When George Watts first conceived of this artistic safe haven I believe it's reasonable to assume he did not for a second envision the place Watts Gallery has become, however the intense sense of community, the value placed on creative education and the preservation of artistic works as if they hold imagination itself within their paint: these are things Watts built into the fabric of the gallery. Simply to spend a week in this environment was a beautiful experience which allowed me to develop in ways I could never have predicted.
The time spent assisting school visits in particular, was something I found far more enjoyable than I would have thought, and far more moving. To play a part in what was likely for many of these children their first experience of a gallery moved me immensely, transporting me through my own tangled history of artistic discovery to that same wide-eyed infatuation that threatened to slip into intimidation. It was a privilege to witness this same wonder in others.
The motto of Watts Gallery is ‘Art For All By All’ and this is felt throughout the site. This phrase is incredibly powerful, not only in its inherent message of inclusivity and anti-elitism but also in its positioning of art as vital for everyone. It insinuates art as not only a kind of human right but a kind of human necessity; a type of sustenance without which people will be starved. It is a phrase I not only heard regularly but also witnessed in both the programs and activities led by the gallery and the gentle but assured kindness of the staff.
My week of work experience also essentially coincided with the opening of the Victorian Virtual Reality exhibition (home to an enormous collection of Victorian stereoscopic images) and this allowed me the unique opportunity of seeing a guided talk through the exhibition intended for the volunteers. To spend so much time in a space entirely comprised of scattered grains of history pushed me to reconsider the nature of art and particularly photography which, while now considered an art form, has historically been portrayed as anything but. The photos, some of the earliest created, were seen as technological masterpieces, commercial entertainment and escapist fantasies; what they were not seen as was art. However, I believe the unpretentious way stereoscopy was enjoyed is exactly what lends it its artistic merit. The spirit of transportation and the way in which magic was made available to everyday people captured me simply after a couple of hours in the exhibition. The fact the curators spent months living amongst these fragments, understanding them better than even their creators, enthralled me.
Upon leaving Watts Gallery, it was not only this feeling of discovery but also the ways others had helped me grow that overwhelmed the tranquillity of my arrival. I had been welcomed for a week into a community in the truest sense of the word and allowed the freedom and structure required to develop as both an artist and person. You will often hear artists say that ‘everything is art’, what they mean when they say this is that art is nothing more than the mode through which we grant wonder to our lives. I believe that if we take this to be true, then it must follow that community is the most significant expression of art, and when it comes to Watts Gallery, there is nothing that grants it its wonder like the community it houses.
To find out more about Work Experience and Volunteering at Watts Gallery, click here.
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