Arts Galleries

Art’s Purpose Reflected at the Asheville Art Museum

By Susanne Kimball

The Asheville Art Museum (AAM) opened its doors to the public in November after extensive renovation only to be closed again by COVID-19 in March. Exhibiting primarily 20th- and 21st-century American art, AAM may be thought of as our city’s cultural consciousness, located downtown amid wine shops, breweries and restaurants as if to remind us that we need to feed our souls as well as our bodies.

Atrium. Photo by Sterling Stevens

The open floor plan expresses the harmonious relationship between space, light and air so that visitors moving up the translucent staircase to upper levels have the feeling of walking on air. This openness is also conducive to vigorous exploration and discovery: paintings with similar themes but from different time periods are juxtaposed to induce discussion. Much of the art is non-representational, which can be daunting because such art often asks more of its viewer than recognizable images do. The goal of the AAM staff is to engage the community to participate in open-ended discussions; no response is irrelevant or wrong.

The museum is committed to preserving the contributions of Black Mountain College (BMC), the experimental school that served as a crucible for mid-20th-century avant-garde art, and the artists who attended and taught there. Notable BMC artists such as Josef and Anni Albers and Willem de Kooning sought to balance humanities, art and manual labor.

Art can be the visual counterpart of significant scientific insights and mathematical concepts, an attribute of interest to school-age children, who are quick to recognize shapes, perspectives and geometric patterns. While science plays an important part in scholarly interpretation, art cannot be locked in by any specific discipline. The role of art is the transmission of details of human experience to intensify esthetic and emotional response. Whereas science decodes and explains underlying principles which govern the universe, art places humanities at the center of the universe and communicates feelings directly.

Everyone—from five-year-old children to seniors—needs to have access to a domain of creativity. Becoming familiar with new ideas is at the base of understanding in general. Not everyone is born into affluence, benefitting from good schools and teachers. It is unfortunate for gifted children to lack access to an environment filled with educational opportunities. The museum offers visitors a chance to broaden their knowledge of art, to interact with one another on a variety of topics, to recharge spiritually, to contemplate—and to have fun.

Among the offerings at AAM are adult studio drawing and painting classes; live dance and music performances; group tours for all ages, including those with memory loss and their caregivers; informal gallery discussions; art excursions; and docent training.

While the museum is still closed, the staff and docents are providing virtual programs, including art tours and camps, and photography classes. Additionally, art kits are distributed with meal pickups on Fridays through the Asheville city schools.

To learn more, contact Asheville Art Museum at 828.235.3227 or visit AshevilleArt.org.

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