Elizabeth Charlotte Grant

Elizabeth Charlotte Grant is a nonfiction writer who lives in Denver with her husband and two children. Read her serial publications of her in-progress falling-in-love story and her essays about discovering racism in herself and her country at http://LiteraryArtifacts.com. You can also follow her on Facebook (@elizabethcharlottegrant) and Instagram (@elizcharlottegrant).

Museum Conversations

Perhaps you’re familiar with Jackson Pollock’s drip paintings, the ones that art critic Craig Brown (a contemporary of Pollock) called “decorative ‘wallpaper.‘” I understand the sentiment: after all, what makes a splattered canvas so noteworthy that one of Pollock’s paintings sold at auction ten years ago for $140 million, setting records at the time for the most expensive painting in the world? (Not to mention the recent scandals where even a fake Pollock painting can sell for 3.1 million dollars.)

The problem of interpretation has always been one of the primary discussions in contemporary and modern art, exemplified by Pollock’s abstract expressionist paintings. Those outside the art world wonder, what does it mean? And if meaning can’t be determined at a glance, is it really “art” at all?

Pollock himself responded to the issue of interpretation in a radio interview with William Wright in 1950 by saying,

“I think they [the public] should not look for, but look passively—and try to receive what the painting has to offer and not bring a subject matter or preconceived idea of what they are to be looking for… I think the unconsciousness drives do mean a lot in looking at paintings… I think it should be enjoyed just as music is enjoyed—after a while you may like it or you may not…at least give it a chance.

The Denver Art Museum’s recent effort at addressing this question of interpretation is noteworthy. Inspiration came from the Columbus Museum of Art’s exhibit Radical Camera, where one hundred fifty photographs captured events and people from underrepresented populations in New York City from the Great Depression through the Cold War. As the Columbus Alive article put it, “Images range from tenement dwellers and crime scenes to kids making games of sidewalk chalk drawings and pretend lynchings… [these photographs] possess the power to burn their way onto your irises.”

Due to such controversial subject matter, curators created a unique way for visitors to respond to the photographs, providing tags visitors could hang on a hook next to the photos. Tags were labeled with different words, such as injustice, anguish, fear, joy, and friendship. A visitor could also browse the tags that others had hung at each piece of art.

In an email, Danielle St. Peter, the Interpretive Specialist for Modern and Contemporary Art at the Denver Art Museum, described to me that she had wanted to implement a similar method for the current (and still ongoing) Audacious: Contemporary Artists Speak Out exhibition, as curators hope the exhibit will cultivate conversation amongst viewers.

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St. Peter elaborates: “We were hopeful that visitors would recognize…multiple perspectives… and experience the exhibition as a safe space to explore and discuss difficult, emotionally charged issues that relate to our contemporary world.”

Case in point: Shirin Neshat’s photograph with calligraphy, Allegiance with Wakefulness, 1994. The shot is angled so that a pair of women’s feet dominate, while the out of focus frame of a woman in a burka sits behind them. Right in the center, held steady through the woman’s insteps, the figure points the barrel of rifle straight at the viewer. Calligraphy in thick, black ink covers each sole with the words of an Iranian woman poet.

Allegiance with Wakefulness, Shirin Neshat, 1994. Gelatin silver print with calligraphy. Gift of Polly and Mark Addison, 2009.375 © Shirin Neshat

Allegiance with Wakefulness, Shirin Neshat, 1994. Gelatin silver print with calligraphy. Gift of Polly and Mark Addison, 2009.375 © Shirin Neshat

Naturally, the work jolts the casual museumgoers: it’s not every day a gun points in our direction. However, the artist’s intention and history is opaque. A viewer would not know just from viewing the photo, for example, that Neshat herself is an Iranian expatriate in America, or that she feels unfamiliar with the Iranian revolution of 1979 because she started a new life in the United States before it began. A viewer would never have heard her motivations for exploring her subject matter: that she “found [women] to be the most potent subjects [to explore], in terms of how the social and political changes cause by the revolution affected their lives, how they embodied this new ideology, and how they were managing to survive the changes.”[i]

Neshat is aware that a portrait of a veiled Iranian could also reinforce Western stereotypes of women of the Middle East, a fact that caused controversy among Iranian viewers. But then again, the photo does something drastic to subvert the stereotype: the subject of Allegiance with Wakefulness, 1994, aims a weapon at eye-level. As critic Jonathan Goodman writes of this piece:

