How can we know if a work of art is worthwhile without curators and art history books to tell us so? With luck, the same algorithms that tell us what movies to watch on Netflix and what songs to listen to on Spotify will soon tell us what images to look at in a museum. Then we’ll never have to have our own opinions about art again!
I have a problem with museums.
I don’t like being told what is or isn’t good through what is hung on a white wall next to a card with a few lines of text. I don’t like the implication that good work only exists within the buildings that house those kinds of walls. I especially don’t like the idea of bored and bummed people shuffling through those buildings because they think they’re supposed to be impressed, but deep down feel like they just don’t get it.
I love art and I love art history, but the way work is presented in museums is often borderline idolatry. Without some authority telling me so, I probably wouldn’t think of the Mona Lisa as anything more than a weird little painting of a woman with no eyebrows or of a Pollock as anything much different than the drips on the cement floor of my dad’s paint and body shop.
But without that authority, where do we start?
My own work tends to be very clean and precise, so my first instinct when thinking of how to tackle Pollock’s work was to just clean up the mess. The question, though, was what should remain after the dust cleared. Just showing a piece of my own work wouldn’t do anything but shift the burden of authority to me. In the end, I decided to defer to a different kind of authority—one that is responsible for some of the most seen images of our time.