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Title: Interpretation in the art museum : authority and access
Author: Lahav, Sylvia
ISNI:       0000 0004 2717 334X
Awarding Body: Institute of Education, University of London
Current Institution: University College London (University of London)
Date of Award: 2011
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The thesis investigates the rise of wall texts and display captions positioned alongside paintings in Tate Britain between 1987 and 2007 and considers possible reasons for this increase: the return of philanthropic attitudes of 19th century social reformers; changes in the national curriculum for art and design; partial devolution of financial responsibility from government to museum bodies; income generation, funding and sponsorship; increasing inclusion and access policy and internet use. All of these factors have changed the manner in which museums see themselves and address the needs of their visiting public. However, the principle focus of the thesis is the text itself and asks what it means to write words intended to inform, explain and interpret artworks. Using filmed interviews the research investigates differences in the manner in which people describe a painting in the gallery after they have read accompanying text with descriptions they give from memory i.e. seeing a painting in their mind's eye. Archive research tracks the authoring and institutional positioning of interpretative text from its original home in the publications department, to the curatorial team, as part of education and currently provided by a dedicated team. It asks whether the function and nature of such text is best described as literature, marketing, promotional or a tool of access and asks whether it would help its development if it had a dedicated theory to govern and structure it. Throughout, the issues raised are complex and cross many disciplines. To acknowledge this, I organised an international conference at Tate Britain with speakers who approached the subject from literary, philosophical and sociological perspectives. I conclude that the phenomena of text based interpretation in museums needs to be re-examined, that text should be repositioned away from art works and that visitors should be given more opportunity to bring their own personal, corporeal experience to looking at art.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available