I'm convinced now more than ever that the biggest problem the art world faces is the lack of arts education in public, primary schooling.
This directly impacts every other issue the art world is dealing with today. It has infected the entire art world food chain for decades. Symptoms of something terribly wrong show up in everything else. It’s a hideous virus.
Well … we have an entire world of people who know next to nothing about contemporary art or art of any genre. They know “Picasso” and that’s it. I mean, they know “Picasso” was a famous painter and … that’s literally it. They may not even know his first name, Pablo. If they DO know his first name, I guarantee you that’s due to alliteration and not arts education.
Anyway, this lack of general awareness … forget education … I’m talking “general awareness” now … means that people have no connection to art and this lack of connection shows up in many things like the lack of attendance inside art galleries, lack of art sales and big issues for struggling artists. More than 90% of talented artists today are not going to get rich or famous from their work and they’re going to have to really hustle to keep roofs over their heads until the day they die. Of course, we all have to do that, but it’s especially pronounced for artists trying to sell their work to people who’d almost always choose a new iPad or car over buying an original work of art.
The good news is that many museums are doing gangbuster attendance. People DO know that they’re supposed to love art, but they just don’t know why. I love the fact that many museums have big crowds, but museums simply cannot fill the void left by the lack of arts education in public or private schools. They can mount absolutely fantastic exhibitions and curators and art administrators - bless their hearts - can do their part and create arts education programming, but they’re simply overwhelmed by the sheer numbers.
It’s just not mathematically possible for museums and galleries to formally educate the entire world populace. They can barely keep pace with their visitors. Primary arts education should be the function of our public and private school systems. Arts institutions are supplements. Arts education programs cost money and as we all know, they’re always the first things to get cut by struggling local governments. This is old news.
My generation was one of the last generations that really had art as part of the curriculum in public schools and since then, well, you can SEE how society is slowly, but surely, coming unglued. Look at the national, political scene right now here in the United States. Do I need to give an example? You know full well what I’m talking about. The frightening part is that we don't see the connection because emotional intelligence is in the toilet right now.
You know, this really does all come down to emotional intelligence or lack thereof. Psychology Today defines emotional intelligence as …
“…The capacity to be aware of, control, and express one's emotions and to handle interpersonal relationships judiciously and empathetically ...”
These days, we’re always hearing employers saying they cannot find enough younger job candidates with the proper, “soft skills” to fill open positions. Forget about actually being “qualified” for the job. Employers can’t find enough young people with the simple discipline to even show up for work on time or care enough to take considerate direction on the job.
Our society has become meaner, nastier, more rushed, more scattered and much cruder ... and ruder. We watch television reality shows because we actually WANT to see people fighting. Our “reality television” reality has become our actuality in actual life. We actually want to see and maybe even BE the lowest common denominator.
We don’t aspire anymore, we descend. We fight.
I don’t know. If I have both a wild bear and stranger Bob standing before me, who will treat me better? Given the day of the week and the mood of the bear, it could actually be a toss up.
People are actually showing their asses on social media. I mean, there once was a time when we used, “showing their asses” as a rhetorical term, but these days, people are actually and literally photographing themselves showing their asses. The other day I saw a photo on social media of a woman actually sitting on the floor, legs spread eagle, with her chin resting on front edge of a toilet. I kid you not.
Is THAT art? I think not. Again, I steer you in the direction of what’s happening on the national political scene. It’s both hilarious and tragic. I don’t know whether to laugh or cry. This has spilled right into our daily lives. Emotional intelligence is in the toilet.
Maybe we should all just hold hands and leap into the abyss right now. Problem is … that would never happen. You couldn’t get us all to agree to hold hands.
I’ve just completed an interview with the brilliant, Mumbai, India-based artrepreneur Mithu Basu. She uttered something that I believe to the core about contemporary art and what it means in our world. Here’s what she said:
“… Were we meant only to SURVIVE? Surely not. Unlike animals, man needs refinement, sensitivity, imagination, emotion, beauty, joy, provocation, aspiration, inspiration, therapeutic nurturing, empathy, introspection and perception … all of which can be stoked by art …”
Look … I’m not saying that arts education is a silver bullet that will solve society’s ills. What I am saying is that we’ve got to remove the blinders and look at cause and effect in our society. God bless everyone in the art world like Mithu Basu. We’re doing our damndest to hold it all together, but it’s tough.
Artists, hang in there. Curators, hang in there. Art galleries and museums, hang in there. Art teachers – those of you who remain – hang in there. Art fair staffers, hang in there. Art world, for all of our faults, hang in there.
We’re living in a crazy, upside down world where priorities are out of whack yet beautiful creation is all around us. We ARE creation and yet, very few of us recognize and certainly don’t respect the creative process, let alone artistry. Emotional intelligence is in the toilet and it’s about to be flushed.
Dutch sculptor Eddy Stikkelorum just told me this:
“... And let us never forget; without art, without music, without dance, life is worthless.”
I think Eddy is on to something. We are disrespecting and disregarding the very thing that gives us life. It’s both hilarious and tragic.
What ever happened to arts education? Hell if I know, but I do think the time is overdue for the art world to stage an uprising.