'Anyone could paint that' and 7 other myths about art
Our reticence to discuss art maintains the popular misconceptions that keep us from effectively engaging it.
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4. Value is completely subjective.Skip to next paragraph
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No, it's not. There are methods of evaluating art, and just because gallerygoers respond differently doesn't mean these methods don't exist. Assessing value, however, isn't always easy.
More than anything else, frequent viewing and discussion develop a skilled eye. Experience tells a viewer what to look for. Avid gallerygoers are far more likely to distinguish a knowing nod to a cliché painting from a poorly executed work because they've seen enough of both to know the difference.
Similarly difficult, distinguishing an attractive Flickr photograph from a fine-art print is likely to make the head spin for anyone who is an expert on one but not both of those. Only knowing the conventions of both gives a viewer enough knowledge to make those distinctions.
5. I don't know enough about art to talk about it.
Anyone can discuss art well; few of us, however, look at it long enough to be able to do so. Trust your instincts, talk about what you see – don't be afraid to be wrong. The beauty of an opinion is that you can change it as your response evolves.
6. Anyone could do that.
This sentiment is typically refuted with the argument, "But you didn't." A more common version of the myth circulating art circles, "It's too easy," completes itself with "to take a compelling photograph," or "to make a good collage." In each case, the viewer is actually complaining that it's too hard to separate the good from the bad. There's no easy answer to this dilemma, except to look at enough art to develop a mature eye.
7. Elitism rules the art world.
Actually, this one is true, but the unspoken fallacy here is that it doesn't also rule every other field. If it's not a barrier to your participation in other pastimes, don't let it affect you here.
8. Most artists are "ahead of their time."
The idea that the art world understands something regular folk do not is false. Artists don't have any special vision into the future and there is no such thing as an art visionary. It does no one any good to mythologize artists. They are just human. Even Leonardo da Vinci made the basic mistake of mixing oil and water. As a result, his 15th-century mural of the Last Supper is now peeling off the back wall of the dining hall at Santa Maria delle Grazie.
Paddy Johnson is the founder of Art Fag City, a blog providing New York art reviews, news, and event coverage. She is also an art critic for The L magazine, where an earlier version of this essay appeared.