If you’ll indulge me for a paragraph I’d like to relate one of my favorite art stories. There once was a gutsy young artist named Robert Rauschenberg. Robert was invited to participate in an exhibition in which each artist was asked to provide a portrait of the gallery’s owner, Iris Clert. Robert accepted the challenge and sent in his submission – a telegram that simply stated “This is a portrait of Iris Clert if I say so”.
Obviously, though, regardless of what Rauschenberg’s telegram says it isn’t a portrait just because he says so; it’s still a telegram. The artist doesn’t really get to decide – in this way it’s the audience that builds the meaning in art. I think this is what Rauschenberg’s telegram was really saying. Similarly, it’s the audience, rather than artists, that builds the art scene.
If you’re reading this article you’re probably already doing your bit for the art scene by making it out to the receptions and openings. I saw you drinking your PBR seriously brooding over that Neil Bender painting last Saturday. However, just like the Rauschenberg telegram implied that being a viewer isn’t so passive in relation to a work of art, being an arts audience takes some active engagement too (beyond sipping that beer).
A conversation on Art at Bay’s Facebook page originally impelled me to think about the responsibility of being an art blogger and more generally the responsibility of being an art fan (I can’t say “art lover” – it makes me think of “more than just art friends”). Though Men’s Health may disagree, (I’m still holding it against them) Tampa Bay is a great place. Tampa Bay is a cool enough place that it deserves more than just many arts and culture events – it deserves good, important, relevant, intelligent art.
Simply put, the Tampa Bay art scene deserves high standards. This is where the active engagement comes in: its you, the hipster holding the brew, that sets those standards and holds the scene to them. Now that you’re done brooding in front of that work of art, did it meet/exceed your expectations? If so, you must be the one standing up for it when I start talking trash about on Facebook. Or maybe you’re the one that brought your friends to see that installation you thought was so awesome. Or you’re the one that shared/posted/retweeted/liked that artist and her work.
However, if the show stunk, if it didn’t meet your standards, are you staying actively engaged? I’m not suggesting you duke it out with the curator but a post/tweet/chat with pals of “I expected more” could do the trick. The arts audience staying true to their standards keeps the artists and venues true to them too.