Summary of the Book
The book, Inside the White Cube, by O’Doherty focuses on the concept of the gallery space, how it has evolved over the years, and its significance in passing a specific message to the audience. In this book, the author explains the relevance of neutral patterns in the designing of a modern gallery space. O’Doherty argues that modern gallery spaces are constructed in line with laws which are as rigorous as those that were used when building medieval churches (6).
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Emphasis goes beyond the beauty as it is equally important to ensure that the functional aspect of the space is not compromised. It should serve its purpose in the best way possible and for several years despite possible changes in trends and practices. It should be a reflection of the future, while, at the same time, holding the memories of the past. The book has three main chapters.
In the first chapter, “Notes on the Gallery Space”, O’Doherty argues that life is a conveyor belt that shuffles people towards the horizon, presenting one thing after the other. On the other hand, history differs from the conveyor belt. It offers an opportunity for one to understand the scale of changes as presented in the layers of time (O’Doherty 17). In life, one may not realize some of these changes. However, history creates a perfect environment where one can see how events and practices have transformed over a given period. In this book, O’Doherty equates the work of art with history (57).
Art makes it possible for the viewer to understand how events have transformed over the years. The gallery space has the ability of framing the history of modernism. An ideal gallery should be capable of retaining its artistry, while, at the same time, passing a message about a given societal concern. One must understand the fact that issues such as framing, cropping, and editing are critical aspects of composing a photograph because they help in conveying given information to the audience.
The second chapter, “The Eye and the Spectator”, focuses on the energy that an artist puts into their work and the meaning that comes out to the audience when the work is completed. In this book, there are primary themes that the author seeks to communicate to the audience, but there is also the message that the audience will interpret (O’Doherty 41). It takes a mastery of the art for one to ensure that the message that comes out is exactly the one that was intended. Sometimes the esthetics of discontinuity may manifest in the gallery, which may then alter the space and time, creating a new meaning that was not initially intended. O’Doherty argues that while the viewer feels, the observer will notice, and the spectator will move (38). Spectators tend to be active and sensitive to the effects of art.
The third chapter, “Context and Content”, talks about the impression that people have of what they see or hear over time based on personal upbringing, cultural practices, and beliefs. The author gives an example of a knock at the door or at the gate (O’Doherty 77). In most of the cases, there is the anticipation whenever there is a knock. It creates a feeling that it could be an unwanted visitor or a criminal. Even in the modern era of intercom, buzzer, and other security features of the modern world, the initial feeling whenever there is a knock at the door is always the same. A piece of art should equally be timeless and capable of retaining its meaning irrespective of change in time.
Validity and Worthiness of Opinions Presented in the Book
Inside the White Cube presents valid arguments about the relevance of art in modern society and its role in passing historical records from one generation to another. In this book, O’Doherty compares the strictness of the laws that govern the construction of modern gallery space to that used in constructing a medieval church (19). The same argument is presented by Knell who says that when constructing an art gallery, emphasis must be placed on its functionality just as much as on its esthetics (45). There is always the desire to ensure that such gallery spaces are attractive and facilitate easy movement of the visitors. However, they should also have the capacity to present a specific story to the audience in the best way possible.
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O’Doherty argues that a piece of art should be timeless but in a way that makes it possible to present changes in society (39). According to Geismar, artworks are often meant to pass knowledge on a given issue in society (57). Despite the changes that may occur with time, it is important to ensure that the message is retained. The concept of timelessness of artworks is also emphasized by Mould who believes that despite socio-economic and political changes in the society, the message that an artwork presents should not change (79).
Instead, it can transform from championing for a given public discourse to being a historical record. At artwork developed during the Civil War of the 1960s may not be focusing on a current public discourse, but it is a historical record that helps in demonstrating the milestone that the country has made. When created, the art was meant to champion for the rights of the oppressed minority and fight discriminative laws. Currently, they can help in reminding the American society of the past and the need to embrace diversity.
The author also raises a worthy opinion about the need to ensure that the concept presented in the artwork would not be misinterpreted. A sculptor is not only interested in creating an appealing sculpture but also passing an important message to the audience (Carrier and Jones 81). It could be a message about the need to fight obesity because of its serious medical implications. The artist must ensure that the audience is able to understand the message that is brought out in the work, otherwise one may feel that the artist is critical of people who are obese.
The context and the content is another idea that the author of this book presents in the argument. Knell argues that when creating an art gallery or a piece of art, an artist must understand the context under which they are developing their work (93). Current trends such as challenges that the presidency is facing, economic problems, and emerging diseases such as the current corona virus may inform the content of an artwork. It is important for one to ensure that when interpreting an artwork, it should be based on the context under which it was created.
Carrier, David, and Darren Jones. The Contemporary Art Gallery: Display, Power and Privilege. Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2016.
Geismar, Haidy. Museum Object Lessons for the Digital Age. UCL Press, 2018.
Knell, Simon. National Galleries: The Art of Making Nations. Routledge, 2016.
Mould, Oli. Against Creativity. Verso, 2018.
O’Doherty, Brian. Inside the White Cube: The Ideology of the Gallery Space. The Lapis Press, 1986.