Monday, September 27, 2010

We take a swing at the idea that the arts are 'elitist'

By Barry Johnson

One of the oldest and still most common arguments against the arts is that they are elitist -- for the privileged,  the wealthy and/or the hyper-educated.  The arts aren't for the "common" people, the argument circles, because the the common people can't understand them, don't like them and therefore won't fund them.

This argument was made in a recent story in The Oregonian, which suggested that Portland's art organizations have failed to attract support, even philanthropic support, because they are too elitist. The key sentence was this one: ""Cultural groups need to recharge their missions in order to seem less privileged." That needs some translating. How about: "Arts groups need to change their missions in order to seem as though they don't only appeal to the privileged." 

It's still not a good sentence: The mission of most arts groups is to make their art as widely available as they can. We can argue about whether they actually do this, but surely they shouldn't change their mission to read "we want to trick people into thinking that we are making our art as widely available as possible even though we aren't." 

But enough fun with editing.   Huge numbers of Americans attend museums and plays and concerts and manage to find something valuable there, even in Portland, Oregon. In fact, especially in Portland, Oregon, if we are to believe a recent PEW study that placed us among the leading states in arts attendance.  It takes some reading ability to make sense of "Romeo and Juliet," but our schools still teach it. Something about  Old Master paintings still catches our eye, even if we aren't able to decode all of their elements. Even classical music can make our ears prick to attention, as it hums along behind a commercial on TV or when we stumble into a performance in the park.

But I take the point. Our culture doesn't attend to the arts as some other cultures do. We are more concerned with economic survival, new technology, luxury goods and blood sport. And so our arts institutions are always on the precipice. We like them, but we can't quite see our way to fund them as we do the National Football League or the iPhone, even though funding usually serves to give us more access, directly or indirectly, to our history of investigations into our own hearts and minds as they come into contact with the world.

The idea that this lack of cultural attention on the arts is the fault of museums, orchestras, theater companies, dance companies and publishing houses doesn't convince me and shouldn't convince anyone.  Powerful economic forces build attention in this country, and even the Metropolitan Opera, with its $300 million annual budget, is microscopic compared to the advertising budgets of our major corporations, which have the muscle to co-opt any cultural product that might prove useful to them.

This isn't to say that our arts organizations shouldn't try. After all, they have something working for them -- genuine insight into the human condition, into the human senses, into the human intellect and emotions. Which is why advertising and large media spectacles so often "sample" them. And at some point, it's possible that our attention will shift to things that matter from amusements and come-ons, maybe when things get bad enough, when we feel truly lost.

The question is, how should they "try"? How do they signal that are a repository for the best of our cultural history and our latest attempts to come to grips with this problem of consciousness? How do they signal that serious business is afoot (even if it's a comedy) and attract the attention of the "common" people at the same time. I've argued that they need to have confidence in what they do, in the value of the art they show or perform, and push it as widely as they can.

But then I don't believe in "common" people, which is why I've been putting those blasted quotation marks around common from the beginning. Each of us has an individual set of needs that art can help satisfy; what satisfies me, won't necessarily satisfy you;  no one I've ever met is entirely without art. The arts are social but they aren't common. They are specific.

Still, I don't pretend to know how to solve the seemingly perpetual funding crisis that grips the attention of our larger arts groups.  I just know that it keeps them from doing the amazing things we need them to do. Because the culture as a whole is in need of repair, serious repair, and the arts are one of the few ways we have to fix things, though, understand -- it's DIY all the way.

Because of the poor way we've funded the arts, we have indeed created barriers to access. The arts organizations have resisted this, but the barriers were erected -- in the form of ever-higher ticket prices, primarily. They've been inventive about allowing free/half-price/rush tickets/student rates to channel around the barriers. Maybe they could do more, but I don't blame them for the way we've funded the arts. We've made a religion out of the elitism of the wealthy; we decided not to care as much about the things we hold truly in common -- our cultural heritage, the natural world.

The arts aren't elitist. They are the opposite of elitist. They work on everyone. We push arts organizations into a tiny corner of the culture, and we say, you are isolated from us, and then we turn away, as though it wasn't our doing in the first place. My only suggestion to the arts organizations? Fight your way out of the corner and land your best punches.

