Barbican Centre of London’s posted on Instagram, ‘If I could change one thing about the arts, it would be…’ to which a whole lot of people replied with sundry complaints. ‘Jennapirestrikesback’ for example, responded, ‘…to stop intimidating people who have no prior experience of the arts and encourage everyone to contribute, whether as an artist or audience member. Oh and make it more fucking affordable so the audience isn’t full of old white people draped in scarves.’
Ever since I learned to read, I was unstoppable, I loved then and still do love to read. Since tearing through early readers, I’ve read chick lit and thrillers to relax me, children’s books to my kids at bedtime, art theory books to prep lessons for teaching, the newspaper to keep me informed, and magazines to entertain me. I’ve even read a medical journal (bit of a hypochondriac.) I didn’t understand half of the content in the medical journal yet I wasn’t irate about it. You see, I’m an artist, an art educator and arts writer, so I’m basically wholly unprepared for everything in life unless it has ‘art’ in the title. I’m certainly incapable of understanding and applying the vast majority of jargon written in the specific language and style of a medical journal. But as it wasn’t password protected, to be read by medical professionals only, I went ahead and read the whole thing and then spent all night awake combing through WebMD to decide whether or not my symptoms best matched ‘gastritis’ or ‘ulcerative colitis.’ As you do.
I have been publicly heckled whilst participating in a backyard game of badminton. I break out in a visible sweat whenever anyone casually mentions a ‘just for fun’ softball game at picnics. I’m so bad at sports that you can bet I will employ both of my newfound illnesses of gastritis and ulcerative colitis in gritty detail in order to swiftly exit any game involving a bat or a ball or teams of any kind. I found myself, however, in a sporting goods store recently, assisting my son in the purchase of a new soccer ball. The options! Did we want an 8 inch ball? 12 inch? Kids or adult? Professional? Why do some soccer balls cost double the amount of others? Are they inlaid with real gold? I suggested a pretty red one and wandered away…
Jennapirestrikesback, why does all art need to be accessible? Not all of anything in any other field or profession is accessible and we don’t seem to be too upset about it. To further my analogy, I have no working knowledge of computer programming, how toilets flush, why an egg makes a cake rise or how anyone could possibly learn how to fly a plane, and yet, I interact with these magical reflections of someone else’s experience, time and skill on the subject on a daily basis, enjoy the results, and am wholly unconcerned as to whether or not the process or concept is intimidating or inaccessible to me.
While all art needn’t be accessible to all people, some art is accessible to some people, and other art accessible to others, and so on and so forth. A pastel print of a seascape hung in a doctor’s office is meant to inoffensively decorate and to calm the anxious. A portrait or abstract composition displayed in a coffee shop is meant to appeal to the target customer and reinforce the brand identity of the shop. An art piece placed on a plinth in a gallery is meant to attract the collector base, while a similar piece in a museum is shown as a retrospective of an artists work and to educate. This broad spectrum of accessibility is matched by the broad spectrum of public interest and knowledge.
While the second sentence of Jennapirestrikesback criticism seems a bit of a throwaway, it is related. Firstly, as anyone who has pinned an easy little DIY craft idea on Pinterest before heading out with list in hand to Michael’s can attest to, art supplies are damn expensive! More importantly, this criticism of cost is underpinned by a querulous and adamant ignorance to the vast amount of experience, time and skill required in the process of artmaking. It’s akin to assuming that the cost of knee replacement surgery from an experienced surgeon should amount to no more than the couple of bucks needed to manufacture a Cobalt-Chromium joint, if you opt for that instead of the industry standard Titanium or newer bone/metal mix, Trabecular Metal. What, you don’t read medical journals and then stay up all night combing through WebMD?
And Jenna, I don’t even own a drapey scarf.
*Instagram handle minimally changed to protect the privacy of the ardently pissed off at art.