When I first went back to college to finish my degree a few years ago, I started in the architecture program. I decided after a year that architecture was far more interesting than I had imagined and also that I did not want to be an architect. One thing I found frustrating about the world of architecture though, was the dense, jargon filled language used to discuss concepts. I felt vindicated in my opinion when I read Allison Arieff’s opinion article, “Why Don’t We Read About Architecture” in the New York Times in 2012.
I feel the same way about a lot of art writing I encounter, whether in academic articles, artists’ mission statements or gallery press releases. I’m not against academic writing. I find it fun to pore through a dense but well written article which communicates an idea effectively. But I feel there needs to be a greater effort to connect modern and contemporary art with the public at large. It’s discouraging to me when people say “I don’t know…it’s just too modern for me” about a 100 year old painting. After all, modern art was supposed to take art down from the proverbial ivory tower.
I understand the importance of connecting with an academic and critical audience when writing about art, but more casual art fans and potential art fans need to be brought into the fold. There needs to be more writing for the uninitiated in addition to writing for professionals. When people don’t understand something and then it’s explained in a way intended for topic experts, they feel unintelligent or worse, duped. This is one reason why it’s so easy for public funding to be pulled for the arts: people feel angry when something they don’t understand is deemed important.
I’m starting a new job at the end of the month as a Gallery Guide at the Guggenheim Museum here in New York. It’s an opportunity to address people directly who walk by a piece of contemporary art and say, “I don’t get it. Why is this so great?” I see it as an important mission in this new job and in my life in general to try to demystify the artworks that I love so much. This will allow individuals to have a more enriching experience while viewing art, and it will also help the cause of making fine art more of a part of contemporary American culture.