A Spectator Is an Artist Too (Book Review)

A Spectator Is an Artist Too

Johan Idema. 2020. BIS Publishers. 9-789063-695903. 176 pages. US$22.19 (softback).

What happens when you see a  work of art that is beautiful, puzzling, irritating, or challenging? That is a question posed in the visual feast that is A Spectator Is an Artist Too which itself made me think it – the book – too is a work of art.

We can learn something from A Spectator Is an Artist Too to apply to our own work as we imagine how our audiences respond to what we create. The end user is an element, of course, to consider whether you are an artist creating a work of art or a technical communicator creating an end product. 

In A Spectator Is an Artist Too, the author looks at how people interact with art, and examples are where the author shows people looking at works of art and interacting with them. An example is of people almost kissing statues (p. 84-85). Another example is of people showing a thumbs down to a work of art created by Renoir. Yet another example is of a person standing the same way as a work of art (p. 66-67) or “photographing your girlfriend” (p. 108).

This made me think of usability testing where we see how people interact with instructions. Of course, people do not interact with instructions by kissing. But they might give instructions a thumbs down.

A Spectator Is an Artist Too also makes a statement about how museum visitors can have a response to art. This response can be casual and creative and certainly not stuffy, reserved, or formal. The author also makes several statements about Instagram, art museums, and sharing.

Johan Idema has experience as a senior arts consultant with a Dutch consultancy firm. He lives and works in the Netherlands. He also wrote Present! – Rethinking Live Classical Music (2011) and How to Visit an Art Museum (2014). He has worked at institutions such as the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts (New York) and holds a degree in Arts Administration from New York University.

Reviewed by Jeanette Evans 

Note to readers: A version of this review is scheduled to appear in Technical Communication.