Working in the creative field and living life so far as an artist, I think there’s a lot to be said on the accessibility of art, and most of it is controversial. Does "art for all" spread broader awareness and appreciation? Or does it dilute the impact and meaning of creative work? Like most things in 2020, social media makes this conversation complicated. It’s crazy how social sharing affects artistic experiences and work. And sometimes, it’s bananas.
On the one hand, I truly believe art should be accessible to everyone. Growing up in Cincinnati, our art museum was always free (and was one of the few throughout the country at the time to do so). From museums to educational institutions, there’s plenty of research to support the benefits of communities and environments enriched with artistic creation.
On the other hand, let’s take Yayoi Kusama as an example for what I view as the dangers of art accessibility. Born in Japan, Kusama is an absolute icon who has changed the landscape of installation art. At 90 years old, she has lived a life filled with triumphs and obstacles, creating work that reflects feminism, surrealism, expressionism, self-reflection, and more. But most everyone knows her for her infinity rooms.
I’ll admit, when the wndr museum opened in Chicago, I was in the first wave of ticket buyers. I had seen a few members of their leadership team speak at an AIGA event about their vision for a space where science and artistic expression met. Intrigued by the concept and by the prospect of seeing a Kusama infinity room, I accepted the $35 ticket price. What I found throughout my ‘journey’ at wndr was a space truly just built for Instagram. There might have been the occasional visitor there for scientific discovery or to appreciate Kusama’s work, but most pass through to snap photos and post them to the ‘gram...which I did too. I’m only human, people!
It’s frustrating to think that our relationship to art has distilled down to our interaction with our iPhones. On any given trip to the Art Institute of Chicago, you see proof everywhere. I have seen people run up to a painting, take a photo, and move on to the next piece. Not only are they disregarding the historical context and artist, but they don’t even stop long enough to look at the work itself.
My personal feelings aside, I think this says a lot about what we value. The majority of people want things to be quick, effortless, easy, and photogenic so that they translate easily into digital life. Add it to the pile of reasons to be disappointed with humanity! But we can also be more conscious about the way we interpret and absorb art. Spend a few extra, intentional seconds with everything you come across, even when you’re scrolling through Instagram. Accessibility to art is a wonderful thing; we need to make sure we embrace it in a way that shows respect to the creative world as a whole.