Contemporary Art does not have to be pretentious and confusing, and although it often seems that way, it is down to you (the viewer) to make it relevant to yourself. So i’m here to provide you with the do(s) and don’t(s) of contemporary art; maybe a few gallery etiquette tips as well to help you through those prolonged moments of gaze in front of artwork making attempt to reason its existence.
Why though? (the benefits of art and creative thinking)
Just briefly I should explain why creativity is beneficial, and why I am on such a mission to break barriers of a common understanding that art is only for certain stereotypes. So… contemporary art reflects the society surrounding us; it is an exploration of issues that humans come in contact with every day; gender, politics, economics, environment, science, relationships, people. This means that no matter the subject, art can be influential to us all. A subject that addresses both social and cultural issues excels the development of informed, open-minded and innovative citizens. I really believe this is important for all ages not just throughout educational years, but into adulthood and beyond.
Confessions of an Art Student
After four years studying contemporary art, and after many many hours spent in art museums I feel my approach to art galleries should be fairly polished by now; but no. I still find myself questioning how much Marina Abramovic is getting paid to sit still in a chair, and worrying incase I am looking at the dehumidifier in the room thinking its a meaningful piece of artwork (my granddad did actually do this at an exhibition opening!) As long as we are mindful, and don’t say these things out loud, I recon we are safe – although the dehumidifier situation is a tricky one to get out of; I’m yet to find a solution for that.
The beauty of contemporary art is; there are no rules and nobody can tell you you’re wrong or don’t belong. The best piece of advise I can give, is to be open-minded – simples!
The Do(s) and The Don't(s)
- This is a biggy! Don’t suggest you or your 5-year-old could have made the artwork. Because your probably right, they probably could have. But, they didn’t. Some art appears unskillful, easy to make, childlike… but considering beyond the visual to a point where you are challenged to question why an artist has made it and put it there in front of you is the important part.
- Do ask questions – art often needs to be solved, and the easiest way to understand is by asking yourself questions. As I said before, there are no wrong answers – so by asking, and answering your own queries, the work becomes relevant to you. This way, you’ll probably have a more worthy experience than if someone spoon fed you information about what the artist intended in the creation of their work.
- Don’t assume art should be pretty – contemporary art is not decoration! Sometimes it is beautiful, because the beauty is relevant or the aesthetic of the work appeals to your taste – but sometimes not. It can be terrifying, or smell bad, it can leave you feeling uncomfortable or angry. It exists for a purpose, to convey a message, raise a question, make a statement, encourage the viewer to think. Try not to discard the work in the realisation that it won’t look very good on your living room wall!
- Do accept defeat (sometimes) – its alright to walk away feeling a bit baffled. Not understanding right away creates opportunity for an epiphany a few days later – light bulb moment!
- Don’t – describe work as ‘weird’ or ‘cool’ – this doesn’t mean an awful lot, why is it weird, why is it cool? Oh, and ‘its nice’ is probably the worst of the worst, no artist wants to hear their work is ‘nice.’
- Do your own thing – feel free to ignore program sheets and writing about the art, pompous paradoxes and a plague of adverbs can be helpful if you have google handy to help you out; but if not, don’t stress… art encourages rebeliation after all!
Art Lingo Cheat Sheet
Its degree show season! Meaning many of us will be attending art school exhibitions with some fear of the unknown – with the help of a few safety phrases and after a few glasses of free wine, you’ll get through no problem.
- Conceptually strong – this is an ongoing joke within my family, so much so the term ‘conceptually strong’ is used when something is so bad we have to try to appreciate it for something other than its existence – for example, my new flat form trainers were 100% conceptually strong in the opinion of my brothers – it’s also been used to describe some of my Mums cooking (sorry mum!)
- This is very suggestive – you don’t need to state what the work is suggesting, but raising the question to others in confidence implies you already know the answer – effectively you are passing the baton to someone else to do the hard work.
- Negative space – this refers to the areas around and within the artwork that are absent of form, line, colour, sound; it is often deliberate, so highlighting the fact you’ve noticed it proves your attention to detail.
- I find this work challenging – is your get out of jail card, for when you really are stumped – saying your challenged is far more acceptable than saying ‘I don’t get it’ – the likeliness of the person stood next to you understanding it is also fairly slim, you should get away with it!
That’s all I’ve got for now, but since I mentioned Marina Abramovic earlier, I’ll leave you with this TED Talk. She discusses some of her best performance art; of which she is a true master.
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