Is it actually controversial to say that you don’t get art?
People act like it is. And maybe it seems that way, for some people, if for example they’re surrounded by other people who do “get art,” or pretend to get art, or are part of the art world, or however you want to frame it.
That seems, at any rate, to be the case here.
On the other hand, someone’s announcement that they don’t “get art” seems to always be followed by rounds of back-clapping and (self-)congratulations. People seem to take a lot of pride in announcing that they don’t get art. It seems to be a particularly easy way of being culturally brave.
Dismissing art, full-stop, is a lot easier than engaging with it. Than, for example, making the argument that this art, or this particular tendency in the art world, is wrong or facile or misguided or whatever. Than taking some actual stand regarding what constitutes good art, and why.
I don’t particularly agree with Michael Fried’s stance on art, for instance, but it does give a reason why certain art is bad. It thinks through why some art is good, why some art is bad, and what the difference between the two might be. It doesn’t dismiss, it argues.
Likewise, there’s a pretty common argument that the contemporary art world is structured in such a way that art becomes a repository of abstract (financial) value, a form of currency, rather than a source of aesthetic experience. The Tracey Emin piece above, also mentioned in the Vice article, is obviously a comment on this – a particularly contradictory sort of comment, given that Emin’s photo is fully part of the structure that it is, seemingly, critiquing. Possibly you can accuse Emin of bad faith – of wanting to be “against the system” while receiving its benefits – but, again, such a perspective is an argument, not a dismissal.
I think what bothers me most about this Vice article is that I get the sense that the author is capable of making such distinctions*, but rather than doing so is opting to make the controversial, not at all very controversial, cop-out of saying that he doesn’t get art, and thinks that everyone else is just pretending to. What bothers me is that it seems designed to let people off the hook, to encourage easy answers. The author presents himself as an art-world insider who is telling his audience: Don’t worry, you don’t have to think about this stuff that seems strange or difficult, because everyone who does think about it is really just being a pretentious asshole.
It seems, ultimately, condescending. Not to the art-world or artists, but to the article’s audience, who apparently can’t be expected to think through why bad art might be bad, or that there might be a difference, even in contemporary art, between bad art and good.
*”I went to art school,” he writes, “wrote a dissertation called ‘The Elevation of Art Through Commerce: An Analysis of Charles Saatchi’s Approach to the Machinery of Art Production Using Pierre Bourdieu’s Theories of Distinction’” – I’m assuming, based on the title, that he’s pretty well familiar with the art-world critique mentioned above.