It’s Okay To Not “Get” Art

“Gallery Ladies” by Roy Zalesky

Vice’s Glen Coco earns my respect for his honesty. In one of his articles, he visited a rather pretentious-feeling gallery in London and mocked every work on display, only to attract a British art student named Alex who felt the need to “explain” the works to him. (Somehow Alex missed the part of the article that revealed Glen was a fellow art student.) Alex’s response confirmed the fallacies Glen suggested in the initial article: that true art is deep, only fake art is popular, and if you don’t already know what the artist was thinking, then you are a moron.

In this day of an ever impending idiocracy, I am aware of the growing population of proud ignoramuses, but this is not the case. Let’s take a scenario I’ve seen too often: Someone whose upbringing had limited their access or encouragement of pursuing arts until now, yet they decide to attend an art gallery to expand their interests. Said individual tries to break the ice with more cultured patrons in an effort learn more. They inadvertently say something that reveals their lack of education, only to be stealthily mocked by the more educated patrons. Humiliated, they never return to the museum again. Like a library, a museum is one of the few centers of free thought left. There is no place for snobbery and caste behavior. Every expression of “I don’t get it” is as valid as every overanalysis that goes over the former’s heads.

This example does not mean laymen are blame-free or that Art communities are fully responsible. There are mutual misunderstandings that are resolvable.

Part 1: Misconceptions from the laymen

Honestly, the one aspect of a lot of art can be explained in the historical context of certain works, which anyone can learn in a lecture, a community college class, or online on Khan Academy. Obviously, Art has evolved over time and due to this nature many works suffer from the “Simpsons is not funny” phenomenon. For an example, Jackson Pollock’s works were so groundbreaking because they were the first of their kind. Today, like the Simpsons in a 2010 television landscape, Pollock’s studies now get lost in the sea of works that have been influenced by his own. Naturally, anyone jaded by the influences would find the original just as awful without context. The Art people have the most issue with Contemporary Art is a result of everything that has come and gone in the last 400 years.

     Most contemporary pieces require explanation due to their overly symbolic and intra-referential nature. That’s where the Artist’s Statement comes in. Though it should be noted that a part of art’s subjectiveness lies in the fact that many interpretations are developed from one work. Some gain no interpretation at all. Unless the artist had a specific message in mind, no person is more right than the other.

Part 2: Misconceptions from the Artists

Based on his analyses, what Alex does not seems to think all artworks automatically come with a message, which is far from the truth. There are a lot of appreciated artists throughout history who created works that had no political or social message. Henri Toulouse-Lautrec and Tamara De Lempicka are two favorite examples of mine. The strangest thing is while the former is often praised by art professors, the latter is shunned. Interestingly, De Lempicka still gets her works reproduced onto towels and tote bags like Lautrec all the same. What makes him more legitimate in the art world than her?

220px-Photolautrec

Alcoholic? Check! Died young? Check! Died penniless? Nope. Guess he’s only 2/3rds of a “true” artist!

On a grander scale, a lot of people get their impression of the art world from the what wealthy art committees present. Throughout history, these trend-setters select art to be promoted, exposing the average museum-goer to a certain “type” of artwork and coloring their perception of art forever. This is not new, and neither are the challenges to their criteria. Many of the artists discussed in art schools today were once rejected by their contemporary art societies. Artists like Cezanne, Picasso, Marcel Duchamp, (or as I like to call him “the greatest Art Troll in history”.) The same behavior continued towards graffiti, folk art, comic art, and digital illustration and will with any new art movement. Sadly, the laymen think they have to fit into the criteria to be a true artist. Many Artists fall for it too.

In reality, a lot of art produced doesn’t have a meaning. It’s just the result of a wacky, creative mind.

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Yes. A baby Tornado. At Elsewhere Museum in Greensboro, NC

I speculate that the artists who openly admit that fact are rarely seen in high profile museums. The ones who do often make one up to appease the stereotypes of the trendy art elite. A lot of artists ignored by this “elite” nowadays promote their work in galleries, coffee shops, breweries, non-profit art spaces, art festivals and outdoor art shows. You get much more of a variety of ideas and creators.

Conclusion

The “Laws” of Art has been in changing and continues to change. Artists will always continue to debate what is and isn’t “art”. If both sides want to survive into digital age they will have to change how they see the other side.

 

 

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Archive: How To “Counter” Racism

 

 

The view of downtown from the museum’s second floor. 

