This article is by Brian Sherwin, regular contributing writer for FineArtViews. Brian Sherwin is an art critic, blogger, curator, artist and writer based near Chicago, Illinois. He has been published in Hi Fructose Magazine, Illinois Times, and other publications, and linked to by publications such as The Huffington Post, The Boston Globe, Juxtapoz Magazine, Deutsche Bank ArtMag, ARTLURKER, Myartspace, Blabbermouth, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Conservative Punk, Modern Art Obsession, Citizen LA, Shark Forum, Two Coats of Paint, Vandalog, COMPANY and Art Fag City. Disclaimer: This author's views are entirely his/her own and may not reflect the views of BoldBrush, Inc.. You should submit an article and share your views as a guest author by clicking here.
From day one, the Occupy Wall Street movement has placed government use of tax dollars under the scope. The early targets were expected -- banks and corporations. However, the scope of Occupy has widened -- placing other institutions that receive funding under heavy criticism. Since the rise of the movement, some individuals have splintered off from the main protest in order to focus on specific areas of interest. For example, a group known as Occupy Museums is currently protesting how public funds are used within state-funded museums among other issues. This development has made some mainstream art world insiders nervous. Why? I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that the momentum of protest could potentially change the 'landscape' of state-funded art within the United States -- which could chip away at some of the political/social power structure of the mainstream art world.
I know the fear that some mainstream art world insiders have because I've seen that same fear, and dare I say, closed-mindedness, in response to some of my writing. Anyone who follows my writing on FineArtViews -- or followed my writing in the past on Myartspace -- knows that I have strong opinions about museums and funding -- specifically in regard to the curatorial choices of art museums that receive public funding. I'd personally like to see more balance in our museums in regard to the themes and subjects that are explored visually, with respect to artwork created by living artists. After all, if the public is helping to keep the museum doors open they should not be barraged with one-sided politics when visiting an institution they have helped support -- especially in regard to current controversial issues. There is room for a plethora of ideas to be explored visually within the context of specific issues.
Some mainstream art world insiders view my use of the word 'balance' as an attack. Those individuals typically don't want to see any form of drastic change in 'their world'. In a sense, they are conservative -- in the traditional sense of the word -- in their approach to how museums should be utilized in that they are content -- both personally and professionally -- with the Left-leaning visual indoctrination of the majority of state-funded museums today. I, on the other hand, feel that the ideas represented should reflect the public as a whole -- last I checked, a plethora of ideas exist among tax payers. Unfortunately, many of our museums appear to be more interested in whatever social/political agenda the museum director supports -- which tends to fall within the 'liberal circus' that art critic Ken Johnson and others have mentioned in the past. In my opinion, that is a misuse of public funding depending on the mission of the supported museum.
Obviously, some art world insiders take offense when I mention my views concerning museums and public funding. I've been called every name in the book. That said, I feel that my position is extremely open-minded compared to the institutional one-sidedness that I've observed over the years. In fact, my position is as liberal as you can get in that regard. I don't care what private exhibit spaces decide to show -- that is their business. However, public exhibit spaces -- such as state-funded art museums -- that receive funding from tax dollars should be in the business of serving the pubic as a whole... not cultivating specific visual indoctrination that only a certain percent of tax payers agree with. How they use our money is our business -- and I personally feel that state-funded museums should be more open to ideas if they desire to continue receiving forms of public funding
I think a balanced political/social direction in our state-funded museums is important in order to 1.) preserve a true sense of the art of our times. After all, there is more than just a 'Liberal circus' out there. 2.) document a realistic history of the ideas explored in art today for future generations instead of offering a water-downed visual experience that clings to one-sided extremes. 3.) cultivate improved public appreciation for art by avoiding strict adherence to one-sided social or political themes. In other words, the public won't care about art if only a specific percentage of the public is represented, and dare I say, served, visually by our state-funded museums. Point blank -- I'm not suggesting that specific ideas should be removed from our museums... I'm saying that if museums receive our funding they should work diligently to explore as many ideas visually as possible. They should work toward serving the public as a whole by presenting a variety of social/political opinions visually. That is what I mean by balance. One-sidedness should not be allowed to dominate the visual 'landscape' of our museums.
Some art world insiders fear these opinions because, if made a reality, it would change the 'landscape' of the mainstream art world itself. In a sense, they don't want their personal social/political initiatives to be burdened by public acceptance of other ideas expressed visually within the context of exhibited art. Furthermore, museum exhibits impact the value of specific works of art -- which, in turn, plays a role in shaping the global art market. Needless to say, some global art market -- the Wall Street of the art world -- insiders are very protective of that structure -- they have built their careers and reputations on it.
I'll put it a different way -- if artwork that falls outside of the social/political boundaries of the mainstream art world -- art that is shunned by those powers that be -- were to find an audience in our state-funded museums, one of the most crucial factors of the global art market in regard to perceived value would forever be changed. For example, what would happen if art that high profile private art galleries in New York City refuse to exhibit -- based on social themes, political themes, ...etc. -- were to be propelled into the international spotlight by museum initiatives nationwide? The answer to that is what some of these mainstream art world/market insiders fear.
