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Can Art be for Everyone?

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Ivana Zivic - Plima

For the greater part of history, fine art was inaccessible to most people. As a sign of class and refinement, the work of talented painters and sculptors was commissioned by the wealthy for their private collections. Even museum access was fairly limited to the upper echelons of society. With modernity, however, that culture has for the most part changed. Museums and galleries have shifted their focus to the public—investing millions into exhibits and marketing campaigns that will bring people into their venues. Most importantly, the notion that art belongs only to the elite has been completely done away with.

While art has become more accessible, museums and galleries still have a lot of competition in the 21st century. As endless digital entertainment is available at the touch of a finger, getting people to travel to a venue, spend money, and walk around viewing static art is a challenge. Modern world is about sharing experiences and younger audience doesn’t view museums just as places to see art. The new generation would be as interested in taking a photo in front of a masterpiece and sharing it with their social circle.

Technological revolution expanded the notion of museums and art venues beyond the white cube to include virtual reality museums and online galleries. But whether physical or virtual, all the venues face a challenge of being more attractive to the public by creating a space where people can identify themselves and be able to interact with others.  Indeed, there are several ways in which they are already doing this.

Firstly, art is always more interesting when one knows the stories behind it. To engage the public with the stories that accompany their exhibitions and artworks, museums prepare multi-media content that will bring their collections to life, making sure that every museum visit is not only a visual experience, but also an educational one. Most museums also have apps that invite the public to engage and stay informed by enabling visitor to identify a particular artwork using a smartphone and to keep the information, once outside the museum. Such focus on a story of one painting, lets the viewer to examine and inspect every detail of it and ensure the visitors will remember it for years. Another way to make it memorable is to concentrate on only one aspect of an artist’s work, such as Hockney’s portraits’ exhibition at the Royal Academy of Art in London.

Digital and social media is already a big part of how museums and galleries are using technology to make the art-viewing experience highly interactive. MoMA receives approximately 6 million visitors per year but its website is visited by approximately 25 million people and its facebook page by more than 90 million people every year. Introduction of technology to engage the audience can vary from the ‘magic’ pen by the Smithsonian Design Museum in New York to collect information while you are viewing the exhibitions to simply hearing a fast heartbeat in the British Museum audio guide when tracing Charles I's footsteps to gallows.

Along with the use of digital technologies and innovative approaches to art, relevance is another important issue for museums and galleries. The need for a growing audience is ubiquitous among art venues across the globe, and there are always more segments of the public that have yet to engage with the art world. Making art accessible to larger swaths of the public—whether it be working or middle class viewers—is utterly important. Staying relevant is the best way that galleries can keep attracting newer and younger audiences.

This is where the work of curators becomes extremely important. While before art was dictated by the upper classes—and sometimes the state—now it is a much more grassroots process. Art comes from the people, and curators often put together exhibitions that they feel are relevant to the times and current issues, and will speak to a segment of the public that has been unrepresented in the art world. Taking the Whitney as an example, we can be sure that their virtual reality art attracted a group of tech-oriented viewers who up until this point were not compelled to visit the Whitney at all. Another example is The Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums’ Half Memory audio art project, which invited artists to create a new album of music and a radio program about their cultural heritage, to engage local audiences. 

If the culture of art remains the domain of only a small and elitist upper class, then it will not survive the modern era. The art world needs to embrace change in its audience and its method, by staying fresh and forward thinking - and Artbeep is working to be a vital part of that change.

IMAGE: Ivana Zivic - Plima (2016, Oil on Canvas, 70x50 cm)