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Where Art Falls Short
What's wrong with the art world?
Art is under-appreciated, misunderstood, and sometimes inaccessible. And yet it should be such a simple thing- this drawing, painting, sculpture, digital creation or other interesting object is specifically there for enjoyment and contemplation. It was created out of passion and intention. It evokes emotions. It makes a statement. It took time and energy. So what’s wrong with the art world?
Art is everywhere, and yet a lot of it is still inaccessible. It pretends to be for the wealthy, the educated, and the talented. Art classes are expensive. But do you even need classes? And what is art, exactly, anyway? Shouldn’t it be a simple question?
There’s a lot to explore here, but let’s start with these premises for now: Art falls short because it is not taught, not bought, not rethought, and not sought.
Due to funding reasons, teacher availability, access to programs, government educational priorities, and other reasons, students in the US do not receive the arts education that they deserve. The Brookings Institute published a study about the advantages of an arts education in schools. Unfortunately it’s difficult to gather data at all because there are no consistent or mandatory reporting requirements. Schools know they need better arts programs, and parents often turn to community programs to fill the gap- if they can.
Art should be practiced and discussed by everyone. There are personal and societal benefits to embracing arts and culture as a medium. Art is a subject matter that can teach us to explore our feelings, communicate in new ways, and share discourse on difficult topics. But if we don’t know how to approach art, where to find art, what art is, or how to make art, we can’t understand these benefits.
If you know what you’re looking for and you know how to search for it, there are plenty of resources for Arts & Culture education. They are at every price point and include free tools, classes, and activities. The real issue is that these options can be hard to find and this topic is definitely not top of mind. The United States, unlike most European countries, do not centrally fund Arts & Culture programs. This means the burden for teaching and discussing the arts falls on parents, nonprofits, and communities. Without this central focus, we lack the resources, including teachers and advocates, that will help us learn and talk about the arts.
Art comes in multiple forms and multiple sizes and multiple genres. That means it also comes at multiple price points. There is art for every budget, including free art. You can make art. You can trade and barter art. You can borrow art. You can negotiate the price of art.
It’s tough to know how to do this though. When you go to a museum, the art is for show, not for sale, but there’s usually a museum gift shop where you can buy posters and prints and postcards and merchandise of the art. Online retailers sell art at every price point. Resale shops sell art. Many artists sell their own art. Most cities have a community art fair, or if you’re lucky, you live near a city with a large annual art fair event. The artists would love to talk to you. They will answer all of your questions- from how they work to what their prices are. They really want to talk to you.
The message here is to explore, ask, and- if you haven’t yet done so- invest in your first piece of art. The price here doesn’t matter. Whether you spend $10 on Etsy or $25 at a museum gift shop or $200 at a community art fair, you should be able to point to something in your house and say “This is my art. It resonated with me. I bought it. I supported the artist and funded their work, either directly or indirectly. I can discuss this piece because it has meaning to me.” When you go from “appreciating art” to “buying art,” you gain a new sense of self. It’s incredible how this can shift your perspective.
It’s one thing to go to an art museum or see a show, but it’s another thing to discuss this work with a friend or the community. What type of reflection do you do in front of a painting? What thought do you give to a piece of prose in a book? How do you watch the dancers in a video or on stage? No answer here is incorrect- we could all use a little more time in life to appreciate the arts, and very few people have a formal education about art appreciation. We’re not going to cultural events to be critics, but they do deserve a second thought.
That first impression of a work of art can be exceptionally moving. We might initially love it or be bothered by it or be confused about it. Whatever reaction comes is a great starting point for examining the art. To look at a work or to take part in a cultural event requires some stamina. Many museums are huge (and we probably paid a lot to be there) so we don’t have the time or energy or desire to stand in front of all. The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art has over 33,000 works. There’s no way we would have time to contemplate each one on a single visit. Clearly you need a strategy for these large scope museums. That first impression as we walk past something has real power, and you want to honor the works that strike you by rethinking them.
Reexamining a piece is when the real magic happens. When you can stand up close to an artwork, and then step back and see it from a different angle, or when you can see a performance for the second time, you begin to notice small details or idiosyncrasies and can form associations and make connections between that work and your life. You become wise about a piece. You can feel in touch with the artist. That is power. These are the things that give art meaning.
Museums claim to have as much traffic as sporting events. It’s good in theory but there’s not a lot of data to back this up. Sporting events are sexy, and art museums are interesting- to a certain crowd. They’re both leisure activities but despite the cultural richness of one, it’s likely that the majority of people spend more time seeking the entertainment of the other.
Sadly, a lot of parents don’t bring up their kids to value going to art exhibits and events. It’s something we pick up as we get older and begin to appreciate things like design, aesthetics, and art. But museums and galleries are destination spaces. They don’t pop to the top of mind when trying to decide “What should we do today?” Additionally, when art is not taught at school, then kids lose their best chance to feel like art is part of a normal world, available to them in a multitude of mediums, possible as a career in a number of areas, and fulfilling in a sense of understanding and expressing our complex world. If they aren’t surrounded by it, they can’t choose it as a practice or be in a place of appreciation.
Art is a destination waiting to be sought out and embraced. It has a lot to offer us in ways that enrich our lives. Art, in various forms, is used as serious therapy. Art is spiritual. Some art is deeply religious. Art brings us together as a community. Art should be discussed. Each piece of art does not need to be liked, but each piece of art has something to tell us. And in order to hear it, you have to know it, see it, and access it. Art is not only for the wealthy or the educated. Art doesn’t require you to have an art history degree or a portfolio of your own work. Art shouldn’t intimidate you- quite the opposite. We should be encouraged to ask a lot of questions. We should be offered clear thoughts about a piece. We should love sharing art with our friends and community. Art is powerful. It’s emotional, hopeful, and sometimes visionary. Art is a journey, calling for you to walk with it.