Look, we've been buffaloed, tricked, coerced, sedated, bullied. The media, by and large, has been the  agent of this bamboozlement, because they don't profit if you take another run through Great Expectations or Animal Crackers or Waiting for Godot. And if you do decide that Dickens, the Marx Brothers or Beckett are really the ones for you, the media says you're an elitist.  Or, just to make myself clearer, if you read Emerson or John Dewey or Richard Rorty instead of watching Glenn Beck. But no, you are just showing good sense. And you know what? You are not alone.


Anonymous said...

There are so many Catch-22's in this larger discussion... I'll just focus on one.

The punishing personal economics of being an arts practitioners makes it harder for those with fewer privileges than the "elite" to participate in the creation of art. In other words, if you have a trust fund, it makes it a LOT easier to be an artist. And if your parents are rich and educated, you're about a trazillion percent more likely to get the high-end music training that it takes to become a classical musician.

However, if we paid artists more on par with how other professional careers are compensated, then the whole damn thing would cost even more, which would lead to more costly tickets, or an even higher dependence on donors. Appealing to donors, by the way, is a way to reward the economic elite.

I don't know how to solve this, either.

George Taylor said...

The "elitist" label is applied to a large degree because the arts, in their most potent form, do not lend themselves to mass distribution, like sports, TV, movies, and pop music. It is those avenues of mass distribution -- broadcasting and the music industry among them -- that drive the demand for "popular" culture and, even more significantly, keep the price of entry at a more "common" level (although this last is questionable: check the ticket prices at the next rock concert, then compare to the price for a ticket to the Oregon Symphony).

Look, it's TV contracts (along with rich alums) that feed the sports world's coffers, not the revenue from a seat in the stands (luxury boxes, another issue). Our performing arts organizations have nothing that can compare with that kind of revenue stream, because even the greatest play in the world needs to be seen live, preferably in a theatre with fewer than 3,000 seats. And that is a one-of-a-kind, real-life experience that will never come again. It's capitalism 101: Limited access=high ticket prices. Thankfully, our arts organizations (with the help of foundations and contributors) do what they can to keep tickets below market rate.

George Taylor said...

Just a quick addendum to my previous post: there may be hope for the mass distribution of some art forms, in the HD broadcasts by the Met and the National Theatre. These are still new programs, but they are demonstrating some pulling power. The distinction, of course, is that only large organizations can afford to be seen this way, and a lot of art is a local concern: Our own actors, musicians, dancers, on a local stage = a strong sense of community.

Bob said...

Why is rock music, television, animation, commercials, and other popular forms dismissed as something other than "art"? Creative, challenging work is being done everywhere, and many of your most talented artists go into popular forms precisely because that's where their living can be made. You name the traditional medium -- classical, opera, museum works, etc., and I will point to certain artless examples, but I also see much art not only in these traditional forms but other more popular, self-sustaining formats. The accusations of "elitism" stem in part from our high-handed dismissal of the creative work done in popular forms. Need an example? Well, how about Pixar for starters? There are others. Art is alive and well if you open your mind a little and look for it.

George Taylor said...

Bob, you are right, of course: "art" is committed in a wide variety of fields, commercial and fine, and all should be recognized and saluted as such, if just to distinguish it from, um, non-art (and who decides which is which?).

But every sound discussion has to start with a definition of terms. In my posts, I'm using "art" in a specific way to mean those forms of creative expression that have become marginalized and labeled with the opprobrium of "elitist." Merely shorthand, if you will, based on the context of this particular discussion.

The whole issue of what is "art," anyway? And how does it differ from, say, "craft"? is a far reaching subject on its own. The best definition I can remember goes something like: "'Art' is what an artist makes." And we go from there to: What is an artist, anyway? (Obviously, an artist is a person who makes Art. Whatever that is.)

Bob said...

The other Bob makes some excellent points -- thanks! And George is, um, right on the money about the economic distinctions of mass distribution. Yes, there is "popular" art and "serious" art, and the line is exceptionally blurry. Why look down on Gene Kelly when he was so obviously a better and more individually creative dancer than the vast majority of ballet dancers? (and I'm definitely not putting down ballet here.) Why is "Twelfth Night" art and "Boston Legal" entertainment? (In fact, when "Twelfth Night" was new it probably played a pretty similar role to what "Boston Legal" did before it finally left the airwaves.)

Nevertheless, there is a qualitative difference between Bob Dylan and Igor Stravinsky. Stravinsky created music that was simply on a higher and more profound plane, and if pointing that out makes me an elitist, I'll cop to the charge.