“The gun barrel pointing out between a pair of beautiful feet in Allegiance with Wakefulness, 1994, is a powerful corrective to the notion of Iranian women as passive beholders of political change. A poem is written on the soles [of the feet], an excerpt reads, ‘I pray for you guardian of the liberating Revlolution.’ The image makes an ambiguous statement, one calculated to disturb our presuppositions about [Neshat’s] stance. [ii]

The artist’s own ambivalence lends an openness to the “meaning” behind  her art, inviting the viewer to engage the work with a similar openness. Depending on what part of the world a viewer calls home, or a viewer’s feelings about guns or the middle east or a woman’s role in society at large, a photograph like this could evoke the whole range of human emotions and interpretations.

Which makes it the perfect conversation starter. The question St. Peter asked herself was: how do we encourage viewers to give this work of art the time of day required to engage it thoughtfully?

As St. Peter put it,

“To me, [viewing contemporary art] is about spending time with an object. At the museum, we often see people stop for three seconds and move on, but art really demands more of your time. I think the trap [of] contemporary art…is that it doesn’t always have a recognizable subject matter that you can relate to or doesn’t look like it took a lot of artistic skill to make (some of the age-old criteria for appreciating art). Maybe it looks too simple, maybe it doesn’t look like art at all. Whatever the reason, if you find yourself not wanting to spend time with a work of art, that is exactly the work that you should be spending time with. As artist John Cage so aptly put [it], ‘If something is boring after two minutes, try it for four. If still boring, then try it for eight, sixteen, thirty-two and so on. Eventually one discovers that it’s not that boring at all.’

With the Columbus Museum of Art’s interpretive activity in mind, she and the DAM’s graphic designer (Matt Rue of McGinty Co.) came up with their own version: dropping colored acrylic cubes into test tubes beside the artwork.

They introduced the activity to visitors with a display that explained,

“The artworks in Audacious deal with emotionally charged issues. We invite you to share how the work makes you feel. Here’s how: 1) Each of the colored blocks represents an emotion. Select a few to take with you through the exhibition. 2) When you see an artwork with a test tube, drop in the color block that best represents how the work makes you feel. 3) Look at how others have responded. Does seeing this alter your perspective?

The cubes were either blue or pink, ranging in shade from light to dark, and each signified a different emotion: either empathetic (royal blue), optimistic (teal), empowered (light blue), hopeless (magenta), angry (pink), or confused (light pink).

And just like that, viewers were handed a framework for interpretation: start with your own emotion. Then examine another’s emotion, as displayed in the test tube. Ask yourself, why might someone else see this differently?

I myself participated, a handful of plastic beads clutched in my palm as I walked from piece to piece, drawn to spend more time at the artworks where clear test tubes had been fastened to the wall beside the work. (Initially, only 9 works of art had accompanying test tubes; but within three weeks of the exhibit’s opening, the museum staff added more). It felt like a game. I had permission to decide what each piece meant; the power of meaning-making had flipped from artist to viewer.

St. Peter agrees:

“By choosing both positive and negative reactions for the cubes, we are giving visitors permission to feel confused or angry about what they are seeing. I sometimes worry that visitors think they need to like everything that we install in the galleries, that they have to ‘get it.’ That certainly is not the case. Some of my [own] most powerful art experiences have been with objects or installations that I didn’t understand at first, or ones that made me angry.

Their hunch has paid off: the public has loved this game of interpretation. While DAM has not performed a formal study, visitors enthusiastically shared photos of the activity on social media and requested that more test tubes be placed by certain art works. And in the interim, before more test tubes were placed, museumgoers were so eager to share their responses they stacked cubes on the floor, below the installations without test tubes.

The gallery hosts also had stories to share, like the story relayed to St. Peter about the group of middle schoolers on a class field trip who viewed Marc Quinn’s Jamie Gillespie, 1999, a marble Greek-style sculpture of an amputee. The sculpture made the students “angry” (pink cube), but their gallery host asked them to look closely: how had others responded to this piece?

