Name Your Favorite Artist
Jake Levine

While I can see some validity to your statement that people aren’t noticing art all that much, I’d like to see some more specificity here to know exactly what you’re talking about.

First, people do buy lots of art, just not the kind that gets bought and sold in the Art World. People buy posters and prints and coffee table books and postcards and knick-knacks. While a poster of 3 wolves howling at the moon might be something some people look down their noses on, it’s not like Nickleback albums are the intellectual equivalent of the opera.

So I don’t know exactly what the issue is here. Is it that the subject matter of the art that people consume isn’t elevating enough? I doubt that — the big museums of Europe are full of religious symbols, portraits, and landscapes, just like many people buy pictures of the Virgin Mary, Britney Spears posters, and Thomas Kinkade prints today. Fergy singing about her “humps” is not more elevating than a mini-Eiffel Tower.

Is it that people aren’t buying originals, like those that get bought and sold by the wealthy in the Art World? Well, then the comparison to music really doesn’t hold up; how many people hire chamber Orchestras to perform original compositions that they will only perform once in a private concert?

Is it that the technique (not the subject matter) of the art that people buy isn’t all that exciting? Again, looking at what actually gets sold in the music industry, it’s not like they’re doing any better — Ke$ha is not Maria Callas, but something tells me that more people today know her work.

Or is it that people don’t remember the names of visual artists and follow contemporary art movements like they do with music? There is some truth here. The thing is, it’s limited to a place where it’s entirely understandable: most music consumers have no idea who created the music they consume for the most part (like who wrote the songs, who performed the accompaniment, who made the musical arrangements, etc., all of which are artistic acts), they just know the name of the lead singer of a song and perhaps that name refers to a small subset of the people who worked to make a song that includes the singer (a band). That people would bother to learn the singer is where there’s a difference with visual art, and that probably has something to do with the connection to another human voice that can only come across in performative arts. Visual arts also have the advantage of permanence, so movements don’t have to be described in years like they do with popular music. That longevity makes keeping up with changes in style less work, and the associated vocabulary less necessary to learn.

Contrary to this article, I’ve always used the phrase “Art World” to refer to the people who think that only certain visual art is edifying and worthy of attention, while things that are more intellectually accessible (a concept that music critics understand well) only exist to be mocked. “Art World” is about a certain kind of snobbism that can only be bred in a place where the creators of art only have to please a small group of wealthy people in the Upper East Side… or a small group of art scholars who control where grant money goes.

That we’d try to break open the Art World, then, by implicitly labeling the art that people enjoy as not-art, is ironic.

I have a collection of Keith Haring postcards and I like Joanna Newsom’s albums, my mother buys inoffensive landscapes to decorate her walls and likes the Beatles, my cousin actually has a poster of three wolves howling and the moon and actually does like Nickleback, my straight male college roommate had a Britney Spears poster (for her looks, not her music, he would tell me) and liked U2…. These pairs don’t seem that shocking to me.

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