10 thoughts on “Art should be didactic –

  1. Well, the idea has merit. I am left wondering who would be given the job of curating the propaganda? Is the artist the final arbiter of what the work teaches? I believe the reason art as propaganda works for religion is that religion is a totalitarian (lower case t) enterprise with a message it wants you to believe. Does an artist really need to care about belief in a message/idea? An artist may want to express a point of view; but must she be intentionally didactic? I wonder. A room for love, a room for hate…in our galleries may indeed make art didactic, and may improve the experience for many of us who are often mistified by modern art, which is why I think the idea has merit – but I do have questions about its feasibility.

    1. I do not think the artist has to be didactic, but I do think that the institutions surrounding art should be more open, more inclusive, and less focused on a kind of coded language that only a few can read or understand; i.e more didactic. My worry is that galleries, magazines, art-historians etc., make it more difficult for people to enjoy art, that they conceal the value of art instead of conveying it.

    1. I believe the curating point is central to de Botton, his critique strikes curators and gallery leaders who do not have the capacity to present art in a way so that it becomes accessible.

      1. It certainly doesn’t hurt to challenge them, but as a viewer I want curators to be as invisible as possible, with printed materials available (for sale, if necessary) if I want to read analysis or opinion. As a viewer I want as few obstructions as possible between me and the work.

        Also, I can’t subscribe to the idea that art should be didactic. That assumes – or too easily leads to the idea – that every art piece has an identifiable meaning (“artists are propagandists”) that one might just as well state in a few words. On the contrary, the primary function of many art works is to question, to stimulate thought, to incite discourse. There’s no substitute for thinking for one’s self. I don’t want a curator to tell me, “this is LOVE” because the piece is in the “love” room. I want the piece to speak to me, to think about it, to discuss it with others. Art is not didactic. Art is a conversation. The artist does not stand over you with a lesson. The artist asks you to participate in the process. It’s work. The artist – and certainly not the curator – doesn’t do all the work for the viewer.

    2. Thank you very much for this thorough comment.

      I very much agree with most of it.

      But in my view, making things accessible is not the same as telling the audience what a certain work of art “really means”. On the contrary, what I look for is a way of presenting art so that the public finds it, the art, to concern them. To make the audience want to search for meaning, find connections that are important to them.
      Its very difficult to write about this without sounding patronizing; but in my own practice as critic, what I am looking for, is a less theoretical language, a less exclusive language, to use – when talking about art.

      I believe it is much more difficult to write well for a common audience, than for an elitist art audience.

      1. Thanks for this clarification. I think you’re quite right, that it’s difficult to talk about how to reach a broad audience without sounding patronizing. That’s my problem with terms like “didactic” and “propagandistic” – they’re too extreme for me. Art teaches, but not in a didactic way, not for me. If it did I would take no interest in it. And in trying to make art accessible one must be careful not to patronize.

        Whenever I’ve had the opportunity to write about art I have been very keen to do so in as clear a language as possible, so as to reach as many people as possible. I totally agree with you on that. In fact, I’m passionate about it. I’m very put off by esoteric language in art essays.

        Thanks, I was worried that my last comment came off as hot-headed. I have strong opinions, but I do listen to others, and am not threatened by other points of view!

      2. Dear Mark,
        I’m trying to sort out this difficult terrain for myself. I very much appreciate challenging points of view. I do not have a position to protect, rather I try to find new ways to think and talk about art. Critical remarks are of great help – thank you for contributing!

        – sigrun

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