Jamie Gillespie Marc Quinn, 1999 Marble and plinth, 80h x 51d cm

Jamie Gillespie Marc Quinn, 1999
Marble and plinth, 80h x 51d cm

 

The test tube rattled with teal and light blue cubes (“optimistic” and “empowered”). The students felt perplexed—hadn’t a terrible thing happened to this man with one leg? Their gallery host facilitated a discussion with the students then and there, reminding them to read the placard nearby, which described how the man had participated in the Paralympic Games. This figure, even though he was missing a limb, represented an athlete at the height of his physical abilities.

Those walking the halls beside us usually remain anonymous, and their differing perspectives stay private; but here, a different read became obvious, impossible to ignore. Perhaps a test tube full of acrylic beads provides an anathema to the casual or even dismissive art viewing culture that Pollock responded to over 60 years ago, a culture that still persists today—maybe it can teach us to give the art a chance.

 

 


[i] Quotations taken from “After-Images of a Revolution,” by Dr. Negar Mottahedeh, written in 2003, from Iran Chamber Society: http://www.iranchamber.com/cinema/articles/after_images_revolution.php

[ii] Ibid

NASA’s Abstract Expressionism

What shape is a cloud? A kindergarten teacher would tell her class that, of course, a cloud is a circle. But this is a matter of perspective. How do you draw the clouds that form a hurricane, or how do you paint a cloud on a cloudless day?

As the mathematician Benoit B. Madelbrot mused in the introduction to The Fractal Geometry of Nature:

“Why is geometry often described as ‘cold’ and ‘dry’? One reason lies in its inability to describe the shape of a cloud, a mountain, a coastline, or a tree. Clouds are not spheres, mountains are not cones, coastlines are not circles, and bark is not smooth, nor does lightning travel in a straight line… [In fact,] nature exhibits not simply a higher degree but an altogether different level of complexity. The number of…natural patterns is for all practical purposes infinite.”

"Desert to Forest" Credit: U.S. Geological Survey  Department of the Interior/USGS http://eros.usgs.gov/imagegallery/earth-art-3#9

“Desert to Forest”
Credit: U.S. Geological Survey
Department of the Interior/USGS
http://eros.usgs.gov/imagegallery/earth-art-3#9

Mandelbrot is the father of the mathematical field of Fractals and his work reveals patterns in the most chaotic of elements of the natural world. From the smallest shells to the grandest weather systems, we find order. Through aerial satellite shots of our great green planet, we catch a glimpse of the level of the natural world’s complexity. Clouds lose all familiarity; so do valleys, trees, rivers, and algae: our world looks foreign and abstract.

"Tibesti Mountains" Photo: ESA http://www.esa.int/spaceinimages/Images/2012/11/Tibesti_Mountains

“Tibesti Mountains”
Photo: ESA
http://www.esa.int/spaceinimages/Images/2012/11/Tibesti_Mountains

In their “Earth as Art” project, NASA scientists compare these images to abstract art. My husband Jeremy, a visual artist, was awestruck by these satellite photographs, and admitted to me that it was these photographs that first caused him to appreciate abstraction. He learned to view abstract art differently: on the one hand, he still searched for signs of resemblance to the earthly shapes he knew so well on the ground, and on the other hand, he felt satisfied to take in the photographs’ alien oddity as a beauty he could not understand or categorize.

"Mississippi River Delta" Photo: ESA http://www.esa.int/spaceinimages/Images/2012/05/Mississippi_River_Delta

“Mississippi River Delta”
Photo: ESA
http://www.esa.int/spaceinimages/Images/2012/05/Mississippi_River_Delta

Of course, abstract art works in the same way. The viewer learns to appreciate what he recognizes and what he does not, equally valuing and enjoying the two. As Jackson Pollock said, “[Looking at my work is] like looking at a bed of flowers. You don’t tear your hair out trying to figure out what it means.”

"Bolivian Deforestation" Credit: U.S. Geological Survey  Department of the Interior/USGS http://eros.usgs.gov/imagegallery/earth-art#5

“Bolivian Deforestation”
Credit: U.S. Geological Survey
Department of the Interior/USGS
http://eros.usgs.gov/imagegallery/earth-art#5

As Pollock discerns, figurative art is based on meaning. The figures a viewer sees in two dimensions on a canvas or in a sculpture reminds her of three-dimensional objects, people, and places, all of which she recognizes because her adult brain has assigned meanings to these distinct shapes and colors.But to an infant, these shapes have no significance: all the world is abstracted to those wide, blinking eyes. In fact, researchers tell us that infants can make out few colors and have such poor depth perception that they can only perceive the world in two dimensions.

