Who are the art experts?

Contact: email me at daveclarkecb@yahoo.com
Created 2006/06/08, modified 2011/02/19

Why do we allow so-called art experts to tell us what art is good and what is not?

Do we allow experts to decide what music we should listen to? We do not allow anyone to tell us what religion we should follow, thankfully that time is past, for the present. We do not allow anyone to tell us what sport or hobbies to get involved with.

Why do we allow 'experts' to choose what art is hung in our art galleries? We pay for both the art galleries and the curators' salaries, shouldn't we demand that they buy art that we like?

I recently visited the Perth Art Gallery in Western Australia. My companions and I were very disappointed. There was only one painting that we greatly liked, Hans Heysen's 'Into the sun'. There was a lot of mediocre modern-style art, and probably an equall amount of material that I would call rubbish.

Outstanding among the rubbish were two pieces. The first was a black canvas with a thin yellow line around it; nothing else, just that. The outstanding waste-of-space was a work consisting of four large canvases, each about 2m square and completely black. The only other thing that you could say about them was that they alternated from flat black to a somewhat lumpy black. This is not art.

Do you think that our art galleries are being run as well as they could be? What alternatives are there?

Art galleries could be run democratically. There could be some form of voting on what pieces should be bought and hung and what should not. As a starter, I suggest that a section of each State-owned Australian art gallery be required to devote one section to democratic selection. I suggest that all pieces hung in this section should also be displayed on a page on the Internet. Against each representation on the Net page there should be a couple of buttons - approval and disapproval. For any 'art-work' to stay in this section of the gallery it would have to achieve some pre-set level of approval.

Any other suggestions? Email address at the top of this page.

What is art?

There are two properties that an object must have for it to be called art: it must be an artefact and it must have impact on the viewer. The impact will often be beauty (and beauty is, of course, 'in the eye of the beholder'), but it could also be an emotional impact due to the 'story' that the work conveys; for example in a shocking photograph from a war or revolution. The impact might also be due to some striking quality in the work: perhaps lighting, some sort of strong contrast, composition. It must draw the interest of the viewer in some way.

From this definition, many objects in modern galleries would not qualify as art. Good architecture certainly can qualify as art.

Can an ugly object qualify as art? The ugliness could certainly provide impact. Below is a photograph that I will use to illustrate this point. It is shocking. If you might be upset by it then don't scroll down.

Victim of white phosphorous
The photograph of a victim of a white phosphorous bomb (from a war museum in Saigon, Vietnam) on the right certainly has impact. It definitely tells a story of the horror of war and the unethical nature of one of the wars inflicted by the USA on a much weaker nation. Can it be called art?