Maybe there are two kinds of elitism in play: good elitism and bad elitism. The good variety is an elitism of ambition and achievement on the part of the artist -- the recognition of a qualitative meritocracy in the world of art. Simply put, some artists are better than others. The bad variety is consumerist elitism -- the assumption of an in-crowd (often financially advantaged, but not always) that only certain kinds of art are worthy of attention. Pity: they're missing out on the pleasures of Laurel and Hardy and goofy-good Hugh Grant movies.

Considering the small-d democratic ideals of the United States, it's a little surprising that consumerist elitism holds such sway, although maybe not so much when you consider how much popular art (especially music, but let's throw in trash novels and lots of other stuff, too) caters to the lowest emotional and intellectual denominators.

Any time you're talking about quality, you're talking about elitism. And depending on how you approach it, that's maybe not such a bad thing.

Bob said...

Addendum: In case my Stravinsky-is-better-than-Dylan example sounds like an argument for "serious" art versus "popular" art, let me clear that up: Cab Calloway is better than Bob Dylan, too.

Barry Johnson said...

Gee, Cab Calloway, too?

Unless we're doing aesthetic philosophy, which we're not, we tend to use "art" very loosely. John Dewey famously pointed out that an auto mechanic can be artful: When we are skillful, efficient, able to juggle multiple variables and find solutions to difficult problems, we are "artists" in his view, operating in whatever media we exercise our skill.

I haven't seen a study, but I doubt that most professional classical musicians are actually rich. In Asia, it's a way up for talented middle-class kids, for example. Europe has a long tradition of subsidy for talented young musicians. In America, it also seems more like a middle class or professional class activity. Because we fund things the way we do, ticket prices have to be high. And though I think that actors, musicians and dancers (just to pick on the performing arts) are poorly paid in Oregon, that's an argument for another time.

Ticket prices, even now, are subsidized. And our arts organizations offer many ways to get cheap tickets, especially for kids. I think there is no good reason to label the arts as elitist, other than as a pseudo-populist smear.

I don't usually argue "quality," though it's possible to analyze two pieces of art and make a reasonable judgment about the complexity of the challenge the artists accepted and the degree to which they solved the problems they faced. But that's just the cognitive side of things.

The great thing about "art" is that, yeah, a simple little folk tune can make all the difference in the world to us, for purely personal reasons, and a symphony that we might acknowledge as greatly accomplished can leave us cold. Our emotional response isn't particular rational, and we depend on it a lot to judge art.

vjmagick said...

How much are season tickets to the Blazers ? Let me re-phrase that How much are season tickets to the Blazers that allow you to sit within 20-30 feet from the "action"? That allow you to see every nuance of the game ? How much, by the time you pay for flat beer, lousy nachos, and stale pop corn, do you typically spend at a Blazer game? If something comes up, say your boss asks you to work late on Saturday, can you ask the Blazers to re schedule your ticket to the LA game to another night ? How much money has the State, County, and City invested in Security, maintenance and up-keep of facilities etc, etc for the Blazers in the last year? How many people are employed by the Blazers?How does that compare to the elitists Arts ?
How many people are employed by the "arts". Just musing.

Barry Johnson said...

vjmagick, I like where you're going. The system the culture has established to support professional sports is far out of proportion to the real contribution of professional sports to the culture. And the social stratification in the Rose Garden always sticks in my craw.

vjmagick said...

And Honestly I hate to use just the Blazers as a scapegoat < a term that comes from Theater BTW>
I like the Blazers, I wish their prices were within my budget. It's just that, very often, those that run down the Arts as 'Elitist' are the very ones that have those court-side season tickets.
Besides the conjunction of 'Scapegoat' and Theatre I'd also like to point out that without the ;arts' there would be no Blazer Dancers, no cool nifty lighting effects at the beginning of the game. There would be no really great music to play to rally the fans, heck there wouldn't be a decent sound system to play them on.
Without the Arts there is no enticement to High Schoolers to get involved in Theatrical Production or Stagecraft, as a result no cool light shows at Rock Concerts, No body to 'push the artistic envelope' and bring you Cirque D'Soleil < apologies to the French for massacring the spelling>.
Ok I'll stop but again, the Arts can can be as Elitist as some think, but the Arts are also the most inclusive thing in our society.

BJCefola said...

I think you read something into the article that wasn't there. The story wasn't about criticizing the arts, rather it was about how technology and cultural changes have affected philanthropy.

