Monday, July 23, 2007

Ceci n'est pas un livre

Alan Riding has an article in The New York Times today about the exploration France's new president, Nicolas Sarkozy, is undertaking to learn whether eliminating the entrance fee for national museums will encourage your average Frenchman/woman to attend said museums more frequently:

At the Louvre, the Musée d’Orsay and other national museums, where admission costs anywhere from $9 to $12, some two-thirds of all visitors are foreign tourists, as are three-quarters of visitors between the ages of 18 and 25.

The new government of President Nicolas Sarkozy wants to alter this profile. With a view to persuading more French people to enjoy art, it is pondering whether to follow the British and Danish examples of allowing free access to the permanent collections of major museums.
The article has some interesting insights, such as that although attendance in British museums has increased a dramatic 50% since free admissions were introduced there in 2001, there's some debate as to whether that increase represents a new audience (i.e., one put off by the former entrance fees) or simply return visits by the same art loving classes who attended less frequently when it cost them something.

And there's a whiff of something not-quite-right in this concern:
Critics of the proposal also argue that the main beneficiaries of free admission will be foreign tourists, and that the change will in effect represent a subsidy to foreigners financed by French taxpayers.
(In their museums showing contemporary French art, at least, they should consider paying tourists to attend, IMHO.)

But the essence of what interested me most in this article is the assertion that what's really dissuading the French from attending their own museums more isn't the price, but their art education in general:
Still, while resistance by several leading museums may in the end torpedo the government’s experiment, the debate has at least served to highlight what many cultural experts consider a more fundamental problem: the poor quality of artistic education in French public schools.

“One learns to read at school, one doesn’t learn to see,” Pierre Rosenberg, the former president-director of the Louvre, wrote recently in the Paris daily Libération. “For decades art historians have been united in demanding that the history of art be required teaching in high schools.”

Yet, puzzlingly for a country with France’s record of great artists, French teenagers are encouraged to create art but not to study it. The shortage of art education for youngsters may in turn help explain the morose state of many French art colleges.

The alarming implication might be that many French people are put off not by the museum ticket price but by the art. And for Mr. Rosenberg, the only answer to this — the only way of truly “democratizing culture,” as he put it — is to teach art history in schools.

Once people are taught to appreciate beauty, the price of a ticket may no longer stand between them and a visit to a museum. On the other hand, the cost of reforming artistic education would be far greater than simply throwing open the doors to the country’s art collections.
I want to highlight one particular point in all that: "French teenagers are encouraged to create art but not to study it."

I originally wrote a long snarky response to that tidbit, but have thought better of it (I interjected enough snark above already). I've gone on before about how I don't believe anyone simply regurgitates Art. Sure there are geniuses from time to time who carve their own brilliant path despite a lack of exposure to others' ideas, but in general, those who don't learn their art history are doomed to offer up the same ideas the rest of us have already digested and then, inevitably, be disappointed when we yawn in response.

This being summer, when the living is supposed to be easy, though, I'll let this idea simmer a bit in my own mind rather than wail away like I normally would. Perhaps some new great French artist will emerge from this system, making mincemeat of my personal take on all this. Don't let that stop you from responding though...

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12 Comments:

Blogger Molly Stevens said...

In my mind, French contemporary art is entirely without life at the moment. Instead, you feel vitality in design (design objects, furniture, jewelry, graphic design). I always thought - perhaps irrationally - that the reason contemporary art wasn't thriving in France, was because daily life superficially looks and tastes so good over there. So there's nothing to react against visually. When there's social conflict, protest goes to the streets, not paper.

Just some lazy summer theorizing.

7/23/2007 10:32:00 AM  
Anonymous pp said...

Real French intellectuals sure read Susan Sonntag (#3). But Art in England (#2) and History of England (#5)?

7/23/2007 02:03:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Real French intellectuals sure read Susan Sonntag (#3). But Art in England (#2) and History of England (#5)?

OK, OK, but isn't that a lovely arrangement in blue?