"Northern Kazakhstan" Credit: U.S. Geological Survey  Department of the Interior/USGS http://eros.usgs.gov/imagegallery/earth-art-2#29

“Northern Kazakhstan”
Credit: U.S. Geological Survey
Department of the Interior/USGS
http://eros.usgs.gov/imagegallery/earth-art-2#29

How peculiar, then, that we can lose our sense of wonder as we age, wanting only to find meaning in the art we see on a museum wall. Certainly meaning is our great comfort: it gives us the ability to make sense of our world, which is particularly helpful in moments when our lives seem disordered and nonsensical. However, our perspective is often limited to our small plot of land in our small community of people with our small tastes and preferences. When we travel abroad, we experience new landscapes, people, and dishes, and though we could have read of these strange customs and vistas on the Internet before our visit, the sensual experience of them teaches us a dramatically new perspective.

"The Syrian Desert" Credit: U.S. Geological Survey  Department of the Interior/USGS http://eros.usgs.gov/imagegallery/earth-art-2#37

“The Syrian Desert”
Credit: U.S. Geological Survey
Department of the Interior/USGS
http://eros.usgs.gov/imagegallery/earth-art-2#37

What my husband adored about these NASA photographs of earth was that it lent him new eyes to make meaning out of the things that seemed most familiar. And maybe as you or I learn to find beauty in the alien shapes and colors of our own planet, we can also learn to appreciate the new meanings and perspectives we find in the abstract art hanging on a gallery wall — just maybe.

"Volcanoes" Credit: U.S. Geological Survey  Department of the Interior/USGS http://eros.usgs.gov/imagegallery/earth-art-2#40

“Volcanoes”
Credit: U.S. Geological Survey
Department of the Interior/USGS
http://eros.usgs.gov/imagegallery/earth-art-2#40

Images courtesy of; The European Space Agency and the U.S. Geological Survey.

My City is on Fire

As I write this, fires ravage my city. If I do a quick search online, I can see fire lick the hills behind my church, which sits in a neighborhood where my in-laws and two sets of family friends have homes filled with valuables and memories. There are reports of buildings burning to the ground, burning to a pile of black ash. The air is filled with smoke, even in my part of the city twenty miles from the flames, and we can hardly see the mountains because of the haze. Thousands of people have fled their homes with just the essentials. They are camping in hotels and on the friends’ living room floors, waiting for things to return to normal.

The Wallow Fire in Arizona and New Mexico, Summer 2011. Photo by Kevin Benedict.

I live in Colorado Springs, a sprawling city of 500,000 people. It takes an hour from north to south or east to west to cross by car, and it sits in the valley below Pikes Peak, a bare and striking mountain in the Rockies.

The fires started because Colorado is a desert. The landscape is a combination of dirt plains and forested mountains, but this year we have only received 20 percent of the rain we expected; in other words, we are in a major drought. Naturally, only evergreens would color the landscape with life; an on-looker would see only a subtle palette of browns, yellows, and oranges across the plains and the evergreens covering the mountainsides. But now, you can see brown smoke and  bold orange flames on the ridge lines of our mountains. You would imagine that they were once dormant volcanos now awake in violent fury, but really, the fires are stripping them of their beauty.

Last Saturday, friends were told to evacuate their homes voluntarily, if they felt like it, because a fire had begun in a far-off canyon. We had a party with a family of evacuees and cooked frozen pizzas on the grill to keep the insides of our houses cool. We ate a cream pie for dessert and chatted through the evening.

But then the winds picked up to sixty-five miles per hour and the blazes grew out of control. We stepped outside our door Sunday morning and smelled a barbecue like it was a neighbor’s grill. No one could contain it. The temperature sky-rocketed to 100 degrees with no rain in sight. Church on Sunday was cancelled.

Then we heard that a nearby tourist spot, a ranch, no longer existed. The structure and its insides were gone, consumed. We received a call from my in-laws, worried about their house. Friends texted from far-away places — they’d heard about the fires on CNN. We heard that the “navy seals” of firefighters were called in to serve and that the Pentagon had released an order for the Air Force Academy to send planes to dump water over the blaze.

