nuit blanche 2012

“Gallery space: the final frontier” article response by salt dragon, and retort by moi

On my tumbler version I received a thoughtful critique of my post. So I am pasting it over here (with permission of the author, Salt Dragon) to continue the conversation. Original text posted below and then my response. excited yet?

artlistpro:

I think that explains a lot about the views most people have about contemporary art practice […]

Salt Dragon: What an infuriating piece. Certainly artists and the people who present their work have no obligation to entertain a general public, but to shift the responsibility of engaging with art and learning to speak the visual language of the contemporary Art World entirely onto that public is ridiculous. If people have been taught to speak one language, i.e. that of entertainment and viewer-centric experience, it is beholden on artists and curators to at least speak in a dialect inflected with that language if they desire to engage that audience. This is not to say speak to the lowest common denominator, but avoid esotericism. When you blame people for not speaking the same visual language as you, or more nebulously a society which acculturates individuals to expect attention and entertainment directed at them – without criticizing the Art World’s modern tendency towards hermeticism – you are engaging in an incredibly exasperating elitism that works to maintain a separation between the Art World and the wider world. The final line “[t]hey do not understand the dynamics of looking into art that is a mirror, [] especially if they are not front and centre in the reflection” is particularly irritating. This dynamic is apparent to anyone who speaks the visual language of the Art World, but to someone from outside, how can one expect the work of contemporary art to function as a mirror, or as any number of other functions it might assume, for that matter? It’s like expecting the lay person to read the Epic of Gilgamesh from the original cuneiform tablets. If you want people to learn your language, don’t expect them to take the initiative. Reach out, speak their language. Maybe you can teach them your language as well. The process requires effort from both sides.

I think everything in your response is the dominate viewpoint and the change in trends you are talking about are happening i.e. appealing to an audience’s “dialect” and not expecting instant art world nuanced discourse. I don’t think that is a bad thing either, as many people like me have little patience for verbose academic rhetoric, but many also don’t feel that way. But that’s not really what my post was about.

A gallery space does not have to be elitist or not elitist enough to have a serious disconnect with a community. My views are particular to Canada as other places have much different gallery / community relationships, though I do think that there are attitudes contained that are reflected in many cities and situations. I would argue that a lack of comfort for contemporary art discourse is the fault of our public education system but I also think that’s not the problem or solution anymore. In fact, I think there is a greater enlightenment of artists and art than ever before, but that is because of the sharing power of the internet. So we have more art and artists than ever before, and great spaces are opening in opportunistic locations as collectives, but these spaces are impermanent at best, and are still subject to all my concerns of people avoiding local gallery spaces.

I was thinking local, independent gallery spaces suffer from the most from our entertainment-centric attitudes –  the art landcape is largely defined by the enduring presence of academic and large public art galleries, which i think is your focus of the disconnect. I think that both yours and my criticisms can be addressed by more people making a habit of visiting their local gallery spaces.

There has been discussion in my city of the artists role, centered on this thoughtful article of what a city’s “arts vibrancy” really means. Events that draw tourists are a big part of this fuzzy formula so there are incentives to local artists to contrive appealing installations and performances in a broad, safe and entertaining manner outside of the gallery space. I think this is ok with most people for the same reasons as are in your response. Thus, the gallery space can be a frontier for most people expectations of how, why and where they should view art.

Part of this formula for people is whether the experience is social and entertaining enough. However, I think this is a low point for the health of community gallery spaces in Canada –  kids these days are much more art savvy than my gen Xers or those baby boomer brats.

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