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Access to Art

Each day we see more public art popping up around us.

By PAUL KLEIN

What I want is for art to be more accessible--more relevant. I'm tired of museums trying to pass themselves off as temples and galleries that want me to flash my checkbook before they engage me in conversation.

Fortunately things in the art world are changing. Where we find art and how we define it are continuously evolving. Each day we see more public art popping up around us. It's work that both inspires and challenges people who take notice.

Everyone can relate to good art. The notion that it's not for the masses is elitist garbage, some market driven esoterica that's offensive to the core. So much art that has been paraded before us--over the past several decades--has been increasingly pretentious, ostentatious and supercilious--all big words, for snooty, self-impressed and damned near irrelevant.

It isn't as if the world has just decided that art should be accessible. I think the sea change is mostly a result of the vast amount of new technology. The new has always been seductive in the art world. The old is, well, old. New technology commands attention. With art, the question isn't who does it best or who does it honestly--it's who does it first. Unlike an artist's isolated existence of making paintings, technology usually mandates that an artist have a network of peers who together sniff out the worthwhile developments in computer technology and together figure out which applications are most appropriate. Artists are now, more often than not, collaborators. And frequently those collaborating are not only other artists, but also geeks, fabricators, technicians and people in hardhats.

A byproduct of the team mentality is that it prevents one member of the team from going off the deep-end of highfalutin concepts and encourages that the message, if not always the means, is graspable by all. This is a truly exciting development.

The Internet has changed a lot, but so has life in general. With an ever-increasing urban population, there are just so many more choices and possibilities. Prioritizing the new over the tried-and-true makes change the constant, not the institutions that have long been our stalwarts.

Music, video, architecture, events, experiences, interactive art, performances and theatre are all modern art forms, and we're seeing them combined all the time to create original work. This is the fertile ground that is breeding the most excitement today. The nexus is where solid content and new media come together to explore their common ground and where the technology driving music, architecture and visual information are so remarkably similar, but the filtered results are so seemingly disparate that further exploration is mandatory.

This is where we are right now--where creativity is more about leaps into the unknown instead of repetitions of the mundane, albeit an attractive, comfortable and familiar mundane. Today's artistic teams are suited to challenge the irrelevant and mundane. If a creative artist is going to give up his or her individuality to the whole, they are going to be as sure as they can that it yields a viable result. In other words, there are more people exercising quality control and endorsing the vision of the whole. As a result the art gets less pretentious and less insular and instead becomes more experiential, more participatory, more public and by extension, more accessible.

The system is changing. Take a look at your recent art experiences. How many of them occurred outdoors? Was it something you happened upon or did you buy tickets to get in? Are you aware of new public art, both permanent and temporary, that is popping up all over? Are you seeing more art in unexpected locations? Is there much more in the rural areas than there used to be? Keep your eyes open for these changes--it is happening.

Are galleries making strides to be more accessible? Are they sponsoring more public events? Are more galleries owned and operated by artists? Do more galleries have a finite collaborative vision that presents a series of theme-related exhibits and then closes and moves on after a year or so?

Artists don't depend on galleries the way they once did. Neither do collectors. Just as artists have been reinventing themselves and redefining the process of making art, galleries and public institutions that want to remain viable have changed with the times. "Accessibility" is the key word.

As a society, it is high time that we acknowledge the significant contribution art can make to the quality of our culture. Not only does art teach us about ourselves, about today and about the past, it helps us visualize the future. It has a constructive, pragmatic value in how it augments our thinking, encourages tolerance, builds community, fosters awareness and just flat out makes us better people.

Paul Klein invites your input. You can reach him at paul@artletter.com

Published: December 01, 2005
Issue: Holiday 2005