Dear haters of modern art,
The art world can sometimes seem as if though it’s closed-off – exclusive to intellectuals and pseudo-intellectuals alike. Within circles of contemporary art and post-modernism, it’s not uncommon to find conceptual pieces that focus more on ideas, as opposed to the final artistic outcome. To some, this is great advancement for the art world, but to others these sometimes obscure pieces are met with contempt or a feeling of “I could have done that myself”. But while you could have done it, you didn’t. This is echoed from gallery to gallery, and it needs to stop. Are people missing the point of what art is, or has the art world just alienated itself so much that it seems too exclusive for the everyday person?
I want to argue that the art world isn’t very exclusive at all. In a lifetime, people will come across pieces they love and pieces they detest, and that’s totally natural. But to dislike a piece through lack of understanding – an issue constantly arising within post-modern and contemporary art – is the most common complaint within the confines of a gallery. The problem lies with both spectator and gallery. The spectator is part of the problem because he often goes in with something other than a totally open mind – to view contemporary art you should clear your mind and expectations of anything resembling a Renaissance-era painting, and be open to be faced with anything and everything.
But perhaps more worryingly, the gallery is the biggest hindrance to rebuilding bridges between the public and art once more. Galleries are a brilliant resource for seeing new, innovative art. They are also brilliant at showing work of the old masters. Galleries are usually free, easy to access and always have something new on. The galleries do a great job of advertising, and of course behind the scenes there is a massive amount of work done to curate the pieces. The problem lies with the explanation of the work. The language used in galleries and art books is often quite drab, inaccessible, and often so specialized that the only people that understand it are within the field of art itself. They often lack in the language that can be understood by anyone and everyone. This of course does a disservice to the spectators that are not involved in the art world.
The seemingly exclusive nature of the art world is something that alienates the artists and the viewers, and it’s something that needn’t happen. In interviews with artists, both contemporary and historical, a common theme is accessibility to all.
A historical example is Picasso’s mural – Guernica. This piece was intended as an anti-war piece. In the mural, it is one of Picasso’s most identifiable styles – cubism. It focusses on a depiction of human suffering, and the many faces and even grey tones of the painting amount to showing the despair that can be caused by war. Guernica is a powerful painting, but also a powerful reminder and warning of what war can do. This is all depicted in a totally language-free form, and is open for all people of any background to see and to make what they want of it. This is truly free of any exclusivity of the art world.
A powerful contemporary example of accessible art comes from a YBA – Sarah Lucas. Lucas’ work is mainly comprised of ‘ready-mades’ (these are everyday objects that can be found anywhere and are then appropriated for art works). One of her more notable works is an installation piece called ‘Bunny Gets Snookered’, which consists of eight mannequins made out of stuffed women’s tights that are posed limply over chairs. The piece explores different ideas such as female sexuality, male sexuality, and stereotyping seduction. While there are evident themes in the installation, it is still open to interpretation.
It is the contemporary and conceptual art such as Lucas’ work that is often found to be the most baffling and difficult to understand. The phrase “I could do that” or “my five year old could have done that” always comes up in contemporary art. While I disagree with the statement, I can understand that the work sometimes looks like it lacks in any technical skill – for while there isn’t technical skill, there is thought and an idea. It is the thought and the idea that people must engage with; contemporary art is a way to express the inexpressible. It is also a way to express what even music (with lyrics) or literature cannot express: it is language-less and could reach anyone willing to spend a little more time looking at it.
This isn’t an attack on the old masters of art, or the people that prefer classic art because it’s clear, and the skill involved is evident and obvious. But there is a whole world of modern and contemporary art that is playful, witty, funny, and thought provoking, and it will never reach the intended people (the whole of the general public) if people continue to believe that “contemporary art isn’t for me, I just don’t understand it”.
The art world can be an intimidating thing, and it can be difficult to say you think differently to another person’s opinion on a piece of art. Though it’s these things that make art so wonderful – being able to explain why you think or feel this as opposed to that – it’s important to remember there is no ‘correct’ opinion. The artists have put their work for the world to see, and within the art world anything goes.
The next time you’re in a gallery, take the time out to really see a piece, whether it’s one that you detest, or one that you love. And if you don’t feel satisfied, read the explanation that goes alongside and see if your mind changes. But most of all, make sure you go in with an open mind: the art isn’t there to ridicule, or seclude anyone just because they’re not trained in the arts. With an open mind, you may just find your new favourite piece.