I went to an art gallery recently that featured an exhibition of photography from around the world. I frequent this gallery fairly often, and my heart sank sightly when this month's featured artist turned out to be a photographer. Nothing against photography, mind you. I enjoy it quite a bit. And the exhibit has some nice pictures. But I have this notion on how art should be viewed. I prefer to look at photographs in book form, or at least in the comfort of my own home, and prefer to enjoy paintings at an art gallery.
There isn't any concret reasoning to my preference of viewing habits regarding art, aside from, perhaps, ingrained life experience. For someone born in the latter-half of the twentieth-century, photography has been something perused quite often in book or magazine format. Paintings, on the other hand, seem to inhabit the cloistered world of art galleries and museums. I find I appreciate the mediums better in these environments.
Replications of paintings can and do appear in print form, of course, but it's never quite the same as seeing them in person, is it? Perhaps this is because many paintings have a texture to them that can only be fully appreciated within their actual presence. It can be a moving experience to stand (or sit) and gaze at a painting, to absorb it and allow it to speak to you. Photographs can convey a similar experience but, as I've said, I prefer that experience to be more removed.
I remember visiting the St. Louis Art Museum once, and being enthralled with a painting by Nicolas Tournier. Four people sit at a table. One of them is plucking at a Mandolin, another is drinking from a glass of wine. The third, a woman, sits looking pensive. There is a serving wench standing silently at the table. And the fourth seated person, a bearded man with expressive eyes, sits turned, looking at us. The painting moves me because of its subjects being engaged in separate pursuits, none of them seeming to acknowledge that they are there as a group. I wonder why the woman looks so on edge. And what of the staring man? Why does he look at us? When I see this painting in print, it's nice, but it isn't the same as when I witnessed it in-person.
Of course, most of what we bring to art is within ourselves, and this no doubt includes our viewing preferences. If someone can enjoy painting and photography in equal measure, no matter the format or environment, then so much the better. The most important thing is to enjoy and appreciate (not necessarily the same thing) whatever art it is we take-in.