The "elitist" discussion was in the context of how arts organizations had trouble competing for big dollar donations with non-profits that catered to urgent needs like food, shelter, and clothing. Those needs are more visible, especially on a global level, because of improved communication technology.

This isn't a conflict between basketball and the symphony, it's a conflict between the symphony and doctors without borders.

Barry Johnson said...

BJ, but the quote is the quote: The author's suggestion is that arts groups seem less for the "privileged" so they can compete with Mercy Corps and other international aid agencies. I'm arguing that this particular trope -- the arts are elitist -- is old and wrong.

We got into basketball because it's one of the things that money drives attention toward -- as opposed to the arts, Mercy Corps, Doctors Without Borders, or adult education.

And from there the thought train goes like this: We are in a culture war, and it's comprised of trillions of tiny battles for our attention. In this battle, so far, money is the primary driver and it leads us away from things that make us healthy and toward emptier pursuits. So, we form our identities around computer brands, automobiles, the pop songs we like and sports teams we follow, rather than our qualities and achievements as humans. It's easier that way.

It's an indication that we see the philanthropist's choice as one between Mercy Corps and the art museum. Why isn't it Mercy Corps vs luxury automobiles? And why aren't we taking care of both together as a public instead of relying on philanthropists in the first place?

To me, these questions broaden quickly...

Gwenn said...

I like a lot of the art I see around town, but there's a lot of it that leaves me feeling alienated too.

It seems to me that a many artists today have forgotten that art is a conversation between the artist and their audience, and, what's more, that it's a conversation started by the artist. And that means that the onus is on the artist to engage others and to make the conversation appealing and worthwhile. The audience doesn't owe it to the artist to be open to their conversation.

Would we even be having this discussion if more artists were focusing on inviting a wider audience into their conversation?

Barry Johnson said...

Gwenn, thanks for joining in! Well, painting is a different case because it's a commercial activity in addition to being "art." A painter can paint for a small audience, even an audience of one, if she or he is willing to bear the financial consequences! That doesn't make the activity "elitist" really, just not very popular.

But your main point -- the importance of the audience -- is well taken. Still, how artists (or playwrights, choreographers, writers, filmmakers, etc.) relate to their audiences is complex, mostly because those audiences aren't really "the public at large." They are much smaller and more specific than that, the community of people drawn to that painting, poem, etc. And it's hard to talk about them convincingly, for me at least, because they are so different and so changeable.

To become an audience member for a painting usually requires attention, some focus, and some "help" -- some sort of guide into the work that is supplied by the painting's community. Once you have those things, the communication between the artist and the audience member can really begin in earnest.

I'm arguing that attention itself is the primary currency in culture, and that our attention too often is diverted toward the wrong things by media and by the survival of the fittest economic philosophy we've begun to apply here.

Gwenn said...

It's true that painting is an easier "sell"--after all, when you ask someone to picture an artist, somene holding a palette and a brush and wearing a beret usually comes to mind. That said, I was thinking of some theater I'd seen around town when I wrote what I wrote about art in Portland.

Live art has real commercial potential in today's world where art in reproduction is easier and easier to get for free. By "live art" I mean original paintings, actors on stage in front of an audience, and any other direct experience of art-making. It's the beginning of a golden era for theater if it can only figure out how to reach out to the audience...

cjy said...

"To become an audience member for a painting usually requires attention, some focus, and some "help" -- some sort of guide into the work that is supplied by the painting's community."

I don't agree with the part about needing help or a guide when it comes to viewing a painting unless the work is conceptual, minimalist etc. There has been a resurgence in figurative work in the last 20 years that has broad appeal for a wider audience. Drawing and painting have made a comeback - at the same time that computer and digital work have found their niche. The illustration crossover has been interesting to watch. While some of the new pop and illustration comes across as vapid there is some really interesting stuff out there too.

cjy said...

- a bit more: while I agree that an education in art is valuable in order to appreciate and understand certain art more fully, I think the view that help is needed when viewing a painting promotes the idea of elitism.

Barry Johnson said...

I think you overestimate the transparency of painting -- figurative or not -- and our ability to make "desert island" evaluations of them. But that's just based on my own experience. When I know something about an artist, her intentions, her techniques, her previous work, what other people find interesting in her work in general and in that specific painting, then I generally have a richer, fuller experience of the art.

We are getting to the importance of the social to the arts here. How we are led to focus attention on particular artists and certain styles.

