Art is for Everyone. Art is for You.

David Teniers the Younger “Gallery of Archduke Leopold Wilhelm in Brussels” 1651 Photograph Wikimedia Commons 

I received my Bachelor of Fine Arts in painting many years ago; in all the time since I’ve never stopped making paintings. I prefer to refer to myself as a painter, as opposed to an artist. “Artist” is a loaded word, and not necessarily positive.

The idea of an artist as some kind of shady or frivolous character is the result of strategic mismanagement. We’ve been lied to about art for going on a century, and the lies have made this timeless human activity somehow suspect.  

One of the biggest falsehoods ever perpetrated was convincing the people they were not capable of appreciating art. This was an abuse of authority, turning an uplifting experience into a vessel appealing to vanity and pride.

Not Worthy of the Name of Art: Ellsworth Kelly “Blue Green Black Red” Photograph Flickr

Taking a plot straight out of “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” so-called experts promoted the most dubious artistic efforts as the pinnacle of creativity, accessible only to those who were as worthy and sophisticated as those insiders who passed judgement on quality. Agreeing with these pros became a shortcut to connoisseurship, with all its penumbras of high status and urbanity. Admiring the beauty of the Emperor’s nonexistent outfit became a gesture adapted by those eager to belong to the upper castes.

Meanwhile, all those who believed art should actually demonstrate recognizable skills and meaning were left confused. We trusted our institutions, and now our cultural institutions were rejecting those aspects of art we could connect with. Most were left feeling, “I guess I just don’t understand art,” and turned away.

Art was no longer for the people; now it was a Doublethink rite of passage. Accepting absurdity as art was made into a filter, mandatory for those who aspired to be worldly.

The way to defeat this power grab is simple. In art, believe in your own judgements. Art is for everyone. Art is for you. Any expert who says otherwise is a phony looking to elevate themselves at the expense of others.

Real art is self-evident. It does not require justifications, references, or a specific education to function. While a particular work of art might not appeal to an individual’s taste, there can be no denying its presence as art.

Those with specialized knowledge might appreciate nuances others overlook, but real art offers something for everyone to enjoy. It’s okay to not be able to articulate why you like something. Art is something we should experience, not explain.

What makes for quality art? There’s some good rules of thumb to start off with which devastate the whole Postmodern program.

If a work of art requires a separate explanation on why it is art, it’s not really art at all. It’s some kind of attempted manipulation camouflaged as art. Obscurity does not equal artistic achievement.

If a work of art invokes support of an ideological cause as its purpose, it’s not really art at all. It’s propaganda, an attempt to stir up obscuring clouds of emotion in service of a political position. Activism does not equal artistic achievement.

You can tell a lot about a person by the kind of artwork they favor. The art we respond to becomes an extension of who we are.

Curiosity is the foundation of taste in art. Being open to an artistic experience could lead to an encounter with something remarkable beyond our current scope. Understanding that there may be something wonderful there we don’t know leads us to wonder, but also to wander. We are drawn beyond our current limits to find out more. Once the old limits are surpassed, we grow to fill the new areas we ventured into. From that new terrain, we are likely to see even more interesting vistas open up to us. There’s no end to the travels, once begun.

Not everything will appeal to everyone, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Try many things. Your instincts will guide you on what you enjoy. We’ve been blessed with the capacity to recognize God’s presence in the creative activities of humanity. You’ll know it when you see it, and you don’t need to justify your recognition to anyone else.

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