Recently, I read an article written by a snarky journalist who knows little about contemporary art. Knowing not much about art is fine. Ground zero is a great place to start. However, I think the writer was much more interested in dismissing contemporary art as a toy for "rich people" rather than actually doing his homework and moving beyond easy stereotypes. Far too many people do this. I believe it's a direct result of the lack of arts education in our schools today. Lack of proper education often gives way to assumption, ignorance and misinformation. People don't even know what they don't know. Given that, I've written down just a few things that I believe create problems in public perception when it comes to contemporary art. Here we go ...
1. CONTEMPORARY ART IS WEIRD: Contemporary art is basically art that is being made TODAY or was created in the last few decades. Yet keep in mind that ALL art was contemporary at some point. During their lifetimes, Caravaggio and Rembrandt were contemporary artists. They're now Old Masters. Some contemporary art is traditional, like still life paintings, while other contemporary art can be considered non-traditional and even outlandish or yes, weird. This is often the work of talented (and sometimes not-so-talented) artists who are stretching their personal limits and challenging our perceptions. I strongly urge you to consider all contemporary art. It's all about learning and growing. Weird is often subjective.
2. CONTEMPORARY ART IS ONLY FOR WEALTHY PEOPLE: This is simply not true. Yes, rich people have plenty of toys and access, art being among them, but some wealthy people who collect art may just have a tendency to collect the very top level contemporary artists who command high prices and much of the media spotlight. Even wealthy (though not necessarily educated) people gravitate toward the "hot thing" that appears promising. They can afford those particular artists who are in the minority among their less favored (at the moment) colleagues. This is why I interview other artists. Most of our stunningly gifted, contemporary artists haven't "hit it big," but continue to strive. While they're not giving their work away, their prices are far more reasonable, realistic and affordable for you and me. You don't have to be rich to buy a car, do you? Not being rich simply means you probably won't be able to buy an Aston Martin. You may have to opt for a Toyota Camry or a Ford Focus, both perfectly fine cars. However, unlike great art (despite whomever creates it), most cars tend to fall in value.
3. CONTEMPORARY ARTISTS ARE LOW-LIFE, UNEMPLOYED DRUG ADDICTS: Seriously? Most artists today are hardworking, disciplined, responsible people who are juggling jobs, families and their art. There are plenty of low-life doctors, attorneys and stockbrokers out there and they don't all get painted by the same brushstroke. Pun intended.
4. CONTEMPORARY ART IS JUNK: Contemporary art is not junk, but many artists use discarded and found objects to make art. Artist Thornton Dial creates masterpieces with found objects. Many noted artists use all sorts of materials, scrap wood and metal, broken dishes, tree limbs and actual garbage to create art that often commands high prices. Also, figuratively speaking, art informs you and nourishes your soul. Would you throw away something that does that?
5. CONTEMPORARY ART IS GAY: Contemporary art itself is not "gay," but there are talented artists who happen to be gay and also create art that may or may not be "gay themed." Most contemporary art is not gay per se. When all is said and done though, art is art despite its influence, origin or our need to categorize it. You may or may not like the art you see despite whether or not it's "gay."
6. CONTEMPORARY IS ONLY FOR BLOW HARD, SNOBBISH INTELLECTUALS: There are plenty of blow hard, snobbish intellectuals in the art world. I write about them frequently because they're so much fun to parody. However, the majority of contemporary art fans, artists and art professionals are everyday people who come from conventional backgrounds ... just like you. They just so happen to love art.
7. CONTEMPORARY ARTISTS ARE DARK, LONELY AND BROODING MISFITS: This is stereotype city. I have not met many dark, lonely and brooding artists and I've interviewed hundreds of them. However, I would imagine artists can be moody like the rest of us and you might just catch them in a dark moment. Artists and art professionals are real people. Look around. They live among us.
8. CONTEMPORARY ART IS COLD AND ALOOF: Contemporary art tends to reflect the mood or inclination of the artist who created it at the time. It can be cold and aloof depending on the artist. Every work of art has a different story and theme. However, a lot of this depends on us and how we perceive art. What you bring to the table colors your experience of art.
9. CONTEMPORARY ART IS A "CHICK" THING: Dude, If you're a red-blooded, straight, American male, I highly recommend that you check out the contemporary art scene. It's full of "hot babes" of all (legal) ages. I call them, "Art History Babes." For the life of me, I've never understood why many men would rather watch a football game with a bunch of guys falling all over each other than attend an art opening with lots of lovely women. But that's just me. Anyway, while there are many women involved in contemporary art, it remains a male stronghold. You'll see lots of men at art events. It's definitely not exclusively "a chick thing." Anyway, what's wrong with women?
10. YOU MUST HAVE A MASTER'S OR PhD: Really? Do you need an advanced degree to operate a laptop or to read a novel? Of course not. You do not need an advanced degree to understand or engage with contemporary art. However, you DO need a little time and desire to understand it by stopping and looking and forging your own personal relationship with it. This is really the fun of art and why I totally love it. We spend lots of time watching television. Why not spend some of that time looking at and considering true art?
But wait ... here's a bonus ...
11. CONTEMPORARY ART IS BORING: What? Nothing could be further from the truth. Contemporary art is the most exciting sector of the art world. Of course, this still doesn't mean that people who don't like art are suddenly going to love it because I say so. However, contemporary art covers everything: painting, sculpture, drawing, new media, events, you name it. It's fluid, all-encompassing and ever-changing. Some of the most talented artists EVER are currently alive and working today. Contemporary art includes everything from "in the box" traditional to "outside the box" wacky. It's refined and genteel yet also rough and ghetto. The great thing about contemporary art is that no one really knows where it's going. Even powerful, top insiders who support the most ambitious artists still don't know the end game ... despite their best efforts. This levels out the playing field a bit and keeps even the most arrogant art players in check. No one really knows what the next great movement will be or who'll become the "new" Picasso. Will the new Picasso even be a painter? Maybe he or she will be a new media creator or maybe even an HTML code writer. Who knows? Life without mystery is boring. Contemporary art is full of mystery. It's like the best NFL game ever and here we are ... living in the midst of it and unfortunately, most of us don't even realize that.
I had an absolute blast writing this. You know, one of the problems with myths and stereotypes is that they often do contain some truth. However, the art community is really suffering as a whole because more often than not, people believe the worst rather than trusting and supporting art's highest possibilities. I certainly hope this will help change the dialogue as well as how we regard contemporary art.