Is There Really A “Correct” Way To Appreciate Art?

A certain influencer restarted this conversation a few weeks ago by criticizing the upcoming Van Gogh Alive exhibit. It was called “mainstream” and belittled as just another “IG backdrop” but honestly — what’s so wrong with that? Art wasn’t made to be appreciated by only a select few. Art is for everyone. And art shouldn’t be constricted to being appreciated only in the most traditional sense. 

(5 Reasons Why I’m Excited for the Van Gogh Alive Exhibit to Come to Manila)

Anyone who has taken an introductory art class can tell you that there is a process to analyze it. In the most formal sense, art appreciation takes into consideration historical context, subject matter, symbolism, and the like. It asks for a holistic understanding of the work which can only come with knowledge. But is this the only way to appreciate art? Is it the best way? I don’t think so. 

Art is made to express something. It is also made to be consumed. It’s meant to connect with people and for people to discern their own understandings from that connection. No one, not even the artist, can dictate how one sees, perceives, and consumes art. 

We can’t judge people based on a surface level understanding of how they consume art. Some can stand in front of a work for moments on end, completely drinking in the sight. Others choose to photograph the piece, keeping the memory perfect in a way the human mind isn’t able to do. There are those who read up on the piece, those who pose with the work, and those who are only able to view it through the screens of their phones. And all of these are equally valid. 

(I’m Okay with People Taking Selfies at Art Fair Philippines)

To impose a ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ way of appreciating art is extremely elitist. It creates a barrier to accessing art when enforcing the idea that art can only be appreciated when certain requirements are fulfilled. Because the thing is, requirements, like knowing the history and context of the painting or having an eye for symbolism, are learned skills. These are things people pick up when they’re more exposed to art as a discipline or when they’re afforded the proper education for it. Unfortunately, not everyone has the means for that. 

A great number of people will never have the capacity to gauge art in the way that the privileged do. But just because they wouldn’t be able to tell you where the artist was born or what brush stroke they used for a particular painting doesn’t make their appreciation of the work any less genuine. When you say that only a certain type of appreciation is valid then you limit who is able to appreciate art and by relation, access it.

You gatekeep art and transform it into a luxury that only some can enjoy. But art was always meant for the many, and not the few. 

How do you feel about this? 

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