For years, I’ve watched how society regards art and even tries to embrace it, but the embrace always feels like a limp handshake.
It’s quite curious because while people at least subconsciously love art, they remain afraid of it. They’re suspicious of it. They keep it at arm’s length. And so, in an attempt to feel more comfortable in its presence, they do things that actually disrespect art … and artists.
This isn’t an easy essay to write because I know this piece is going to get some resistance … especially from those who claim to love art. No matter. All I ask is that we consider these things.
After a little self-examination, perhaps we’ll come clean and try to do better. And so, based on my observations and purely anecdotal evidence, here are some ways that I think we disrespect contemporary art.
1. LACK OF FUNDING: This is self-explanatory. Many people like art, but somehow, they expect it to exist without any public support or administration. Also, the lack of funding for art programs in public schools is atrocious. Kids need outlets for self-expression. Haven’t we seen enough troubled kids with psychological issues or those who get into trouble with school administrators or the law?
2. IGNORE GALLERIES AND MUSEUMS: Contemporary art galleries and museums rock! They exist for the pure purpose of exposing the work of talented artists and helping people understand art. However, most people on the face of the earth will never visit an art gallery. This is a shame. Art needs your support. You don’t have to love or even understand art to visit a gallery or museum. Here’s what I suggest. Galleries are free of admission. Walk into a gallery with an open mind, but go there in search of yourself. Go inside seeking an adventure. You will not be disappointed.
3. WEIRD ART SPEAK: Like any industry, the art world has this short-hand dialogue that’s perfectly fine for artists and art administrators to use amongst themselves. However, I believe that “artspeak” is really hurting contemporary art. “Artspeak” is perfectly fine for doctoral dissertations, but it should not show up in an artist or exhibition statement in a museum or gallery. Artspeak is a turn off that repels potential admirers and customers.
4. MISPLACED DIALOGUE: The media and society in general have a tendency to brand some art dialogue and venues as “art” when they really aren’t. I’ve watched and listened to TV and radio programs and attended “art” events where I haven’t experienced a single piece of art made by a living artist. These programs or events often capitalize on the word “art” for the sake of attracting that crowd or demographic. I believe this practice should stop. It’s disrespectful toward actual art and artists.
5. ONLY PRETTY PICTURES: Far too many of us continue to have a very narrow and limited view of contemporary art. It's like "Baby Food Art." We only consider something “art” when we’re looking at a lovely landscape painting or figurative sculpture. Those things are lovely, but contemporary art is so much more than that. Open your mind! Contemporary art can be anything that an artist creates … including staged events and even a gold-plated, pile of poop. Of course, a gold-plated, pile of poop isn’t traditional art, but in all likelihood, it was created to make you think about something. So think! If you “think” it’s bullcrap, then move on to the next installation which may very well be a naked hotdog hanging on a string from the ceiling. Consider it.
6. ART NOT "THE ARTS": Oftentimes, when I tell people I love contemporary art, somehow, this gets interpreted as me being a fan of “The Arts.” Art and “the arts” are two different things. Yes, contemporary art is indeed part of the arts, but it’s not fair to lump it in with every other art form. Sure, most art fans and collectors also like music, film and theater, but we’re talking contemporary art, not “The Arts.” No offense to the arts.
7. ONLY IN MUSEUMS: We have a tendency to psychologically ignore or reject art that we see outside of museums or galleries. This is a shame. When you see art in restaurants, airports, government building lobbies or any non-traditional venue, that means people in the art world are trying to make art more available to you. They want you to understand art and form a relationship with it. Don’t dismiss it. Enjoy it! It’s there for you … free of charge ... unless you fall in love and want to buy it.
8. DO IT YOURSELF: A big offender is this somewhat misguided, “Do it Yourself” movement that continues to sweep America. Whenever I’m chatting with someone who has “done it” themselves, I always quietly laugh to myself after seeing their result. Trust me, it LOOKS like they’ve done it themselves. Don’t get me wrong here. Can anyone create their own art? Sure, more power to you, but should everyone create their own art? No. Artists are artists for a reason. When you need a doctor, go see a doctor. When you need a firefighter, call 911. When you need an artist, call an artist.
9. PHONY ART FAIRS: I’ve already written about this, but let me just reiterate. An “art fair” that comes complete with jugglers on unicycles, face painting for the kids or little, old ladies selling lovely, colorful scarves is NOT an art fair. It’s a family fun fest. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with those things. I like them as much as anyone else, but these are not the things of serious art fairs. Art fairs exhibit art and only art ... for the most part.
10. POSTERS: Posters are a fantastic way to get into art collecting. In fact, vintage posters often sell for a pretty penny, but those are vintage and rare finds. Vintage posters are in the realm of true art. However, most posters are large, worthless pieces of photo-copied paper. They’re distractions. Let me say here that I collected posters when I was a kid and I loved them. They do serve a cool purpose which will hopefully evolve into a true interest in collecting art from actual, living artists. Why waste your money? You can actually buy an original work of art from a talented artist in your neighborhood for less than you’d pay for buying a poster and having it framed at your local mall.
There you have it. You know, many of us find it difficult to see where we may have gone wrong in our lives. However, I believe life is a learning experience for each of us. Contemporary art isn’t a destination. It’s a journey. You learn as you go. With that in mind, let’s strip off anything that’s holding us back and learn to embrace TRUE art.