I touch art. I've done it all my life. It's always the same touching though there's been an evolution of rationale. I no longer consider it an act of rebellion nor a political statement, not even, sadly, a source of secret joy. It is done the way babies bring together so neatly object and pleasure: into their mouths. Of course I don't eat art; and with the exception of Squeak Carnwath's work I don't even lick it- who could resist that surface? The mysterious depth and smoothness and so like satin or butterscotch!
There is, however, sculpture that should be mouthed: the stony green cheek of Benjamin Buffano's mother - wart and all, Gaston La Chaise's stomachs, the insides of any Henry Moore, etc. Obviously, Giacometti would be an acquired touch while Alexander Calder RECQUIRES a push. How many people have seen Maya Linn's Viet Nam War Memorial wall and have only read it? There are stone works that must be measured with the feet to comprehend them: the pyramids of Mexico (those steps!) and the sacred cenotes, the wells that demand whole virgin bodies to do their work. Who could pass the Blarney Stone without a kiss?
All art must be touched in some way. If not licked, kissed, trod, poked, shoved, then, at least a finger must dart out to make the ground of connection. Watercolors take the lightest of touches, a caress with the cheek is satisfying if it doesn't trigger an alarm. Do not be daunted by the largest paintings, say those giant French ones with shepherds and twilight. You can get complete satisfaction simply by fingering the gold frame if it is sufficiently ornate.
A special category is art with glass over it, like those two Van Goghs at the new Getty Museum; I believe that to be wrong. Not only can you not see inside because of the glare, the paintings are actually dying behind those panes, starving to death, despite what you are told.
Ancient artifacts under glass is another problematic category: those fragile fragments, with special trainers in attendance rather than armed guards, could be brought to bear the touch of modern humans.
It is sometimes enough for touch to be with the eyes alone, as with Sir Stanley Spencer's great works of religious parables in humble English villages. The eyes fill and then the hand goes out on its own. An instance of this phenomenon occurred to my friend Laura when she visited Dachau Concentration Camp and saw an exhibit of images from the history of that place. She became understandably agitated and then, in an excess of emotion, her hands flew up in the air and an armed guard said to her, in English, "Don't touch!"
Contributing editor, Kathleen Cramer, is an actress and playwright/Librettist whose work has been performed in New York, Los Angeles and locally at the Magic Theater in San Francisco. In collaboration with O-Lan Jones she has 2 new short operas, The Man Whose Brother Was Eaten By Wolves and The Woman Who Forgot Her Sweater.