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Friday, August 15, 2014

The Hierarchy of Art Lovers

Copyright, Jim Lane      
The Art Lovers' Pyramid (yes, that's me in front).
Where would the world be without art? Well, sadly, about where it is now. It would be a little drabber, less exciting, less colorful, probably a good deal uglier, but aside from these highly superficial elements, likely not much different. Art is a luxury; always has been, probably always will be, at least to some degree. Having said that, let me add that while art itself may be unimportant in the overall scheme of things, its influence is not. Artists color our world. Art depicts our culture. Art fosters art lovers. And it is the art lover who is important, far more than the art itself. Art is a thing. It can be bought and sold, argued over, created, destroyed, criticized, loved, even hated, but it's also a highly replaceable commodity. All this action and interaction having to do with this art "thing" happens because of people. The art itself? It just sits (or hangs) there.
The art education "cloud"
Although the art itself may, or may not (depending on who you talk to), have its own hierarchy, one thing of which I'm certain, art lovers certainly do. In discussing this whole hierarchy with myself, I'm in a quandary as to whether to start at the top of the "pyramid" or at the bottom. Hmm... Okay, I'll start at the top--the artist, right? Nope. At the top of the pyramid is the art educator. Whether teaching kindergarten art lovers not to eat the crayons or discussing with post-graduate art lovers the lingering influence of Dada in this Postmodern era, the art educator deserves our greatest, most enduring honor and respect (and not because I am one). I mean, were it not for art educators, all artist would be self-taught. And, while there are those who might applaud such a reality, were that the case, the history of art would be far more circular than it is linear. That is, as an art professor I once knew put it: "The same damned thing over and over again; rather than one damned thing after another."
The artist--thinking and creating
Art educators aside, there would be no art without artists. Artists create art, but more importantly artists think art. As the electronic age and computers gradually inject themselves into the processes of creating art, this fact becomes more and more relevant and obvious. Yesterday I discussed DAZ, a piece of creative software some might deem revolutionary in its impact while others might denigrate as little more than playing with digital paper dolls. In all likelihood, its somewhere in between the two. Be that as it may, if it's done little else, the Postmodern era has changed the definition, not of art itself (the era of Modern Art did that), but that of the "artist." In the past, the first thought popping into most people's mind when they hear the word "artist" is "skilled." That's a poor synonym, but prevalent, nonetheless. The word "creative" is better, but still, the two words are married in most people's minds, with the first often seen as more dominant. Yet, as DAZ demonstrates, the link is not inextricable. Jeff Koons can create ceramic sculptures without being a ceramicist. He simply hires one.
Art and Wealth..feeding upon one another.
The third level down from the top of the art lovers' pyramid is that of the buyer. Money talks and art money speaks as loudly as any other kind. What it says is not always wise; sometimes it even lies. It is easily influenced by hype and just as easily it influences tripe. The validity of its influence depends solely upon which level of the art lovers' hierarchy from which it derives (in general, the higher, the better). And once more, the art educator can be of extreme importance. Far more than teaching skills, the art educator teaches attitudes and values regarding art. It could be argued, that the art educator's influence decreases as the ratio of artists to non-artists in his or her classroom decreases. That is, the art educator has a far greater impact on non-artists than upon would-be artists (who can often be quite obstinate). The fact is, artists seldom buy art. Non-artists very often do (in one form or another).
Art expert, Maike Vogt-Luerssen. Is it really a Leonardo? 
Just beneath the art buyers, and very nearly on a par with them, are the art experts. Whether directly or indirectly, they tell the art buyers what they should buy. In effect they are somewhat like the art educators (minus the classroom) and usually serve to reinforce, augment, and facilitate their less well-paid counterparts. These include writers like myself, museum curators, gallery owners, artists' agents, ad men and women, art historians, restorers, preservationists, authenticators, art detectives, even those who round up art counterfeiters. Without them, the sophisticated, laid-back, ultra-cool world of art and artists would descend into chaos.
The art "appreciators"
Descending the pyramid, we find the art "appreciators." These are the people from all levels of society, education, and sophistication who simply like art. They are the ones who visit and support museums; who read what people like me write; who ingest and digest art whenever and wherever they can. Usually, they don't buy much art (or any at all). Usually their minds are fairly broad and open. They can, however, be highly opinionated. But in speaking their minds, they do so from a background of having experienced art personally, rather than just through hearsay. They are seldom very influential but very often they should be. Perhaps more than any other art lovers, they are the ones most capable of cutting through the crap to the creative sap that is the core element of fine art.
Rocky Balboa...wasn't he the
heavyweight champ back in '76?
The next level down I call the "pseudo art lovers." They go to art museums: "I think it was back in 1978." They are familiar with Picasso, but confuse Monet and Manet. They adore Rodin.  " know, the guy who did the 'kissers'." They think of Modern Art, for the most part, as a "rip-off," and though they may claim to like Matisse, they only buy posters of Leroy Neiman...because he does sports stuff. The closest they've been to an art museum in recent years was the time they were web surfing and accidentally pulled up the MoMA website while look for information on breast feeding. Art galleries? Only if there's wine and cheese involved.
Redneck art.
And finally, at the very bedrock bottom of the art lovers' pyramid is...well...everyone else. They've never been to an art museum. Art galleries? You mean those stores where they sell paintings and stuff? Their favorite artist... "uhh...that guy who drew covers for The Saturday Evening Post. Uhh... Rockwell...Norman...yeah, Norman Rock-well. I always did like him." The wife adds. "I really like that 'painter of light' guy... I forget his name." That's not to say they have no art in their homes...there's a framed photo of a '57 Chevy convertible from Motor Lust magazine, and a beautiful fall landscape reproduction in the living room they picked up for just five bucks (including the frame) at a garage sale down the street (it matched the couch). The only artist they know personally is the guy who runs the tattoo parlor down the street. They do, however, sometimes buy art. "See...look here, on my back, an eagle riding on a Sherman tank...ain't it a beaut?!"

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