Culture Clash | Approaching contemporary art

Approaching contemporary art


So why is it that many visitors do not know how to approach contemporary art? We’ve already considered that a visitor may not know what to expect from the gallery, and what may be expected of them, and have looked briefly at why this may be. Let’s consider some other reasons that may be hindering an approach.

Evolution of art

Like most cultural forms, art has evolved over time, and it has evolved in many ways. The definitions of the term have changed significantly throughout its history, along with the ways in which it is experienced. Many other forms of culture have evolved whilst maintaining a similar experiential structure (consider cinema for example), yet art has undergone a series of radical changes that have challenged and altered our perception of what it can be, and how we can experience it. Like most other forms of culture it has had a facelift every now and then, but in addition to this it has also had the odd face-swap - not to mention a few limbs removed and a few added on. As such, it appears unrecognizable to some, compared to what it once may have been.


Narrow art education may have slowed adaptation to these changes. Schools often seem to endorse a traditional idea of art, art that consists mainly of painting and sculpture and that has its values firmly rooted in the Renaissance. This is the art that largely exists at the centre of our popular consciousness. Traditional art also fits more comfortably into our understanding of value, in that it allows people to look for and recognize the things that they have been taught are ‘valuable’ within society; attributes like skill, talent and beauty. These values are shared in other areas of cultural experience, and can also spill over into ‘non-cultural’ experience (i.e. we may be able appreciate a skilled plumber, or a talented stock-broker). Much contemporary art can be seen to disregard these values, and in doing so it highlights its departure from the more traditional forms.

Popular Media

Certain forms of media can further the narrowing affect of our limited education, through reinforcing a limited outlook on art. When contemporary art is written about as a laughing stock - as it often is - a prevailing attitude develops that allows people to retain the distance that they already feel from it. In laughing at or deriding something we do not have to risk challenging our current mindsets - yet we also risk remaining ignorant to potential value. We tell ourselves, “it simply isn’t worth understanding,” often not stopping to think about whether this may really be the case.

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