint.

      2. Online
        David from Colorado said that this was his first visit, but he had already seen the painting online. In addition to being available through the Getty’s Open Content program, the painting is often seen on social media. Just search #irises on Instagram for a taste of the painting’s popularity. 

      3. Alone
        If you arrive right at 10 a.m. when the museum opens, the quiet gallery provides a perfect backdrop to really examine the painting. Solitude and seclusion gives the gallery a sense of intimacy. 

      4. Multiple Times
        Repeat visits can give rise to multiple interpretations. Is it a melancholy or joyous painting? Expressive or depressive? 

      5. Internationally
        Visitors from all across the world viewed this famous Van Gogh. In just one hour you can hear multiple languages—French, Italian, Chinese, Korean, German, and more. Irises seems to rise above cultural boundaries—a Dutch painting inspired by Japanese ukiyo-e prints—to strike an emotional resonance amongst all viewers. 

      What is your favorite lens to view Van Gogh’s work through? 

      07/29/15

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