Recently, I attended a presentation at the Westport Arts Center as part of a group and our expectation was to hear about the exhibition Landscape: Scene/Reseen and various artists who contributed. I rarely do these things and was rather excited by the opportunity to spend the day with people I admire, meeting others involved in promoting the visual arts and hearing their thoughts on the content in their own space.
We sat down in rows in front of the vista window and the Director of Visual Arts proceeded to ask us why we find art important. Before any answer of substance was investigated, she was off on a very long diatribe about her own career and all the very impressive things she has achieved, important networks she has created. I know this Prime Minister and that CEO and this group supports us thanks to my efforts.
Don't get me wrong; in the arts these connections are necessary to building and maintaining an institution. Having all those names and faces in your schmooze folder matters. It matters a lot. Those names and faces help get you the money and exposure your institution needs. (There is a vicious cycle issue here at which I am sure you can guess but suffice it for now that these networks help.)
But that was not the reason for my being in that room on that day. I was there to hear about the art work on view. I was curious why they chose that topic and those artists and those specific works. What makes the theme and those works meaningful? What is the basic message you hope people take away with them? How does that work resonate with you? Here's something -- ask us how or why that work resonates with us, after all we did come to look at it.
But no, don't stop at merely telling us why your ego is so huge, please, indulge us with photos of you meeting with some of those very important people in those very special museums you mentioned. I cannot begrudge a person for working so very hard and creating a real presence for an arts center and carving out a solid career for herself in the course. But I can criticize the refusal to differentiate one type of audience from another. I can criticize the fact that in the course of two hours we never had real opportunity to look at the art and discuss any questions or themes it presents. We were there specifcally to view the exhibition and talk about it. I was amazed at the arrogance it took to dismiss such genuine curiosity as if our interest in the art was secondary or meaningless. Let's refresh; her first questions were why we care about art and why we are involved in the arts.
When your own accomplishments become so important to you that you overlook the reason your institution exists, that you dismiss the interest and curiosity visitors bring with them then you are somehow failing in your real task -- to share the arts with the public.
I still don't know why I should go to the Westport Arts Center or why it is an important space or what kind of relationship they seek with the community of which they are a part. I have no idea why the Center finds Landscape a relevant exhibition of works in the contemporary. I do, however, have a suspicion that they are full of themselves in stereotypic Westport fashion.