Friday, March 20, 2009

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

By Colleen McLaughlin

I , too, would define “non-traditional art venues” to be any space other than galleries or museums, i.e. restaurants, bookstores, shops, places of business, etc. I also believe that Mr. Kline is quite correct in stating, “These are not easy questions to answer” relative to the definition of “fine art.”

I completely understand the exclusivity that those who define themselves as “fine artists” must surely feel. Kline defines “fine artist” as “someone who primarily devotes his or her life to the creation of art,” or as “someone whose central struggle in their life is to answer the hard questions of our existence through their art.” That may well be true. However, under this definition, the single-mother of four kids with two jobs who only has time to paint every other weekend could certainly meet this definition of “fine artist.” Which leads me back to the initial pondering: Who is a “fine artist?” Perhaps it IS only those with BFA or MFA following their name. After all, they have earned the title of “fine artist” through years of hard work and study. One can not claim the title “Doctor” or “Nurse” simply by knowing how to change a bandage or treat the flu. Yes, an individual may be “artistic,” but not necessarily an “artist.”

But now to the heart of those difficult-to-answer questions: What is fine art??” Is it only art created by those with a BFA/MFA? If the role that fine art plays in our culture is to “expand our way of seeing and understanding the world around us,” then many an untrained “outsider” or folk artist could certainly be defined as a creator of “fine art.”

Does the display of fine art in non-traditional venues trivialize and demean it to the status of commonplace? In my completely biased and unscientific reasoning, I would have to say “No.” I think of the French Impressionists, who were considered radicals, were laughed at, and initially disdained by the art critics of the time. Today, their paintings are “works of fine art.” So, what becomes of the brilliant visionary, who masterfully defines the beauty, mystery, tragedy or comedy of life through artwork, yet does not have BFA or MFA following his/her name? Perhaps in his/her “undiscovered” state, Healthy Living Food Store or the local library is the only venue for potential discovery. Personally, I PREFER art in common places! While I understand the desire of those who have devoted their lives to the study of art to have exclusive rights to the title “Fine Artist,” I am not convinced that they deserve exclusive rights to be seen in galleries and museums. I also appreciate those “non-traditional venues” that recognize and value the role of art in society, and give voice to “the masses.” In fact, rather than “demeaning” fine art, I see those non-traditional venues as elevating themselves to status of “art gallery!” Today’s “belittled art” is tomorrow’s “masterpiece!” And yes, those who TRULY devote their lives to the study and practice of their art will be the ones who are lasting… and with a dash of luck, elevated to the status of “fine art” in posterity… and shown in the world’s finest art museums and galleries…

Thank you, Mr. Kline, for this very thought-provoking and fascinating post…

Above right: "A Granite Plant" by Gayleen Aiken. From the collection of Marc Awodey.
Above left: "Impressionism- Sunrise" by Claude Monet 1872.