I think it is probably important for artists to believe that they communicate directly and fully to anyone who randomly walks in front of their paintings. But I think that is rarely the case in real life.

cjy said...

I agree that it is not possible to communicate fully with the audience via a painting, but I think that is only necessary if one is doing an illustration. I am not interested with communicating fully - in fact - that is a whole other conversation - What does that really mean? I think that the visual language is open to interpretation, and what the viewer brings to a painting when looking at it is essential to what they see. Having said that - certainly if they have some background on the painter they may have more insight into the intentions of the artist, however, if they approach a painting knowing nothing about it except how it affects them, that is a valuable experience. When the work of an artist leaves the studio, if it is worthy of attention, it has a life of it's own.

Barry Johnson said...

Cgy, I responded before I saw your addendum.

To me, help doesn't imply elitism -- it's just the way we humans get along in the world. We help each other -- find paintings that the other might like, for example, or computer programs that might be useful to us or new ways to use the fall's tomato crop. Our culture is densely social, and it involves all kinds of help. It's possible to think of the need for help as a sign of weakness or inferiority, but that's not how it works out in my life. I supply and receive help without "elitism" figuring in either case.

This idea that art ideally doesn't require some sort of mediation means that it would be different from just about everything else in our lives. I just don't think our species works that way.

cjy said...

I agree that help as you express it is a good thing - suggesting, assisting others in all sorts of ways. But in the context of appreciating art, deriving meaning, experiencing art - specifically painting - we disagree. I don't think it is a requirement that one be helped or guided. Actually I think that art at it's best stands without explanation. The viewers experience can be very personal. An individual with no particular art background can come upon a painting and be profoundly moved by it.

Having said that - as I mentioned before, I do think there is some art that can only be appreciated, or be more fully appreciated with some background knowledge.

We agree about Rudy though ;)

Barry Johnson said...

If we start a Free Rudy movement,maybe he'd spring for dinner in Barcelona!

We agree on one thing (at least): In the final analysis, after all the help I may have gotten finding directions to the gallery, I stand before a painting and the experience is going to be singular. Mine. I bring to it everything about myself, good and bad, and I understand it in my own way. Or not.
The help I've gotten recedes, and I'm on my own. I may seek more help later. I might ask the gallery owner "who IS this painter?" and that might enrich my experience, but the core processing is something we do as individuals.

For me, the best art is that which meets my needs the most directly and fully. And the matter of whether I've received help or not in apprehending that art is of no consequence whatsoever to me. But that's just how I look at it...

Trisha Mead said...

I think it is easy to confuse an economic distinction with a class distinction when we start throwing around terms like "elitist" and "privileged."

In America, we tend to conflate social class with economic wherewithal... and we get tempted therefore to say that making tickets to an event economically affordable will automatically make them more relevant to a specific social class.

But the reality is that NASCAR tickets and Larry the Cable Guy live appearances cost a lot more than the average chamber music concert or fringe theater performance but it would be absurd to call them "elitist" entertainments.

But why are 'fine' arts considered elitist and 'pop' art is not? Well, for centuries, the "fine arts" (painting, piano, etc) were consciously used by middle class households to provide their children with social polish that would help them be upwardly mobile. Gaining social status was frequently accomplished through the careful acquisition of artistic bona fides... the season ticket to the opera, the daughter who was an accomplished portraitist, etc.

We may claim to be a class-free society today, but it is when these particular memes come up about cultural "elitism" that you can still feel the echos of the class system, or more importantly, the fear of the invisible hold that system held over our social success.

And let's be frank: donating to the Met actually was how you introduced yourself to a certain subset of society (and that still WORKS, even today).

Having said all that, it could be argued that today's audience (and the broader culture)may no longer share the same status-related goals in their choice of entertainments.

Arts organizations may be slow to change the way we describe our work (and its benefits) in order to accommodate that change in values.

Of course, it absolutely does NOT require an upper class education (or aspirations) to become a passionate lover of a "fine" art form. Shakespeare, after all, may have been funded by the royal family, but was wildly popular among the "working" classes.

Still, converting a NASCAR (or Blazer) dad to an Opera subscriber is a more complicated cultural proposition than simply offering a discounted ticket.

Until we start getting really honest with ourselves about the class conscious origins of our regional fine arts system, and the knee jerk negativity with which we can therefore still be perceived by the "general public," I think we are going to continue to be easy punching bags for a political system and media who have learned that the nebulous "privileged elite" are still an effective straw man to raise when the emotions of the broader public need stirring.

