The Laws of Nature

Monday, April 26, 2010

Museums and the Artist

But is it art? by Cynthia Freeland

In chapter 4 of her book, Freeland takes a look at museums, markets, and money. I mentioned yesterday that she raises a number of interesting questions about this topic, and I'll use this post to ponder one of my own that is related.

Freeland explains the different categories of museums and their missions. Some are dedicated to collecting and preserving a particular genre of art or art by one particular artist or group of artists. Other art museums are less specific, but they all have in common a mission to collect, preserve, educate, and facilitate scholarship. This is a weighty mission, to be sure.

After considering the influences of corporate sponsors upon museums yesterday, I began to think about what all this means to individual artists, like us! For instance, if the general public acquires a taste for blockbuster exhibits that hyper-stimulate the senses, how will this impact the small voice of the individual artist? Will we be heard, and do we fit? How will all this change art and how will artists respond?

I ask this because I have a dear artist friend whose goal it is to have her work hang in a museum one day. I've never had this ambition, so it's not something I can relate to. But, I now wonder if that goal is a thing of the past - if museums have become something other than the highest goal an artist can achieve.

But, what if you want your work to hang in a museum? How would you go about it? I've read lots of advice about this topic in the art magazines that I normally purchase and the formula seems to be: gallery director + curator + museum board = museum hangs your work. So, you'd have to begin by establishing a relationship with a gallery director who has a strong connection to one or more museum curators. That director's reputation is on the line every time he/she makes a recommendation to the curator and, the curator's reputation is on the line every time he/she makes a recommendation to the museum board. So, these folks are cautious and select artists who have proven track record, and not just on the art work itself.

I can't resist comparing exposure on the world wide web to exposure in a museum. According to Freeland: art museums are still seen as elitist institutions. Across Europe and North America, attendance averages no more than 22 per cent of the population, and this group is skewed towards higher income brackets and educational backgrounds. Don't get me wrong, I love museums and it would be an honor to have my work in one. I just wonder if the role of museums in society, and in the art world, is changing.

What do you think?


Celeste Bergin said...

Your post reminds me --during the 90's there was a hot trend in print advertising...big red boxes that held while italic type. During that time I saw some "contemporary" paintings in museums that employed that exact device. It was a total lift!...(I do happen to think communication art *is* art--but it felt to me that the "fine artist" was ripping off the art director who did it first. I was used to seeing things ripped off in advertising..but this was different....this was a museum---the church of art! Of course, when I think of it now, I realize that museums do "preserve a particular genre of art"..and apparently ripped off 90's advertising trends qualify.
What is considered "the height" is definitely in flux...but what artist would refuse being in MoMA?
Maybe it is still the height.

-Don said...

I don't know that museums are necessarily my "highest goal", but my plan is to have something hanging in one or more before this trip is through. We'll see...

I see your point about the audience of works in a museum versus works on the web. Of the 22 percent of the population that visit museums, I wonder how many visit websites and blogs to check out new and aspiring art/artists? Which gets more exposure? Hmmm.... Well, at least we know which is more impactful to the career and reputation of the artist - at least for now.

I still enjoy getting in front of works in a museum setting. The true impact of a work of art is not felt unless one is within touching distance, IMO. Add to that "the church of art" feel (thanks for that line, Celeste) of a museum which gives reverence to the viewing experience and, Bam!, it's almost like a religious experience.

So, upon further musing, yep, I still want my work hanging in a museum or two...


layers said...

I just looked on my bookshelves and found the book BUT IS IT ART? with a bookmark on page 60. must have started it some time ago and it ended up on a shelf and then I forgot about it. I usually head for the contemporary art museums and usually find so much different stuff that it is now hard to define what is art anymore- is art what the museum directors say it is? At MoMA now is Marina Abramovic's nudity pieces with real live nudes standing nearby- I think this is all supposed to say something about society. I decided to take another look at the book.

Mark Sheeky said...

The easiest way to get into a museum is to found your own!

Unknown said...

Hi Celeste - your perspective, based upon your background in advertising, reveals a lot about an area with which I'm unfamiliar. Thanks so much for offering this insight! And, I agree - who'd ever turn down the chance to hang in MoMA?? Not I!

Hi Don - I agree that seeing a work of art on the web really diminishes the experience and museums/galleries will never fall out of favor for that very reason. I'm willing to wager a lot that one day your work will hang in a notable museum!

Hi Donna - please share your impressions of the book when you get into it again. I'd heard about that exhibit and that one of the nude models was rightfully annoyed by people touching and prodding her. Oh, dear!

Hi Mark - a museum to "self!" Hmmmmm....

hw (hallie) farber said...

I still associate museums with dead artists--not there yet.

Unknown said...

Hi Hallie - Chuck Close, Janet Fish, Judy Chicago, etc, etc. .... all very much alive!

Shawna said...

Have you seen the documentary from the UK called The Curse of the Mona Lisa.

It is worth watching and even may be worth blogging about!?!

Unknown said...

Hi Shawna - I haven't. Thanks - I'll take a look!