As a young, liberal-minded person, I’ve been generally following the #occupy movement. While appreciating the sentiment, I feel the movement mostly leaves the actual action of the activism to a body that is made up of the same breed of rich, white, male-bodied people whom the movement is protesting against. So while not participating directly because of the lack of organization and generally the method of activism, I do hope, someday, that taxes will make more sense, even if that means that I, as an upper middle person, will be taxed more.
That aside, what really caught my attention this week was an article on the Washington Post’s website about the #occupymuseums movement.
The idea is that museums perpetuate “cultural elitism.” And yes, they do. But I don’t think the tagline of the #occupy movement applies to art museums. That one percent of the world is represented in those museums and the ninety-nine percent isn’t. Whether we like it or not, “museum art” is a part of our Western cultural consciousness and the story we tell about ourselves. I am very pro-museum institution. But I am also very pro-art outside of museums. There are art and artists who actively break down museums in their work, whether they are participating in the museum system or not.
I originally saw a mention of this movement on my tumblr (my favorite micro-blogging platform). It was paired with a Barbara Kruger piece “You invest in the divinity of the masterpiece.” Kruger is an example of an artist who breaks down the cultural elitism of museums by working in the museum system.
I believe museums are less culturally elite than the prospect of these pieces of art being in the private homes of the true 1%. Maybe art is elitist because there is such a thing as art and Art, and I believe that good art exists. I believe in the canon, as much as I believe in breaking open the canon. Like I said in my post about the Barnes Foundation (An Opinion: The Barnes Foundation), the absolute most important thing to me is that people have access to art. Large, urban museums provide that. Anyone can walk into the Metropolitan Museum of Art and see a large portion of art history. And I think that the more pressing issue which the #occupymuseums movement may be missing is that art exists outside museums. By protesting the institution, they are giving power to the institutions, by legitimatizing the notion that because museums are elitist and rich, they monopolize the best art. But there is among the best art outside of museums as well. As an extremely canonical person (I want to study Renaissance art and Victorian literature, for God’s sake), I do tend to prioritize art that is in museums. But I also actively seek out art outside of the museum system, and I think encouraging that would help break down the elitism more.
You can’t change the institution by being angry at it; you can change it by providing it with competition. Let great art exists in museums, make great art outside of museums and provide access to everyone. That’s how you make the art world equal opportunity.