Back to


“Life has been rough with me, how it been with you?” Thornton Dial questions me through headphones as I enter the first room of Hard Truths. “Well, pretty rough too.” I think to myself, hoping Mr. Dial and myself can find more things in common. “Life is rough with everybody,” he says. “We all have had a hard time. If you got a million dollars you still got a hard time in life because it ain’t nothing easy.” I agree with Dial, but I still want a million dollars.

A visitor to "Hard Truths: The Art of Thornton Dial" using the TAP tour.

Today I’m trying out our hand-held TAP tour. The TAP tour is a mix of audio, video and picture content on an iPod Touch. It guides patrons through the exhibition, giving them additional information to enhance the experience. I did my best to read every label, give every painting a sufficient amount of time, and listen to each sound bite, but that’s not necessary. If the exhibition is laid out well (just as this one was) then you flow through it, feeling a slight current supporting you the entire way.

Opening yourself up is not always easy, and this art is not the most approachable in the building. Dial’s work reminds me of the I Spy books used to pacify me on long cars rides growing up. The art isn’t childish by any means, but the complexity is there and the longer you look—the more you see. It’s grouped in a way that makes sense and the TAP tour explained everything I didn’t understand.

All the paintings were 3-D assemblages of objects Dial found or created. There were also sculptures of a similar origin. Cow skeletons, bed frames, corn stalks and a goat carcass make their way into various sculptures dominating the floors while paintings with crutches, dolls and fencing span the walls. There are drawings of Princess Diana, Monica Lewinsky and Florence Griffith Joyner.

The last room held, as my TAP told me, “musings on the tenacity of the human spirit.” This exhibit told a difficult tale but this story ended on a light and resilient note, more of a “happy honesty” than the “hard truths” found in earlier rooms.

When I was in elementary school my parents read The Chronicles of Narnia to me and my brother at bedtime. In the books, four children explore a fantasy world by transporting through different portals, chiefly a large Victorian wardrobe. It’s difficult for me to explain how I feel before, after and during an exhibition. But I think it’s something like stepping through that wardrobe; exploring a different and unexpected world that can be beautiful, possibly scary, but always interesting. When I exited Hard Truths, only an hour has passed, but I felt like I’ve traveled very far. My point is–there is something deeply calming about getting away; going through the proverbial wardrobe and exploring the beauty of something that you’ve never conceived.

Dial states, “You can hide the truth, but you can’t get rid of it. When the truth come out in the light, we get the beauty of the world.” I think that art is truth.

Filed under: Exhibitions, New Media, Technology, Thornton Dial

2 Responses to “TAP Me In”

  • avatar
    Anastasia Says:

    A beautifully written piece. I, too, feel transported by exhibitions. I often wonder if we can use this effect art has to do good outside the museum walls.

  • avatar
    Joe Says:

    Anastasia, I’m glad you’re empathetic to this! I don’t think that same feeling of submersion can be found many places but the closest I’ve come has generally been in the middle of a good book or while crafting :)

  • Trackbacks