On Wednesday, my husband found a photo of our church online. We gasped to see the field beside it lit up. Only a parking lot separates it from the fire. Our church spent years raising money to erect this building, now only a couple of years old, and we may never set foot inside again.

My in-laws’ house is also in the path of the fire. Though they now live on the east coast, they lived in the house for over twenty years and have a title on file. My husband may never again see the house he grew up in.

Our friends may never return to their homes to eat a meal or take a mid-afternoon nap, and if they do, the rolling hills where deer used to wander will be blackened and empty. One family just moved into their house and filled it with treasures collected from a life of travels.

They say the fire could have begun by arson, but what’s the use in speculating? Whether someone lit a match out of malice or forgot to stir the embers in their campfire to grey, the fire began. It lives and breathes. One article said the fire “exploded” and compared our plight to a war. We are under attack and the enemy knows no moral bounds.

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Colorado Springs is filled with a diversity of people. We have artists, we have religious people, we have irreligious people, we have liberals, we have conservatives, we have hippies, we have the military. Often these groups have been disunified because of our differences.

Squad Leader Joshua J. Derksen, of the Shasta Lake IHC, patrolling the area of a burnout operation on northern California's Silver Fire in September of 2009. Photo by Kevin Benedict.

Yet these people have all been moved to real compassion. Our church flooded our pastor’s email inbox with messages offering homes and places to stay to evacuees in our church body. Some local graphic designers created a handful of t-shirts, a few lauding the tireless firefighters, to sell to raise money for victims of this fire and other fires in the state. A Facebook group was created to “mob” another town that had been evacuated over the weekend with business to help struggling stores make up their losses, and so far, over 4,000 people have been invited with close to 1,000 planning to stop by.

As Singer-songwriter Tyler James says, “It took the fire to save my soul / It took the fire to change me.”

When we lose the sense of control on our lives, it seems that we can be released to truly love and suffer with each other. We have seen this enacted countless other times across the world, when disasters wipe a community clean.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

I am afraid. I have never witnessed a natural disaster in progress from such close range. In fact, natural disasters feel different on TV. It all felt surreal when it began. But there is nothing like an act of God to show us humans how out of control we truly are.

To date, we do not know when the fire will stop or if it will be stopped. More than 32,000 have evacuated, leaving their homes to possible destruction. Thousands of acres (over 15,000) have burned and buildings and homes have collapsed under its heat. No one will forget these weeks or the fire that ravaged and scarred our land.

All of this has forced my husband and I to consider, what would we take with us? Perhaps some art from our walls and his studio, our hard drives and laptops, the contents of our closets and my jewelry box, my journals, but anything else? Have we forgotten anything? All of a sudden the game of “what ifs” is real and pressing. What if we had an afternoon to collect ourselves? What if it we only had an hour? Our things have such fading worth.

We could spend the whole day monitoring the progress of the 1,000 firefighters at work. We could give in to fear and call friends and family every hour to see if they are still safe. We could check photos on the internet to see if the places we care about have burned or whether they are still standing.

Or I can choose to trust. I can choose to trust that the city volunteers, giving up their nights and weekends, are truly fighting for me. I can trust that I will live through this, and even if our home burns, that what matters will come with us. And most of all, I can trust that though I am out of control, that God Himself is in control. Being out of control can actually free me to trust, and that is enough for me.

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kevinbenedict.com

My Mother Versus Modern Art

My mother and I walk into an art museum. Already, this sounds like the set-up for a joke, and really it is. You could call it a small miracle that my mother was even willing to step foot inside a building with something called “art” on its walls. Probably the last time we entered the National Gallery together was for my class field trip in fifth grade when, just to be nice, she signed up to be a chaperone.

We get tickets, and she tells me she will treat for lunch after we are all done — the first reason I brought her along.  And as we walk toward the modern wing, she now discovers the second.

“Mom, is it okay if I write down your responses to the art?” I ask, pulling a small black notebook out of my backpack before she answers.

“Yeah, I guess so,” she says.

We walk toward the wall in front of us.

“What do you think of this one?” I ask her.

In front of us a canvas stretches across the wall, the length and height of a man, except that no forms or colors are painted onto the canvas’ surface.

“Well…” she says, “Am I missing something?”

“What do you mean?” I say.

“I mean… is this it?” she asks. I stand next to her, just to her right.

“Hmm. I see what you mean,” I say. Then suddenly I step backward. “Let’s look at it from back here,” I say.

