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The Democratization of Art

There seems to have been a lot of talk about the democratization of art lately.  Recently in the Globe and Mail, columnists Russell Smith and Lynn Crosbie have both offered their thoughts on recent developments in the cultural sphere.


Jan Vermeer, The Milkmaid, c. 1658-60. Image: navigo.com

In THIS article, Smith focuses on an online movement known as “folksonomy …or social tagging. It has created software that permits anybody to look at various museums’ online collections and label each image with as many descriptive keywords as they like.

While this process, using keyword search terms, is designed to allow curators to discover what most interests the public, it also allows the public to determine how they view art. Is this a good thing?  Smith uses the example of a Vermeer painting, which may be labeled as “17th-century” or “Dutch”, but also perhaps as “milk jug” by amateur users.

Despite cringing at the idea of an art collection organized by the term “milk jug”, I would say that yes, it’s a good thing, in that it opens up the way art is received. Not that one way is preferable to another, but opening up the way art is accessed is certainly good for everyone.


The cast of Bravo’s art reality tv series. Image: coxnewsweb.com

Crosbie, meanwhile, in THIS piece, reviews the recent art reality show Work of art: The Next Great Artist, which is currently showing on Bravo.

The show – produced by the actress Sarah Jessica Parkerof Sex and the City fame –  aims to make art accessible to everyone, which in theory is a great idea, but as far as Crosbie is concerned, the way they go about it (Project Runway-style) is wrong.  She notes that the show “misses such a good opportunity to break down, to truly demolish the barriers that have always separated precious art from the barbarous hordes.”

So, as THIS article in Salon.com suggests, art and reality tv don’t mix. (Thank goodness)

And Crosbie makes a very important point: “Art should not be accessible to everyone: One must be prepared to engage in art’s history and various contexts in order to respond to it.

Nevertheless, there is a way to bring art to the masses, intelligently. British television does a good job at educating while making art accessible.  Simon Schama’s Power of Art series for the BBC, which aired in 2006, was one example, and Waldemar Januszczak – the excellent critic for the Sunday Times – makes art documentaries that are often quite entertaining.

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