Art Lies, Volume 1, March 1994

17

For centuries, European art performed limited social duties.
Variously serving to document historical events, to demonstrate
dogmatic religious texts, to propagandize ideological movements,
n to glorify the aristocracy, it functioned only for its audience.
Unfortunately, it did very little else. However, in the early part of
S the twentieth century all this radically changed: the concept of
art for art's sake diversified traditional conventions and led art
-" toward new, and perhaps more mature, frontiers of aesthetic form.
Artists, feeling increasingly alienated by modern
H society, believed art could remain pure by
keeping itself separate. The question that almost
immediately arose was, if artists worked solely
for the sake of art, addressing only those with
specialized knowledge and education, would the
work be devoid of merit simply because of its
' segregation from the general public? For many
artists producing work in the nineties, getting
their message across to the audience is crucial.
z The motivation of these artists is to inform,
possibly educate, and perhaps reflect ideas
toward society that will challenge and question
what people feel and think.
For their projects to succeed, the
- public must be able to
comprehend and digest the
Mann er
messages conveyed. Artists must
choose whether the work they do
should speak the language of the
people or explore new
boundaries without regard to the
feelings of their hypothetical
viewers. More simply: would it
a be better to promote excellence
and high standards, and hope
society raises its awareness, or
should artists lower their
standards and water down their
principles solely for the sake of gaining a
wider audience? For, no matter who the
intended audience may be, society always finds a
way to integrate and homogenize every
movement. No matter how radical ideas may
appear at conception, intent gets watered down
and the audience functions obliviously to the
ideology of the artist.
Addressing these and other issues,the Museum
of Fine Arts currently features Speaking of
Artists:Words and Works from Houston. The
exhibition is part of their ongoing program A
Place for All People, a five year plan dedicated to
the enhancement of ties between three Houston
neighborhoods: Oak Forest, Near East End and
Third Ward. The show consists of the works
and interviews of nine local artists: Sharon
Kopriva, The Art Guise, Michael Ray Charles,

P O N S E S

Jesse Lott, Rachel Hecker, Floyd
Newsum, Sharon Engelstein and
Benito Huerta.
Upon entering the gallery, the viewer
is presented with an installation on
the gallery's periphery, pairings of art
objects with interviews of the artsists
who made them. Putting aside the
issue of quality for a moment, the
initial problem with the exhibit lies in
the fact that it does little to satisfy the
original purpose of the program-the
stimulation of the rookie art patron.
The pieces look like specimens taken
out of their natural environment.
Works like Engelstein's Untitled III (a
biomorphic orb imbued with an
eggshell-like surface and punctuated
with an embedded prosthetic eye) and
Lott's colorful pinata figures look like
anthropological artifacts taken out of
context, losing much of their impact.
The works appear disconnected and
arbitrary. And because each artist
has only one piece in the show
,cept for Michael Ray Charles
ho has three), the exhibit
mes off like a rather skimpy
Whitman Sampler that leaves the
audience craving another piece.
In:lddition to the work on the
valls, street interviews with
people from the featured
neighborhoods reveal that most
>f them cannot name a famous
artist and almost none of them
has visited the Museum of Fine
Arts recently if ever. Proving
Ihe ignorance of the public
intact, the museum's challenge
Of bringing art to a level of
/ ommon understanding
remains unfulfilled.
SI)oes this watered-down version
of an art exhibition do justice to
art itself? Does simplifying the message for
the sake of the public actually do a
disservice to the work? And further, will
museums prove effective in educating the
public or will they remain intimidating
and inaccessible to those who have little
interest or perhaps even less understanding?
Only time will tell. A Place for Art is a five
year program; this exhibit is just the
beginning. However, it would have
appeared far more promising if the museum
had started it all off with a big splash,
instead of just sticking their toes in the
shallow end to test the temperature.*

Carroll, Don. Art Lies, Volume 1, March 1994. Houston, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth228034/. Accessed December 22, 2014.