I rarely comment about the Internet, but sometimes I have to speak up when something bumps up against my values. This impromptu episode is brought to you by a little argument about Van Gogh I got into online.
I realized I had some really strong feelings that I don’t know if I’ve really discussed in any format here. It’s a very important perspective that we need to consider so that our students don’t end up perpetuating elitist thinking when it comes to art, and so that we can create a space where we make art accessible to all.
2:44 – What sparked the argument and my reaction
7:22 – Examples of elitism built into the art museum system
11:46 – Kids’ reactions to the immersive Van Gogh show in Chicago
16:28 – The argument for “being educated” and making art accessible to all
- Curated Connections Experience (Summer 2021 Workshops)
- Values Demand Action
- Looking at Art as a Spiritual Practice
- Art Museum Personification and Assignment
- Loving Vincent
- Where to See The Immersive Van Gogh Exhibits
- Curated Connections Library (Free Lesson)
- Be a Podcast Guest: Submit a Voice Memo of Your Art Story (Scroll to the bottom of the page to submit your story.)
Hello, and welcome to the Art Class Curator podcast. I am Cindy Ingram, your host and the founder of Art Class Curator and The Curated Connections Library. We’re here to talk about teaching art with purpose and inspiration, from the daily delights of creativity to the messy mishaps that come with being a teacher. Whether you’re driving home from school or cleaning up your classroom for the 15th time today, take a second, take a deep breath, relax those shoulders and let’s get started.
Hello, this is Cindy Ingram, and before we get into today’s episode I want to take this opportunity to invite you to our upcoming Curated Connections Experience because let’s be real, this past year has been a dumpster fire for teachers everywhere.
This global pandemic shut down our schools and we’ve all scrambled to get supplies and meals and support to our students while worrying about our own health and careers. Some schools are open and others never did. Safety has become relative and when we needed help and funding the most many of us were let down.
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Hello everybody. This is Cindy Ingram from Art Class Curator and I am here doing a little impromptu episode. So I know last week I promised you an episode on big talk versus small talk at the end of my conversation with Madalyn, and that is coming. Still coming. But something … I got into a wee bit of an argument on the internet and realized, in that little argument that I had on the internet, that I have some really strong feelings about something. And I don’t know that I’ve ever really fully articulated this or talked about this in any format through anything with Art Class Curator before.
So I thought I would talk about it because I really think this is a super important perspective that we need to think about and talk about so that our students don’t sort of perpetuate the same types of things. So let me talk about my argument. I rarely will get into commenting on the internet. I don’t … I usually will just keep scrolling. But there are some times where I just have to say something, and it’s usually those times where it really bumps up against my values. It is something that, when something bumps up against my values, I have to say something. I have … It’s just, it’s impossible not to say something.
And if I stifle that, I’m not living with my values. So, and I’ve talked about values before on the podcast. So if you haven’t listened to that episode, I do have one called Values Demand Action. But I think knowing your own personal values is super important. But that’s neither here nor there.
So let me tell you what happened. Someone in one of the art teacher Facebook groups, I don’t know which one, I’m in so many, said, asked people how the interactive Van Gogh exhibit was. I don’t know, if you’re anywhere in America, I’m sure you’ve seen this advertised. It is in so many cities across the country. They’re selling out, they’ve been promoting it for months and it hasn’t even opened here in Dallas yet. It opens in June and they’ve been promoting for months. June is completely sold out. It’s a big hub, no, what is the word? Hubbub is what I wanted to say, but I also wanted to say huzzah. I don’t … I think hubbub is the right word.
Anyhoo. So someone asked in the Facebook group, how was it? She’s thinking about going. And all the comments were really positive. People were saying, oh, it was really awesome. I really enjoyed it. Totally worth it. Such a good time. I really felt moved by it. It was tons of positive feedback.
