The white or silver haired, some limping or with uneven tread, some pushing walkers, wander in, focused at first on the ground. When they look up, they are surprised. They see art on the walls, and not the art they might expect to see in a galley. They pause, examine, comment to each other and to their host as they gaze at works that are not pretty landscapes or romanticized people or decorative objects. Intrigued, they ask questions, some unsure, some deeply curious, some responding with suspicion, others with enthusiasm. These works use media like paint, clay or textiles in challenging ways, they are infused with meaning, they evoke deep emotions unapologetically. The discussion that follows is lively and engaged.
Some young people wander into the gallery. Their cell-phones are at the ready, quick-draw appropriators, knee-jerk reactors to visual stimuli. They don’t look, they scan, until the host stops them an points out what they see aren’t ‘pictures’ but processes. What an alien idea! But they stop, intrigued, pay attention as they’re told about the actual technologies used to create these images, technologies far older and far more timeless than the digital gadgets they hold.
Encouraged to look closely, they begin to see subtle textures, tonalities, surprising details in the imagery. Hands, minds and hearts have been busy conducting materials into experiences these young ones would have missed entirely by letting their cell phones ‘see’ the art for them.
Other youth stand before the work because they are themselves makers. They are excited to see the engagement in technique, imagery, imagination and invention, but they are even more interested in getting their own images on the walls of the gallery. Their looking is responsive but also competitive, they can copy this, they can reproduce that, how did that get made? They are impressed but also jealous, and they are greedy for the acclaim and gain they think their own work would get if only it hung on these walls. To them the host points out that while they are richer for the experience of seeing others’ images, while they’ve been stimulated and encouraged, they who love the work aren’t buying it. She points out the crowd of other appreciative viewers in the gallery but the very few red dots on the walls and asks, “How will you gain if the very people who love the work and appreciate it don’t buy it?”
It is ironic to me that young artists still cling to the idea of ‘fame and fortune’. Older people are downsizing from detached homes with divided rooms to open-concept condos, divesting themselves of the accumulations of their lives to fit into smaller spaces. The young have little money, what they earn goes to pay for electronics and entertainment and smaller and smaller living spaces. Those in the middle live on debt. While they should, by all rights it is disgusting that they don’t, most artists can’t make art expecting ‘to sell’ or to “make a living”. Given that reality, why shouldn’t they then make imagery that doesn’t conform to expectations or worry about pleasing others? Why shouldn’t they make imagery that challenges them personally and pushes them into more and more meaningful relationships with their media, techniques and subject matters?