Increasingly, we’re trying to find a reason for art. It might be education, wellbeing, discovery, freedom of thought, cultural understanding, community growth, etc. etc.
Key to that though is taking apart the elements of the art world that exist for their own sake, and discussing the value of simply existing as a part of a whole.
Understanding the difference between a discussion and a conversation is important too. It lays the path for better translating the arts to people who are afraid of it.
A discussion, you lead, or are led in. The topic is set, or comes about from a tangent of another topic. It’s not necessarily structured and it might change if you introduce the same subject to a new person; but the outcome will be of equal value to where the discussion began.
A conversation is free from purpose, it might twist through some tangential things, and leap from subject to subject, but its beginnings are innocent and open, and change from person to person. It could be sparked by anything; the outcomes of a conversation are not comparable to each other.
So a gallery, as a part of the art world is a starting point, or a host for conversation. They choose what we talk about more than any artist, and they decide how free we can be with how we talk.
An artist is one of the participants in the conversation. They try to lead, but they are ultimately held to account by viewers.
The viewer is the second participant, perhaps with more power of the results or outcomes, but with no say in the starting point of the conversation.
And the art itself takes a place in the conversation, and it’s here where the difficulties begin. If art is for its own sake, then how can it possibly be part of a conversation that is beneficial to anyone – the artist, the viewer, the gallery? Well it can’t really. So it has to have come from somewhere, some point of appreciation, or questioning that led it to being. If it exists purely to be beautiful then it opens a conversation about beauty.
For example, if I am presented with an object of beauty by one student, another student from another country, another city, another postcode, might entirely disagree. That perspective on beauty is an important presentation of some culturally embedded norm.
Another example, outside the arts, and away from education; I would never have a velvet covered sofa in my house, I’d find it jarring and uncomfortable but they set trends and take regular window space in DFS; my sofa is covered in cat hair and shredded beyond repair – find me anyone else who finds beauty in that.
It’s entirely subjective, so the thing you produce has a purpose, if you make art. And it might not necessarily be your job to find that purpose, but it’s your job as an artist to engage in the conversation about its value, and its origin.
Here, the gallery needs to take serious responsibility, because this is where the conversation takes place. If the gallery doesn’t do its job, art becomes stale and inherited. But when they do their job right, new paths are created, and new voices are added, as audiences, as artists, as curators or invigilators. In providing a space where everyone feels comfortable or capable of joining in, galleries create the future of art, as well as presenting the past and present.
While that’s slightly denser than anything I would usually write in an editorial, it’s in service to something (honest), which is that this January there is a vast amount of art with purpose in Liverpool. From Leo Fitzmaurice being taken over as a curator by the art itself, to Jade Montserrat’s new work at Bluecoat seeking to question who does engage and who should engage in gallery education.
The exhibition programme around Liverpool is an active catalyst for new ideas as we go into 2019, opening up a conversation to all who might be interested.