Coming from a working class family, I tend to focus on the rags-to-riches stories sprinkled across Art History when charges of elitism come up. "No," I'll say, "Look at de Kooning, look at Warhol, look at the Ganz's, look at the crop of Williamsburg galleries that have done very well for themselves despite their modest beginnings. Art is not always about being born with a silver spoon in your mouth...it's often about working your ass off. That's a working class value."
But it's not exactly a matter of class, is it, elitism? One can be poor and a snob. It's harder, but one still encounters it. No, elitism is perhaps better defined by how one looks down on the rest of the world, whether from a private jet or an ivory tower or merely some self-manufactured peak of self-importance. Anyway, enough stalling, here's the comment, by ml, that prompted the one I deleted:
Don't you think that part of the problem is that art sales require a certain elite status? The difference between a $800 painting and a $20,000 painting is not always based on quality - it's part of the star system that is rampant in capitalism. The easiest way to be elite is to speak a specialized language that only a small subset of the population has the leisure to know intimately.I'll defend the dialog, but I do recognize that the demands it makes on viewers often strike many as unworth the effort. Then, via Artinfo.com, comes this report on the rise in popularity of "Outsider Art" across the heartland. The rationales offered for this rise hit at the heart of this issue:
I guess what I'm trying to say is that I don't see art-for-art's-sake as coming just from artists. It is built into the system.
Look how the galleries which used to be in SoHo moved to Chelsea. It wasn't
just rent increases - it was partially an escape from the looky-loos who mocked the work.
I'll confess that my knee-jerk reaction to this story is to see it as a defense of unchallenging, dumber art, and think if that's what someone wants they might consider donating their brain to science, as clearly they can get by with just a spinal cord, but then that would be pretentious, I know, and clearly pretentious is bad...innocence is good, childlike is good, quirky and whimsical and simple is good, but intellectualism...ba-a-a-a-a-a-d.
The [Outsider Art] movement has been gaining steam in the Midwest for about five years, collectors say, fueled in part by its accessibility. Outsider art, they said, is straightforward, affordable and created by artists who are unpretentious.
A large part of the appeal is that you never have to distinguish a piece of art from a paint spill. What you see is what you get.
"In outsider art, there is not that tendency to intellectualize," said Yuri Arajs, owner of Outsiders and Others Gallery in Minneapolis, which opened in 2003. "It's more art that people relate to on a gut level."
There is an appealing innocence in the pieces, he said, that bring buyers closer to them.
"It's almost a cliché, but the more childlike a work is, the more appealing it is," Arajs said.
Which is not to say the form is simple. Outsider art is rich in social and symbolic overtones as diverse as the quirks and whimsies of the human psyche. Religious and sexual themes are common.
After I've calmed down a bit, I realize though that it's more a call for art that's emotionally accessible, "art that people relate to on a gut level." That may indeed represent a much higher achievement than the headiest of accomplishments, I know. However, I want Art that aspires/manages to accomplish both. No matter how heart-felt, most "Outsider Art" strikes me as little more than "cute." Not all of it. Some is truly exquisite. But I need more than "cute" in my Art, I'm afraid. I have a thirst for knowledge and I want Art that challenges me ... emotionally yes, but also intellectually. I can't get by with just a spinal cord.