Confession: I love looking at art, even though it makes me feel like a fish out of water.
“Maybe if I dig deeper, I’ll understand it better,” I always tell myself, even as I’m staring blankly at yet another eccentric art installation. I mull over possible explanations as to why anyone would be willing to pay exorbitant prices just to keep them. A literal duct-taped banana sold for $120,000? Very atas. Very high SES. Very peculiar indeed. So much so that there’s even a whole discussion panel organised just to talk about it.
Even after thorough reflection, I still find myself lost in the abstraction of it all.
For me, trips to the museum have admittedly never been solely for the art (*gasp*), but also for the ~cool aesthetics~ and ~insta-worthy~ photos. As an introvert, I naturally thrive in quiet spaces. These exhibitions are sanctuaries that allow escape from the hustle and bustle of the city.
Meanwhile, a classic boomer like my dad thinks art is too complicated. When asked for his thoughts on the artwork above, he says that it’s “nothing special.” After all, what makes simple dots and a few splashes of paint qualify as art?
Stripping away the pompous veneer of art
Before the internet, fancy art only belonged in museums, formal gallery spaces or hung on the walls of rich people’s homes. Thanks to social media, memes have exposed people to the latest on goings of contemporary art, culture, and the fine art industry. As such, we now have easy access to it on the go.
Not everyone is familiar with the art industry, but most are with meme culture. If you, like me, struggle to enter this vast, mysterious realm, simply turn to memes.
These accounts have shaken up the art world both by exposing and humanising the purportedly frosty industry. Take a closer look and you’ll realise that those in the scene have a growing sense that it’s not easy being in the industry.
Long story short? People are frustrated and they want their voices heard. These memes simply remove the haughtiness and place prevailing issues out in the open.
Hypocrisy and drama
Take for example the one above which was used to call out the blatant hypocrisy of Western galleries and museums. With the lack of diversity in many of these institutions, their half-hearted and non-committal public support for the Black Lives Movement (BLM) is absurd, even laughable. With just a couple of IG posts, these structural problems are now openly highlighted and addressed.
Conversations about race aside, their content also touch on other significant social themes relating to class, gender equality, and inclusion.
A quick scroll through their account reveals a diverse outpouring of commentary from anonymous users — plenty of whom have called out problems that lurk beneath the surface. Interestingly, this also acts like a Glassdoor-esque reference for those curious to know more about the scene.
The viral nature of memes garners a wider network of eyeballs. When more people stumble onto such critical and honest meme accounts, this forces professionals to reflect and re-examine their current practices. Change or be cancelled!
Expectations vs Reality
Having said that, on-screen portrayals of artists often sit on two extreme ends — that is, every person is either a struggling artist or wealthy art dealer. This is obviously misrepresented. What about the people in between?
But if the art world is really that bad, why do artists and art workers still stick around?
I once posed this question to a friend, a performance artist for most of her life. With a deadpan expression, she replied: “My need to create outweighs whatever shit that comes along with it.”
“Without art, I won’t feel whole.”
With all that has been raised, the lesson here is that the fine art world isn’t that far off from the rest of us. Think misery. Think endless days of relentless stress. Think the need for recognition. Turns out, our worlds are a lot more similar than they are different. And if you take a closer look and ask all the questions you have, no matter how stupid they can sound – there will be answers to the strange random dots and lines that we find in contemporary art.
At times though, the ‘right’ art will come, and you inexplicably ‘click’ with it. When this magical moment hits, you’d feel compelled to stare at it for days. There’s something about the work above that does exactly that; it resonates because it reminds me of nature, of the need to slow down and to tune out the incessant noise that surrounds us. At the end of the day, art continues to be fundamental to humanity.