So do we fight back by strenuously arguing that the "privileged elite" are some other people... over there... not we poor starving arts folk? Do we repaint ourselves in "regular woking joe" colors to try to erase the perceived divide?

Or do we acknowledge that the arts have long been one way that people grow their social relationships and expand their opportunities to engage with a broader intellectual and cultural world than many of us lived in as children?

Do we instead work to de-stigmatize that drive... for improvement, for quality, for better resourced social networks and claim our logical place as primary resource points for accomplishing some of those goals... (made accessible, ideally, across social and economic barriers) and creating, through our art, real opportunities for everyone to connect to a, yes, I'll say it, "higher" world?

Barry Johnson said...

Trisha, Thanks for the really good context for this discussion. I think you're right: Acknowledging the existence of the stereotype is an important step in changing it.

Right now I'm conducting a little thought experiment: What if you put together an "arts clinic". It's a tent that moves around the city, and inside you can hear a little chamber music, maybe, see some dance and a scene from a play, some poems, whatever. It sets up wherever people are gathering, runs continuously for several hours, and offers audience members info on how to get more of what they are seeing or how to find art classes for themselves or their kids. In Hispanic neighborhoods, maybe the programming leans more toward Lorca, in African-American neighborhoods maybe more toward Langston Hughes. But the purpose is the same -- to give people what they need.

Maybe you'd try to find out from the neighborhood ahead of time what that might be, what might help. And then talk to the audience after the show to find out how close you came, what you might do differently next time.

Now, I'm wondering: Would critics consider the Arts Clinic elitist? And if so, why should we care?

Karen said...

I love this idea -- pop-up shops for visual and performance art!

But the concept of offering the art that people in a particular neighborhood or community "need" -- tailoring it to the audience -- is perhaps radical.

In my college art history classes, and in coffee houses and bars after class, we discussed this very issue: what defines art? The definition that has stuck with me as the traditional interpretation of the word is that only true art is made purely for the purpose of expressing the artist's vision -- (to hell with the "audience," the artist would say--what do they know?). Offerings that are created with the idea of pleasing someone, or that are made to someone's specifications or with the knowledge that it's what sells, are not the genuine article. To some extent, this is true. How many artists produced work that was considered utterly insane at the time, only to be hailed as geniuses decades or centuries later? Let's face it--it takes ego and maybe a little bravado to produce work that's groundbreaking. And if you're concerned about how the work will be received by the critics, then the work is likely to be tempered by that concern--and it won't be as lasting, groundbreaking, or seminal.

So, if this definition is true, then that's pretty elitist, and the elite in the picture is the artist.

But this kind of elitism isn't overtly about money--it's an intellectual elitism.

The problem is that art costs money to produce. A painter has to eat, theater companies have to pay their actors and stagehands. So this elitism conveniently managed to become more closely associated with finances, and people who, as Trisha points out, wanted to climb the social ladder found that they could donate money to arts companies and artists and, voila, be associated with the intellectual elite. And so began the struggle.

It's an old story, and "what is art?" is an old argument.

So what to do? We as humans need art, and artists need to eat. So it's time to break down those crusty old elitist associations with art and make its relevance plain to the general public. Show that it's more about understanding our cultural past and present, and gently nudge our communities to stop worrying so much about whether it's elitist or not. Make it relevant -- and I think Portland Center Stage is headed in the right direction with their community outreach work. The comments following Chris Coleman's Oregonian article online were pretty amazing--a fountain of backlash stating that the arts are not as relevant as other parts of our culture and how dare arts groups ask for "handouts."

This vitriol says two things to me -- one, that we desperately need the mirror on our society that the arts provide, and two, that we are on the right track in highlighting the relevance of art in our culture. Choosing work that provides something that a community needs -- radical as that may be. It seems to me the only way to go.

Karen said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
BJCefola said...

With respect to pop-ups, maybe an analogy is food carts and chefs. The food cart strips away the production, grandeur, and some would say, the pretension of cooking. The relatively low start-up cost allows more innovation and risk-taking in the menu. The food cart chef in some ways is not unlike an artist...

Say, if someone were to do "pop-up" art booths, why not locate at cart pods?

Barry Johnson said...

BJ, I really like that analogy -- pop-up arts as food carts, and you're right: food cart pods would be excellent locations for them! I think we may have the beginning of a proposal here!

