Tuesday, March 17, 2009

OPINION: Are non-traditional venues a help or hindrance to the fine arts?

This is in response to a question submitted by Andrew Kline and posted on March 17, 2009. Further responses will be posted as they are received.

By Eva Schectman

When I use the term "non-traditional venue" I am referring to restaurants and other types of compatible, but not necessarily related businesses/organizations/institutions, such as bookstores, the lobbies of banks and indoor malls, government offices, and the occasional upscale shoe store or designer clothing boutique.So, having established where, in my inquiry, fine art is exhibited outside galleries and museums, I will now focus on possibilities of "help" and "hindrance".

If we are looking purely at helping the fine arts, then I have my doubts that non-traditional venues help them, assuming that fine art is defined as something created by "a 'fine artist', someone who primarily devotes his or her life to the creation of art. Someone whose central struggle in their life (is) to answer the hard questions of our existence through their art." (a definition Andrew Kline offered in his post), then I really wonder if placing the products of this struggle in venues that co-exist with eating a meal, trying on shoes, or, perhaps, glimpsing on the way to the lavatory, is at all helpful.

But rarely is it possible to set aside the needs of an art form, in this case the fine arts, from the needs of fine artists. Artists have needs beyond the struggle to answer the above mentioned existential hard questions. We also have to answer the more mundane questions, such as "How am I going pay the rent this month?" and "Do I have enough money to pay for my annual check-up AND groceries in the next two weeks?"

Non-traditional venues have fewer hoops to jump through (applying, curating, advertising, and selling) in order for an artist's work to be seen by the public, than traditional venues. So although one wants to show ones work where it will look the best as well as be seen by the people who will appreciate it the most (an aim one hopes to achieve at a traditional venue), it's not always possible or practical to do so.

So non-traditional venues offer a service that traditional venues aren't, usually, able to offer - a simple, accessible, inexpensive way of having one's work seen. The sacrifice one makes by having one's work shown cheek to jowl with other products/services often looks like a fair trade-off.
Ultimately I don't see non-traditional venues as the primary instrument of the diminution of fine art, but only a symptom, and entrepreneurial effect, of our larger society's denial of the importance of fine art. So although I believe non-traditional venues don't necessarily help the fine arts, they aren't any more of a hindrance than society at large.