plein air landscape painting
Painting From Life vs. From Photos

The satire, “What is Art?” has brought in some intriguing comments. Auspicious commented on public funding of art:

I think that it is also worthwhile remembering the economic drivers. A lot of public money is spent on the arts (yes, I know one can argue whether this is not enough, or too much, but either way it is a lot) and a lot of the big galleries in the major cities are publicly funded.

That means that the average joe is being taxed to allow the purchase and storage of art that is of no interest to them. Worse than that, the art purchased with the money is discussed in terms that seems specifically designed to exclude them.

This could have caused the art elite to direct taste toward the tastes of the average person (to get more money to spend), but it has gone the other way. Art needs to be wacky and not understandable to make it seem special enough to go on taking money from the people who are excluded from the discussion. The art establishment needs to be able to say ‘you will never understand, so trust us, and give us the money anyway.’ If questioned hard enough by the popular press they need to answer in language opaque enough to make people with more interesting things to do give up.

It is a sad fact that the very people who think that art in the Tate is a joke are those who are paying for it.

This comment agrees with the basic premise of the satire, and takes the discussion further. Historically, “public money” has been critical for the arts. Auspicious’ comment shows a potential danger for contemporary art. If art is held in contempt by the ordinary person, then there will be less motivation to support the arts. In a democracy, this suggests that incomprehensible art will dilute support for spending public money on the arts.

I find this argument compelling. However, I’d like to hear some opposing views. Any members of the art elite out there who want to argue either 1) that the “art elite” is a false concept, and hence the satire and the above comment are based on a false premise, or 2) that the “art elite” is in fact essential for art?