Fawn Gregory said...

I'm of a mind that people are approaching this issue from the wrong end.
I agree with you that there is no such thing as 'common' people - to say so is to imply that we who do appreciate art are special or superior, which I know isn't true.
Instead, we have people who know how to look at art, and people who don't. Of course I don't mean people who are educated in art - you don't need an education to enjoy Raphael or Leonardo. De Kooning, maybe. But no, I mean people who understand that art is, at its base, meant to speak to something deeper within - something layers below the brain and the intellect, something that can see in the clay or paint or fabric or whatever the core of it that resonates with their soul.
And I figure, that understanding is best brought about by exposure. I was lucky enough to be brought up by parents that loved the arts, and many a cold winter day I would sit on a furnace vent and study Hieronymous Bosch or John Everett Millais (my favorites when I was little) for hours. My siblings and I went to museums and talked about art; we were encouraged to do it as much as we could.
Yet, for some reason, our schools seem to lose the point of art as a record-keeper for the generations; they forget its importance and cut funding again and again, and our children grow up with minds for practical things but unused to the opening of the mind and soul required by art, and so they call those who can do it elite.
That's my rant, anyway. Thanks for reading to the end!

Barry Johnson said...

Fawn, thanks for the rant! I think our schools and parents have followed the lead of the culture as a whole -- pushing the arts and literature to the periphery. That's a generalization. I know that many schools have worked hard to make sure that arts programs continue, and that parents make sure their children get to art classes, museums, plays, concerts, etc. But not enough. And those that do, don't get enough support for their efforts.

I volunteer for the Right Brain Initiative here in Portland, which attempts to bring art experiences to public schools throughout the metro area. And some of my reasons are practical ones -- the literature at this point suggests that children who receive instruction in the arts, who have arts experiences both as creators and viewers/listeners, turn into better readers and mathematicians and scientists. All of those require creativity too!

Punic Wars said...

I agree with the point that Barry Johnson made in his article, so called "common people" not without arts. However i would like to comment on those who make arts in comparison to the "common" people. In fact, the ones that make arts are the elitist.
To become a professional artist certification is necessary step that most of us have to make. That is why some of us go to school to become artists. Art schools make students better at arts, develop various art skills, and stimulate individual's spiritual and moral growth. Unlike the "common people" those who attended art schools have been trained to understand arts and translate it.
My point is that even though the "common people" not without arts, professionally trained artists are the ones to make art that will be in the art galleries open to everyone and, the main point, they will always have a deeper understanding of the arts. Wouldn't this fact alone separate our community into two groups of people?
The US community could put a lot more effort to educate arts in schools, but that wouldn't make us all on the same level in terms of understanding and creating arts because some people choose careers in art sciences. So there is an elitist group and the group of "common", and I think it should be this way.

A Little bit of everyday life said...

I find it interesting that we fund programs that take artists original ideas and manipulate them just a bit to call them their own. At that point we see it as art, but the original ideas was seen as something that was just kind of cool. If we took the time to see the value of art in everyday life, i think peoples opinions would change.That art would be seen as something for the whole public and not just an "elite" crowd.

Barry Johnson said...

I agree: Art is all around us, and we use what it teaches us constantly in our own lives -- from how we arrange the silverware on the table to how we try to persuade our children to do something. Maybe we need to emphasize that more in the culture as a whole...

gatsbythegreat said...

I do agree that art has become something for the elite in our society. However, I also believe that this generalization is based mainly on the media's portrayal of art groups. Artists, musicians, ballet companies, etc. are typically depicted as being elistest and only for intellectual hipsters who hang out in coffee shops. But I don't believe that this is the case in reality. I think that art is a broad interest that can be held by anyone, regardless of salary, gender, creed, or race. Assuming that art is only appreciated by the wealthy is not correct. I know many different people who consider art to be vital to their life and they come from a variety of social backgrounds.

As one would expect, those who enjoy painting, singing, or sculpting would naturally be more inclined to support funding for the arts. And that is great. Being a fine arts student, I am always excited about advancements and new additions in the art world. But I realize that the business or art is one of many interests that people can have. Those who enjoy football, for example, would be more likely to support funding for a new stadium or uniforms. That person is not wrong to want this if they really care about football. I believe that one should support what one believes in. If football is what you believe in, go watch a football game. If ballet is what you believe in, support ballet and go watch a show.

In short, art is not only for the wealthy or the poor. Art is for people who like art.

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