Everyone has his or her own interpretation as to what qualifies as art, particularly visual still-art. Just as there are qualifiers for hip-hop and classical music, the same holds true for Baroque and pop art. However, when art is given the stamp of approval by individuals organizations or constrained systems like museums (i.e. MoMA, Smithsonian), the level playing ground for artistic expression is tattered. Malraux’s notion of the musée imaginaire struck a chord with me, as I considered my definition and prototypes of art. My “museum without walls” is indeed vast but segmented based on theoretical/standardized notions of art versus tactile, more relatable examples. Certainly, I know who Picasso and Rembrandt are, but I resonate more strongly with graffiti or the art murals featured in Richmond or Philadelphia.
Malraux’s observation that postmodern museum standards focus on unifying works from various cultures calmed and disturbed me; its implications led me to consider the loss of the art’s original purpose for the sake of fair treatment and unbiased critique. In undergrad, I learned extensively about foundations designed specifically for African-American artists – both specially trained and folk – who were excluded from museum exhibits because of their race. Critique of their artwork, no matter how ambiguous, seemingly drew remarks relating to their Black ancestry or identity; the two could not be separated in the eyes and minds of judges. Is this practice still evident today? Are certain values or impressions placed on art forms based on aesthetic and racial prejudice? Certainly, topics and subjects in art pieces are more explicitly related to a particular group than others, but artistically conveying issues of race is not an exclusive objective of Black artists (Note: It doesn’t take a genius to recognize that race is a problem in this country and it’s not an issue exclusively on the hands of African-Americans). One of my favorite artists is Michael D’Antuono and man, is his stuff head-turning. Two of his artworks – “A Tale of Two Hoodies” and “The Truth” have ruffled the feathers of many. I’ll let you take a look for yourself:
The placement and spotlight that some artists receive exceeds those of others thanks to mega-museum notoriety. Google Art Project’s home page features what I’m sure are notable artists and works that vary temporally and demographically. Perhaps, my interests for art are obscure, but the chosen pieces oozed conformity, tradition and mainstream, which isn’t my cup of tea. The mainstay art exhibits in museums such as VMFA or the Smithsonian deliver a message all on its own, as if art is not a transformative, ever-evolving sphere. We are all familiar with Monet, Picasso, Van Gogh, da Vinci and Rembrandt, but not with Wangechi Mutu, D’Antuono, Nina Chanel Abney and a myriad of others. As Professor Irvine explains in his institutional breakdown of the art sphere, art is displayed in particular settings: art exhibits, museums, art colleges, etc. The competitive monetary aspect of art is one that is shielded from the face of the public, which could answer my question as to why some of my favorite artists never get the same recognition I think they deserve alongside canonical names.
The infrastructure for what qualifies as art in mainstream is one that bothers me, but makes sense all at once. Many of the artists I respect take pride in distancing themselves from mainstream standards, taking more of the folk-like approach as they rise on the artistic ladder. And while the medium to which I am exposed to these artists doesn’t manifest many financial benefits, Tumblr is a great curating hub for indie artists to gain followings and attention, especially as the social media site opens doors for dialogues and interpretations of digitally published/curated artwork. With this in mind, Tumblr is a way for Malraux’s “museum without walls” to come into fruition as more artists create their own avenues outside of the country club-esque requisites of major art institutions. And I’m all for it.