Art has an image problem.
I was reminded of that over the last few months, as I tried to lead a classroom of teenagers through several hundred years of art history.
To me, it is a labor of love to lead children in creative pursuits. And the same is true in opening young eyes to the vast, wonderful world of human creativity.
But I can never predict the audience reaction. Just as frequently that a piece of art would inspire and amaze, another would fall flat. Cries of “I could do that!” or “That’s not real art!” would cut through my attempts at explanation. I would try to reason with them, try to communicate the artist’s intent. But when my students were resolved, there was no changing their minds.
“Those are just scribbles!”
Art, I am reminded, has an image problem.
There is a reason that Cowboys stadium, one of the largest and most state-of-the-art facilities in professional sports, is filled with more than just football players and fans. It’s walls are covered with larger than life pieces of art.
The reason given by the owners, two art lovers and collectors themselves, is that they wanted to bring art to people who would be intimidated to go into an art museum.
I’ve never thought of being intimidated by art. But I think they are on to something.
I see it in my students’ faces as they try to puzzle out the meaning of an indecipherable piece of modern art. I see it as they struggle to find the value or artistic merit in so much of what passes for “brilliant” art.
An Image Problem
Here’s the problem with art:
It’s kind of pretentious.
It sits in a museum, cloistered away from normal people and their everyday lives. It tells a story, but often times (especially today,) the meaning of the story is so abstract and obtuse that any discernible meaning is lost. Much of the art world works like an inside joke. Everyone heard the punchline, but only a few people are laughing. Everyone else feels left out.
Much of the time, art is not about the audience, but about the artist. It’s about the artist proclaiming to the world that “this is art!” and demanding the world’s attention. Much of the art world is self-centered on the creator. If you aren’t intelligent enough to “get” a piece of art, it’s not going to explain itself to you. Much of the art world acts like teenagers incessantly posting photos of themselves on Facebook.
It’s about a platform. It’s all about getting attention.
That’s why art has an image problem.
Life is About Sharing
In a lot of ways, I don’t understand the world of fine art that I try to teach students about.
And in many ways, the art world is not the art I try to teach my kindergartners.
When we make something great, it’s meant to be shared, like a gift is meant to be given. It’s not about seeking attention, but expressing a desire to share with others. It’s about offering something to the world. It’s about saying, “Look at what I made for you.”
Social media at its best is about just that too. Sharing. It’s about passing gifts around to each other, because sharing is fun. But at it’s worst, people use it like a bullhorn, shouting at everyone, “Look at me!”
And really, spirituality is the same way. When we worship and break bread together, it is about sharing. It’s about giving people what has been given to us. It’s about pointing to Someone and saying, “Isn’t that amazing?” But at its worst, spirituality turns into a platform, a bullhorn to shout, “Look how spiritual I am!” That’s why so much religion has an image problem, like art.
All the things that humans do are best when they are focused on others and not ourselves. Whatever you are creating, create it as a gift to share with others, and it will always be appreciated.
[photo: Duncan~, Creative Commons]