3 Common Ways the Arts Are Misconstrued

Even self-proclaimed art lovers commonly mistreat “The Arts.”

(Disclaimer: these are just things I have been thinking about recently. I stand by these opinions irresolutely and they are subject to change with new information and perspectives. That in mind, I would be so thrilled to hear your thoughts on these ideas.)

A list of some things we shouldn't be thinking about art.

1.       Art is something to pursue as its own end.

I live in a generation obsessed with the idea of authenticity. Recently I have noticed that arts and aesthetics and “big ideas” have come back into play in how we pursue those ends. We are image and idea driven, which is why a lot of the fads we follow are heavily grounded in these things. But we end up getting obsessed with the fad to the point that we forget the idea behind it that motivated it to begin with.

I think art becomes a fad a lot of times. We go to museums just to say we did, to be seen there, to put in our Instagram bios that we’re art lovers. We instantly reblog any picture by Van Gogh or Klimt so we can call our Tumblr an art blog. We do things for the Instagram, we Instagram to be “artsy,” etc. It’s important to check our motivations, because if we pursue art as a fad it will end up being no different or more fulfilling than any other fad we follow. Though there’s a time and a place to paint for the sake of painting, ultimately art has much deeper implications and motivations.


2.       Art is a merely political vehicle.

Art often conveys meaning. Art can even be made to intentionally convey a particular meaning. But not all art has a meaning, and not all art will spell it out. Art shouldn’t usually exist for the sole purpose of meaning, or it leans closer to being propaganda. It also might mean you are trying to force a meaning upon it to force it into your understanding, rather than just giving it the space to exist. You should ever approach a work of art with the first question being, “What does it mean?” If an artist thought he could convey the same thing in a sentence or a paragraph, he would have written a sentence or paragraph instead of picking up a paintbrush. I would suggest that most art gestures at meaning rather than stating it, and if you come to it with questions, ask them around the meaning instead if painting directly at it, like “What is this about?” or “What inspired this?”


3.       Art is something to set aside for Sundays and fairy tales.

Sometimes we consider art to be on a pedestal in the sense that we go and look at it behind glass every so often, and then we are full of it for a while. It is far away from us and not present in our actual daily lives. Some of what might throw us off our perceived nearness to art is the distinction between “high art and low art.” High art, it’s true, is something that most of us won’t get much closer to than peering at gallery walls or perhaps a yearly trip to the symphony or opera or ballet. The simple fact of the matter is that I am not expecting to live a life where I have the connections or the finances to open the doors to the most finely cultured rungs of high society.

BUT. I do think I live every day surrounded by art. Sometimes this means just living in the best way I can—eating good food whenever possible, curating my tastes and activities as well as I can to be living the kind of fulfilling life I envision for myself. It is a benefit that in modern society, we have instant access to almost all the films, music, literature and information we could want, and it’s our responsibility to use that well. One of the ways I try to be a steward of these resources though is by living a life aligned to ideals and ideas. I carry the thoughts of some of the greatest artists and art movements around with me, and I listen to what they say to me about instants. When I go to museums, I carry the impression out with me. There’s still space for my most minute concerns in the presence of masterpieces. The art is real. The art is present. The art is accessible.