My mother joins me, taking steps backward, continuing to stare at the canvas in front of her, her head still. We look for a few more seconds.

“I think there may be a white paint on the surface,” I say, watching my mother’s face. My mother squints her eyes. Her mouth squirms. Then she sighs, turning to look at me.

“I’m sorry, Lizzy,” she says, “I just don’t see anything at all. It just looks like a blank canvas to me.”

“Fair enough,” I say, grinning. I make a note in pen on a page in my notebook.

We move on to a sculpture hanging on the wall just a few steps away. We pause in front of it.

“Is that what I think it is?” asks my mom.

I laugh. “Almost definitely,” I say, “Marcel Duchamp was famous for his urinals.”

“And that is ‘art’?” says my mother, pointing at the urinal, “Who decides these things?” She makes a few furious hand motions and then turns to leave.

“Hold on, hold on,” I say, scribbling in my notebook. “I came to find one piece in particular. We can leave after I see it.”

My mother sighs and follows me deeper into the gallery. Soon I catch a glimpse of purple and grey paint from a few rooms away: one of Jackson Pollock’s lavender masterpieces.

“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.”

“Here it is,” I tell my mom. We sit down in front of it on a wooden bench. “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.”

I smile. “Okay, Mom,” I say, and we make our way toward the cafeteria and then out into the open air, both convinced our outing was a success: for me because my mother was willing to stare at modern art for thirty whole minutes, and for my mother because she knows I will not force her to step into another art gallery for another ten years at least.

The truth is, most visual artists I know have mothers and fathers like mine — they love their children, they may have even paid for art classes or a creative degree, but they do not understand why in the world their children are so enthralled with the visual art of our time (or the time before us). They may not even understand the art their own children create.

Yet I have found that the world of museum art has no respect for such viewers, even if the artists have a personal connection to this broader non-artist audience through their own families. The audience that seems to matter most in this circle is the world of curators and critics and collectors: those people who ultimately choose the art that will hang on blank gallery walls, who write articles about its place in art history, and who pay thousands of dollars for a piece of history to hang above their stone fireplaces.

Artists in this culture find it an insult to have to sit down with an art-illiterate person to explain their work. It is beneath them; the work should speak for itself. But what if it doesn’t? What if someone needs help in understanding why an artist’s work matters?

This is troubling. If an ordinary person, like my mother, has no interest in stepping into the National Gallery on her vacation, then art has become entirely irrelevant to the general public. Visual art does not matter anymore. It holds no power to move culture, to touch children, to change hearts and minds.

And in fact, the public’s views about art are not really that surprising. When you look at the art that has been lauded for the past sixty years, you can see why most people feel that visual art, particularly art that hangs on the walls of art museums, was not made for them. They “just don’t get it.” (Though, really, who does?)

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.

However, in this chasm between art and the public exists a movement of local artistry — artists who are showing and selling their work in their local communities, who are telling stories through their artwork, who are painting real people they know, who are willing to sit down and explain the abstraction in their work. They are not afraid of the public. In fact, to them, the public is their primary audience.

In my hometown in Colorado, a gallery, the Modbo, has formed a collective of local figurative painters who meet together monthly to critique each other’s work. The owners of the gallery have developed a reputation for the art they show, and the community has responded: the work sells. Non-artists can stop into openings and talk with artists directly about their work, asking questions and developing a relationship with the artists in the collective.

I cannot tell you that this group is single-handedly changing the art world, but I know they are fighting a movement of artists who care less and less about audience, and more and more about self-expression. These visual artists are held accountable: they exist in a community of artists who critique their work, and they exist in a community of people who will buy their work only if they connect on a personal level with the art and the artist.

I wonder if visual artists already accepted into the museum world could use their influence to change the cultural attitudes of audiences and artists towards each other. The larger the audience, the more true fame and influence an artist has.

I also wonder how often we consider our audiences in our art-making. Our audience matters. Art loses impact if we create only for ourselves, and often, our best art comes from considering others.

Perhaps we can hope for a turning of the tide, a swing back toward the center of the pendulum arc. Self-expression has had its heyday. Now, let us return home, back toward art made with others in mind. I can tell you that my mother, and perhaps yours too, might even venture inside a gallery to take a peek at what we make.

 

photo by: Allie_Caulfield