7/23/2007 02:04:00 PM  
Anonymous pp said...

My summerime theory is that the right-wingers (Rosenberg - what an ominious name) in France and elsewhere in Europe are set to whip up European nations to new war. Peoples of Germany, and France have been unwilling to these projects to "restore the greatness" of old imperialist states. Let's hope Sarcozy fails.

Ed: these are lovely designed (Penguin - UK!) book.

7/23/2007 02:08:00 PM  
Blogger zipthwung said...

I thought europe (not GBR or turkey) was ahead of the US in digital stuff - so you know all the good painters becaume programmers and started soldering or plugging transistors into breadboards.

Another theory is that there are jsut fewer people in France, and that proportionally there are the same number of "good" artists.

And finally, what if all the good artists are into graffitti, travel abroad or make comic books, eschewing the gallery sand academic system altogether, flying so low under the radar that even the all seeing eye of Sauron can't market them?

7/23/2007 05:02:00 PM  
Blogger zipthwung said...

I mean in France its still ok to live with your parents so theres not s'much a market dealio.

7/23/2007 05:03:00 PM  
Blogger Lisa Hunter said...

When I lived in Paris (many years ago), I was surprised by how static museum exhibits were, compared to New York's constant stream of blockbusters. Except for the rotating exhibits at the Grand Palais, very little seemed to change. I wonder if French people don't go as often to museums because they don't feel any urgency to see exactly what they saw last time.

The curatorial attitude is, "Hey, we have the Mona Lisa. Why should we be bothered to arrange special shows?"

I always had a hard time getting French friends to go to museums with me because they had already been there 10 times on school trips. They preferred to go to galleries, to see something new.

7/23/2007 05:18:00 PM  
Anonymous BPJ said...

My experience of French contemporary art is quite different from the comments so far. A few weeks ago, I saw rewarding contemporary exhibitions at the Pompidou, the Musée d'Art Moderne, the Grand Palais, and several galleries.........and, yes, the Louvre, where there were several fine contemporary intallations. My favorite was Anish Kapoor's curved mirror in the Assyrian galleries.
My wife is a Paris native, so we go there a couple of times a year to visit family & friends. I haven't run into any Parisians who are reluctant to see new exhibitions (you should have seen the line - mostly French - to get into Anselm Kiefer's "Monumenta" at the Grand Palais). The crowd for the big special exhibit at the Musée d'Orsay had a much lower percentage of Parisians, due to (a) the popularity of anything Impressionist to tourists, and (b) I suppose many Parisians feel they've seen that before. Besides, they were lined up for Kara Walker at the Moderne, Annette Messager at the Pompidou, Titian at the Luxembourg, and Indian art from the Gupta period at the Grand Palais.

Here's my summer theory: a lot of US impressions of France are filtered through the British media, which has a loud, snarling Francophobe contingent. For instance, when the new Quai Branly museum opened last year, the New York critics fell in line with the negative reviews from London; however, the Branly has proved quite popular with museumgoers - it's yet another place where Parisians (and others) line up to get in a musuem.

7/23/2007 09:03:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A front page article in this past Sunday's Times quotes the new President as saying that French people think too much and need to ACT more and work harder. He says, “There is hardly an ideology that we haven’t turned into a theory. We have in our libraries enough to talk about for centuries to come. This is why I would like to tell you: Enough thinking, already. Roll up your sleeves.” He goes on to proudly claim "I am not an intellectual! I am someone concrete!”

7/24/2007 09:46:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

I am not an intellectual!

I don't doubt he's right about that.

7/24/2007 09:56:00 AM  
Anonymous fuzzy said...

Someone concrete? He's a sculpture?

7/24/2007 10:32:00 AM  
Blogger aurix said...

here's a link to that article: ttp://www.nytimes.com/2007/07/22/world/europe/22france.html?ex=1342843200&en=64bf4f12949ea371&ei=5124&partner=permalink&exprod=permalink

7/24/2007 11:35:00 PM  

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