Watching People, Watch people watch art…

Inspiration has a funny way of stepping right up to your face and telling you to “LOOK!”

I was wandering the Williams College Museum of Art (WCMA), feasting my eyes on some conceptual candy, when I paused to take in my surroundings. There was art—everywhere. There were people, scattered and stooped, pondering like myself over each framed spectacle. Then, there were the guards, whose presence dissipated and reappeared.

The longer I gazed, the more the gallery came to life. The paintings waited in stillness, perched for speculation. The viewers moved about in silence. Like me, they were focused on the task of observing, but observing in a specific manner, a culturally choreographed dance of looks, pauses, and reflections (insert “hums”, “haws”, “oh”, and “aw”). Contrastingly, the guards hardly paused, yet from their presence it seemed they were the most at home. Unlike the viewers, they seemed spared the awkward task of introducing themselves to each piece. It suddenly dawned on me how strange the experience of being a guard in a gallery must be: One must remain present, but not overbearing; one must remain accessible, but invisible; but most importantly, one must really see.

“Watch, Watching” is the product of my attempt to see. I wanted to analyze the different ways in which people experience gallery culture through those eyes that understand it on the most intimate level: the guards. Though this film is not a documentary, I interviewed many of the security staff to gain their perspective and invaluable advice (special thanks to Nancy Gwozdz, Bethany Munsell, and Suzanne Stefanik). I worked most closely with Michele Alice whose supportive attitude and talented performance made working on this project an absolute joy; I credit her with any and all of the work’s success. I hope that in viewing this film, people take in the experience of the “art gallery” in a new way, and that they too learn how to see art through a different lens.




Laurel B. O’Connor ’15

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