Perhaps the “average” viewer should also try to understand and decipher the “modern” artist? Art lives to influence culture by inspiring curiosity in an apathetic public. The public should be more willing to have their brains picked, to stretch their minds, and to feel… yes, for heaven’s sake, a little bit uncomfortable for once.
I find myself questioning this article — it had good strong points, but overlooked some major things in my opinion. When the pull quote was:
“The public is not willing to work at understanding a piece of art, and artists are not willing to explain themselves. We find ourselves at a tragic impasse.”
I wondered if they remembered the very same interaction they’d given us not a few paragraphs before, between the writer and their mother:
“Okay, so what do you think of this one?” I ask.
“Well,” says my mother, “On a first glance, it looks like some of the paintings you created in pre-school.” I laugh.
“And on a second glance?” I say.
My mom stares at the painting for a bit before answering. “As I stare at it,” she says, “I begin to feel sad. It seems sad to me. Is that right?”
“Sure,” I say.
“And… it looks like it might be raining. Isn’t it called ‘Lavender Mist?’”
“Yeah, that’s great, Mom,” I say. I nod, trying to encourage her to go on.
Instead she says, “But, hun, I still don’t get it. So can we leave now? I’d like to grab some lunch before we head home.”
She was willing to work at understanding something, or she wouldn’t have continued past ‘it looks like something you made in pre-school’. Honestly, in this simple exchange, we get the entirety of the problem: Here is someone who knows something about the painting and could explain it, or why Duchamp is famous for his urinals, or really anything that would give the art some sort of meaning to someone who is trying to understand the point or purpose and…they don’t.
Duchamp and Pollock have both been dead for quite some time, so it is in no way their responsibility to explain their art. The piece ended by talking about living contemporary artists explaining their work, but this isn’t the concern of Museums who display contemporary pieces by artists who are A.) dead or B.) Not available as a stand in for a label, docent, guide, or other informative/instructional tool. It is excellent to foster public and artist interactions - I certainly wouldn’t argue against it, I just question that there are two separate points and problems here.
Staring at a white canvas with no explanation, no reason, and no background isn’t challenging anyone: it’s dull! It’s boring, and worst of all, it’s a turn off if you’re already uninterested in art, or believe that art doesn’t connect to you in any way.
When the only conversations being sparked by a piece of art is:
“My four year old could do this.” “I don’t get it.” “This is art? This is stupid!”
The conversation, the willingness to discuss or learn, is already shutting down. Now, as an artist, you could be mindful of this - you could decide to say: I want people to access my art, I want it to be understood or consumed or at least be intriguing enough to question…
But this should not excuse the gallery or museum or even simply the educated in the Art World (and I do mean just in the Art World) from bothering to explain why their field is vital, important, valid, or necessary; or from bothering to explain why the Art is there to begin with.
It’s silly to blame the public for the Art World’s shortcomings. If the Art World makes it challenging, unfriendly, inaccessible, or downright impossible to get anything from it without being fully immersed it is the fault of us, and not them.
People are interested — or can be, if approached. The public is apathetic because we’ve given them no reason to be otherwise. I don’t think there’s many other industries that lay the blame of people being uninterested on the people: and there’s a good reason for it.
There is a cult of the hero-artist, and the work of art answerable to no one but its creator, and it’s killing art. This mentality says those who fail to appreciate what we call fine-art are tasteless, ignorant, and apathetic. If you do not see the glory, you are thick. This of course is nonsense. If the art world is failing to connect with the broader public, it is completely the fault of the former and its unwillingness to communicate in a manner understandable to anyone else.
I know what you’re thinking, “WTF? I hate the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood! If I could eliminate one art historical movement, it’d be them!” While I can commiserate with those sentiments, I have to admit that John Everett Millais’ Isabella (or The Pot of Basil) has grown on me (pun intended). Ok, the PRB is not so bad but like Bouguereau, I always get flack for featuring it. Today, I’ll break down the painting figure group by figure group plus, to entice you, I’ll end with a Tights Are NOT Pants rant.
John Everett Millais, Isabella (or The Pot of Basil), 1849, oil on canvas. Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool
Do people really hate the Pre-Raphaelites? I mean, the stuff they produced struck me as strange when I first encountered it, and I still think it’s what whelped all the ridiculous fantasy novel covers that get made today, but having grown more familiar with it I’ve really come to admire it. Out of its wackier elements (i.e. the Rosetti kinda stuff) we got Arts and Crafts, Symbolism, the Glasgow School, and Art Nouveau in its various forms. It’s bizarre and wonderful. Frankly, Bougoureau can go to hell, though.
I think her photography is smart, I like a lot of it, but as an individual she strikes me as, well, bland. She grew up on Long Island, went to college, got her degree, started making art, had relationships with persons X, Y and Z, has received a number of prestigious awards and retrospectives and continues to make art. She comments that her art is feminist, but at the same time she is derisive of feminist “theorizers” and “radicals”. Ugh, the almost complete absence of biographical texture is making Sherman an incredibly dull and difficult person to write about. I should have chosen a different subject for this assignment.
My girlfriend comments: “What would you expect from a person that makes a career out of dressing up as someone else?”