From the beginning, we are shown in all throughout American culture that art is a thing of elitism. People in movies appear holding crystal wine glasses, women are covered in diamonds and men smoke cigars at parties with large expensive art decorating their mansions. Art bids are seen as a pastime for the rich, and many people joke about having a Picasso in their living room. The origins of this are something that no one can nail down but are a stigma that holds true for all of us. Part of this, like many scholarly topics, is art’s history. Painting, for the most part, was first executed in western culture as only a feat for churches, creating huge masterpieces much like Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel frescoes and only big projects were funded. Only the educated or rich had access to such “luxury.” The culture of the Renaissance portrait paintings jump-started the foundation of art as a hobby of rich elitist men. Still today the trickle effects are seen even at the local Plains Art Museum, which has no problem with elderly endowed traffic.
Artists are very aware of all that this entails and many have been throwing a big middle finger out to the powers that be, to try to rewrite this narrative. An example this past week is the Banksy painting. Famous for his street art, he built and planted a paper shredder into one of his minimalist paintings in the case that it might ever go to auction. This past week his wish came true and as the gavel struck for his $1.4 million art piece, it is theorized that one of his assistants hit the button in the crowd because the painting immediately began to shred. People were flabbergasted and such an act has gotten unlimited media attention. A huge concept behind this is a commentary on art auctions and the pretentious air and obnoxious amounts of money spent on art simply for it being an inflamed artist.
Revolting simulations such as this are a huge element to modern art. Artists constantly take up social movements in their art and a lot of modernist art can feel far out to viewers. The art either buys into the canon and portrays typical iconography and the average citizen misses the references and doesn’t relate. The other side is the abstraction of art that has simple shapes on canvas or color fielding paintings where there are simply three straight colors on a canvas in a line and people are dumbfounded that it is considered art. This, stacked with the mysterious rules that normal people can’t truly understand all that art is, pulls the viewer even further away from being attached to the art. So where does that leave the viewer? Lost in the two polarized places of art, both with limited understanding.
It is undeniable that art will become less pretentious overnight, and all the formalities that are hanging paintings in a gallery, eating fancy cheeses at an opening and the concept that art cannot be touched will change. This distant form of art is shifting out of the norm as preconceived notions are being eliminated in places like Meow Wolf, and other contemporary museums. Yet, the concept of art being a far-out reality with hidden rules and insides jokes is still permeated in art showcases. And most artists are devastated by this. Art is for the viewer, it is for the continual reinterpretation, it is supposed to be different. People being closed off to art because they don’t “understand” it is the ultimate sadness and no doubt contributes to the fact that people only look at a painting for two seconds on average. This connotation limits people to art. It is time to wipe away these conceptions because art is made to be an individual experience, tailored to each and every viewer. Yes, having an artist statement that allows you to get in their head never hurts, but should never be conceptually necessary for a viewer to get anything from the art. Then you are just waiting to be told what to do, and what to look for. Art is for creativity, connection and evoking emotion in abstract references. It is also for recording, categorizing, venting and just about every other emotion-based action. Next time you interact with art, don’t feel like you are doing it wrong, just do it for you. That’s the beauty of art.