I can honestly say that there are some highly influential individuals within the art world -- specifically in New York City -- who place their personal social and political agendas before the need of establishing a more open art world. They place those motivations before art in general. They claim to be liberal-minded all while placing specific art in a box. Point blank -- they don't care about any art outside of that box no matter how technically sound or appealing it may be to a wider audience. Again, for private galleries that choice is acceptable -- that is their business -- they can deny specific motivations that an artist may have if they please by ignoring the art -- but it is not, in my opinion, acceptable for state-funded museums to do so on those same grounds.
With the above in mind, if change does come to the world of public funded art museums, I have a feeling that many high profile art gallery owners will not be so content with the one-sided choices they have made in the past in regard to the themes they choose to exhibit. After all, the spirit of Occupy Wall Street -- the fact that groups are challenging how public funded museums operate -- could become a 'game changer' that impacts the global art market. Point blank -- if just a few of the ideas that I and others have expressed become an institutional reality it could spur the forced democratization of the mainstream art world. End result -- a core art world that is more open to ideas expressed visually. That art world revolution is long overdue.
The art world revolution mentioned above won't be an easy one. I recently asked some insiders I know about their thoughts concerning Occupy Wall Street inspired protests against state-funded museums. I received a variety of responses -- but a few, offered by individuals who wish to remain anonymous, really stuck out. One, a gallery owner, went as far as to suggest that the mainstream art world has always been an institution "by and for the elite" and that it should remain that way unless public perception of art is to be "dumbed down" to the point of having no "cultural significance". Another, a fellow art writer, made it clear that she is content with the existence of social/political bias dominating the direction of the mainstream art world -- and that she would "consider other employment opportunities" if the balance I've mentioned were to become a reality of her profession.
What I have found interesting is that some mainstream art world insiders are starting to challenge aspects of Occupy Wall Street -- and art-focused Occupy initiatives -- that they supported early on. In other words, they feel that what is good criticism against banks and corporations is not so good for the world of museums. Some have went as far as to imply that placing state-funded museums under the Occupy scope is dangerous -- that it leaves too much room for art funding to be targeted by politicians, specifically of the Republican variety. In fact, some have suggested that art-focused Occupy protests should occupy to raise more government funding for the arts instead of questioning how said funds are being spent already. Point blank -- it appears that some insiders don't want to question how well these state-funded museums are serving the public. Is it because they are content with the professionally spurred political/social bias that has long existed in our public institutions? Is it because they know that drastic change would impact the direction of the mainstream art world / market itself? Perhaps.
Some of these individuals have pulled the money card when downplaying the Occupy driven call to examine just how well state-funded museums are serving the public as a whole. Point blank -- they have suggested that forms of public funding are so low that the absence of said funding would not hurt the museums in the first place. Which implies that there is no reason to protest against them. In that respect, I think these individuals are missing the point -- perhaps intentionally -- the point being, if a museum is receiving public funding in any form it should strive to serve the public... not just a portion of the public. It should strive to acknowledge as many viewpoints held today as possible instead of clinging to specific visual rhetoric over and over again. My guess is that some of these individuals are content with one-sidedness within our state-funded museums -- and fear change for the reasons I mentioned earlier.
Could it be that mainstream art world insiders are nervous because artists have found a voice for change in the Occupy Wall Street movement? Face it -- there is nowhere near 99% of the art world represented within the mainstream art world of today. Only a small percentage of artists who are alive and creating today can thrive within that power structure -- and find a place within the social/political viewpoints that tend to be accepted by the art market powers that be. More often than not the ability to 'fit in' with mainstream art world norms, if you will, appears to be a huge factor on when and if you, an artist, will be accepted into those strongholds. What happens when those strongholds are breached in mass? We may find out sooner than later.
The 99% of the art world is waking up to the fact that it does not matter how 'good' your artwork is technically -- or how meaningful it may be to a large portion of the population -- if your ideas conflict with the motivations of gatekeepers who clearly have a social/political agenda that infiltrates into all aspects of their professions. In that sense, structures that are influenced by the mainstream art world... yet receive public funding -- such as state-funded museums -- could be the one place that artists outside of that carefully crafted 'box' can find a mainstream audience. That is, if change comes. Furthermore, if reform did happen... who would decide what art is acquired or merely exhibited? I suppose we will find out if it happens.
In closing, these are just my thoughts on the issue. I think there is a lot of fear out there right now -- especially among mainstream art world insiders who are content with the state of the art world at this time. That said, I'm open to the opinions of others -- so by all means, comment if you oppose my view or desire to add to it. Should we expect more from the museums we help fund? Will the 'landscape' of the mainstream art world be changed in a positive way -- a more open-minded way -- if this reform were to occur? Could the spirit of Occupy Wall Street force the democratization of the mainstream art world once and for all? If so, do you agree that it would improve public appreciation for art overall in that more citizens would be able to discover art they relate to? Why has the mainstream art world become a place where specific ideas expressed visually are feared? Isn't one of the goals of art to go against the grain of cultivated power structures? I want to know your opinion.
Take care, Stay true