 

 

Originally Posted: 6/23/10

The following was my account after visiting the International Civil Rights Center and Museum, located in Greensboro, NC. Reposted for Black History Month. Greensboro is the home of the very first     Sit-In, an act that still holds significance in American History. If I had learned anything from this tour and observing the artifacts, it’s that racism extended to the smallest, pettiest details of everyday life. Details that are often left out of movies or books, for lack of generational knowledge. Once you see that, it doesn’t seem unusual that racists will pitch a feral shit-fit if a black person sits in the “white section” of the lunch counter or pour acid in a pool. Humans are the most hair-pulling creatures ever.

I would know, wouldn’t I?

Forgive the poor editing. I was new to blogging. Any updated thoughts will be in bold.

“This week was the first week of the International Civil Rights Museum. Located in the original Woolworth store where four North Carolina A&T students started a sit-in, it was the museum’s first week after its grand opening. One of my mother’s fellow church members works there and invited us on the weekend tour.  The tour began as most would: A guide introducing what was going one in the world at the time and showing us a transparent American flag that revealed jim-crow artifacts.

Among the artifacts was a Klanman outfit. I can’t mention any faster how much of a historical gold mine this suit is. Think about it: how many people are willing to donate a piece of their racist pasts? [I’ve since seen the Klan robe at the Smithsonian Museum of the African American] After ogling the sheet, the group moved onto the next room, collaged with images of church bombing victims, MLK Jr., and other marching photos. One of the photos on the walls depicted a victim from a Birmingham church bombing [Sarah Collins]. If you looked at her out of context you would ‘ve thought the picture was taken in a war-torn African country. She was laid in a hospital bed with the sheet bundled up to her shoulders. Her burned eyes covered with square bandages. As the group moved on, the guide began telling the story of the four students from A&T.

Using a room that held some of the original Dorm furniture from the time, the group was treated to a projected reinstatement film courtesy of the contemporary A&T Drama Club. The first detail that caught my attention was her mention of their ages in college: 17. My mother was the same age her freshman year and that started my mind working. What was going on back then that had 17-year-olds in college? What was wrong with the educational system today that 17-year-old high school seniors were now rarer? I came back to my thought about the students’ ages in college, I asked my mother why so many kids were younger than 18 by the time they were college freshmen. According to my mother, such an occurrence was typical but eventually, some students were found to be emotionally unprepared so policies were put in place that set a 6-month line requirement, before. I knew they did that for kindergarteners with late birthdays but this was a revelation for me. [Since then, I learned more about the old junior high school structure and have since met a few 17-year-old college freshmen in the 2000s.]

By the time my mind left that thought for the moment, the group had moved to the preserved Woolworth’s food counter where the students made their sit-in. Not having seen a genuine counter establishment, I expected something smaller or more in tune with the counters of a Silver Diner. However, this counter stretched from one wall to the next connecting wall and covered what I think were 25 stools. As for those stools, We saw green and salmon covers, which weren’t originally there. The guide told us they were replaced after the original black covers began to wear. Two of the intact seats are in the Smithsonian [With two more at the Newseum in Washington, DC and a few more at the MLK Civil Rights Museum in Atlanta]. After the counter display, we moved on to another section, which was again more or less historical items that represented Jim Crow and Black achievements during said time. There were some artifacts that leaned towards the absurd side of white supremacy, like a double-sided Coca-Cola Machine. One side had a 5 cent label while the other side had a 10 cent label covering a 6 cent label. Guess which side was for “Coloreds”? [Don’t get me started on the prohibition of vanilla ice cream for blacks. Just don’t]. Across from that Machine was an old Plaque from one of the department stores. According to its information, the restroom for colored men and colored women were on the lower level with the White men’s restroom. What was peculiar was the white women’s restroom which was all the way on the way on the second floor. After thinking about it for a while I theorized that they planned this so that white women could stay as far away from black patrons as possible while the white male patrons could keep an eye on them. Once again, racism is a strange thing. [This speculation was based on the confirmed knowledge that blackface actors were placed in scenes featuring white actresses in Birth of a Nation to avoid having them act with real black males. Watch the film closely. It’s true. As for the plaque, still speculation that holds weight.]

I should point out by now that through the collages on the wall, Jesse Jackson’s picture would show up more than one could ignore. Well, he’s there because he attended A&T like the four sit-in guys [but there was no other reason for the Jesse overexposure other than a shameless effort to boast a famous A&T alumnus on part of the museum, but I digress]. As a matter of fact, the displays included people who either attended A&T or were from Greensboro. I mean this IS a local museum, but they kept a lot of focus on national history, even ending the tour on a display about other groups throughout the world who fight the same injustices. [Of course, the struggles of the civil rights movement was just one of many human rights struggles that were and continue to be fought globally]. After the tour, my mom and I went down the street for lunch. At a Diner. At their lunch counter.” [The diner in question, Fincastle’s, has since closed permanently. It will be missed.]

 

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The cafeteria at the Smithsonian Museum of the African American