The first rule of appreciating art is to talk about art

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This article has been published 3/30/2015 (2389 days ago), the information it contains may therefore no longer be up to date.



There has always been a big gap between the art world and the general public. The art world considers itself to have very high taste. Visual art is incredibly sophisticated, after all. But the public, with few exceptions, is skeptical. Many of the works of art produced today are difficult to understand, and the tendency in the art world to use obscuring language is certainly off-putting.

One could argue that artists use such language to preserve the distance between them and the audience. This distance makes them smarter. Artistic taste, as they say, is a weapon of social stratification.

Robert Rauschenberg’s Monogram is an example of his “combinations”, which mix painting and collage with found objects.

In many ways, the first Friday art talks at the News Café are an attempt to reduce the distance between the audience and the art world. First Fridays wants to invite more Winnipeggers to visit the city’s visual arts scene and wants to give them the knowledge and confidence to appreciate the art they see.

The Art Talk on April 3 will be the most interactive yet. Viewers will be invited to discuss the topic of artistic taste, as well as some of the questions most frequently asked by curious or skeptical audiences: “Who decides whether art is good or bad?” “And” Why do some artists ‘succeed’ while others are fired?

People often have good questions. Even the cliché “my kid could do that” critique of modern art, has serious concerns at its heart: a perceived lack of competence, a perceived lack of beauty, and the absence of any real way to assess the quality. success of a work of art.

Of course, the simple answer is for trained professionals, like curators, gallery directors, and critics, to decide whether an artist’s work deserves exposure.

But British writer and philosopher Roger Scruton has a few choice words for these skilled professionals, calling their expertise “bogus.”

“Maybe the art world is just a big sham, which we all participate in because, after all, there is no real cost for it,” says Scruton.

Scruton, a staunch supporter of conservatism, is more than a bit cantankerous. But to be fair, the UK art scene is considerably more volatile than ours. In Winnipeg, when an artist wins an award, we politely applaud. In Britain, when an artist wins the Turner Prize, the nation erupts into a circus of controversy and protest, prompting an Evening Standard reviewer to write “The annual Turner Prize farce is now as inevitable as pantomime in Britain. Xmas.

If Scruton has something to say about contemporary art, it’s because we live in a time when everything can be called art. Artists today use anything (be it paint, a tire found in the trash, or a goat) to form their own nuanced and individualized visual languages. It can mean several things – they need to be deciphered before they can be appreciated, something the average person feels ill-equipped to do, and it becomes nearly impossible to form true standards of excellence.

And, if there are no standards, asks Scruton, why do we trust professionals in the art world to tell us which art is good?

For our part, Winnipeg has many talented professionals who present our city with new ideas, guide perception and welcome diverse audiences. Urban Shaman’s current project, with KC Adams’ anti-racist posters, bears witness to this.

But Scruton’s ideas are worth testing. During the Art Talk on Friday, members of the public will be invited to share their opinions on a wide variety of works of art. They will be presented works by artists deemed important by the art world – those who have enjoyed success locally, nationally and internationally – and art by amateurs. But here’s the catch: the public won’t initially know who is what.

The exercise should certainly be entertaining, but it also aims to examine where artistic taste comes from and how it is influenced. When the approval of a pristine white gallery is removed, when the artist’s name and price tag are not visible, does it change the way we view art? Maybe yes, maybe no. But it might give us the confidence to appreciate art on our own terms.

Sarah Swan is a writer and arts educator, and an Art Talk / Art Walk host at the News Café. To obtain tickets for this event, please call 204-943-0682.


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