And then the one person, in particular, went the opposite direction, which is fine. You’re fully allowed to disagree. But her comment was, she said that it’s a light show. Please. It’s not like viewing his collection in a museum, not even close. “I was lucky enough to get tickets to his show at the National Gallery in the late nineties, nothing compares.” And then she talks about how it’s exploiting his real work.
“I’m saying as a cartoon version, it’s like going to see animatronic dinosaurs instead of going to the Museum of Natural History.” So, some other people challenged her on that, too, that … Someone else challenged her and said that it was, yes, it’s a spectacle. Yes, it’s a moneymaker. But this could be a buy-in for students who would otherwise not want to go to an art museum or experience a work of art.
And so this is a way to reel them in. Hook them, is what this other had said. And I think that I a hundred percent agree with that. Absolutely. Because, and then my comment was, if it puts more art experiences in front of people, then I’m all for it. Because we’re all about, at Art Class Curator, finding your personal connection to art. And finding art that means something to you. And giving you personal, powerful, authentic, moving experiences with works of art.
So if you look a couple of episodes back at my episode Looking at Art as a Spiritual Practice, you can do this and learn more about yourself and understand yourself and the world better. You can … There’s so much that can happen when you have a powerful art experience. So when we go and put limits on what is an okay art experience. When we say, oh, you had a really powerful art experience at the Van Gogh museum, or at the Van Gogh exhibit, or well I’m not, I’m worried she’s going to get on me again without, by saying exhibit. By going to this Van Gogh interactive video show.
Oh, that’s not good enough. Because it wasn’t the real thing. So your experience, not the real thing. You didn’t really have that experience. You don’t know anything about Van Gogh, and it doesn’t matter because you didn’t see the actual art. If you saw the actual art, you would be so much better off.
Give me a freaking break. You know? Like, seriously. Who are we to say that your connection, your experience, your emotion about the experience, your, whatever you learned about yourself during the experience, whatever you learned about the world during the experience, whatever you learned about Van Gogh during the experience, whatever you learned about anything during the experience, invalid. Because you didn’t see an actual Van Gogh, it doesn’t count. Give me a freaking break, okay?
So I’m recording this right after, because I do, I’m mad about it. Because I hate this attitude. One of the lessons I did in my classroom back when I was teaching college. Taught community college for about, how long? Four years, I think? And I would do a lesson on art museums. And then I would assign my students to visit an art museum and write a paper about it over the course of the semester. We have a ton of museums in Dallas-Fort Worth area, so it was a really good experience for them to get out and actually see it in person.
So for this commenter, for seeing real works of art, I think is really important. However, a lot of people in this world who do not have art backgrounds, who aren’t art teachers, or who aren’t travelers, who don’t get to go to see art on a regular basis, or don’t even see that they might want to, they view museums, they view art as that is for other people that is not for me.
And I ask the question of my students when I introduce this lesson, and I have them answer the question if an art museum was a person, what would they be like? What would their gender identity be? What would their personality be? What kind of car would they drive? What job would they have? What kind of friends would they have? Like, fully flesh out what about this, what do you think about the art museum as a person?
And that lesson is available in The Curated Connections Library. So if you’re a member, we will add a link to that in the show notes today. But the results of those questions were so telling. So telling. The museum personification characters were often really snobby. They were very fashionable and classy. They, I don’t know, like bougie, like really elitist, high level. So not your everyday person. Their personality sometimes is a little standoffish.
And I got other things, too. I got maybe other people, other students might say like a really artsy person who’s really welcoming, but that wasn’t the norm. The norm was, this is someone who’s completely separate than I am.
So thinking about that, that you go to a museum. And I don’t know if they do this anymore, the Dallas Museum of Art. But for years, when you go to the Dallas Museum of Art, the first thing you see, the first greeting you get is a security guard asking you to look in your bag. There’s no welcome, there’s no greeting, there’s no “we’re so happy you’re here.” It’s let me see, let me look in your bag. And then you get greeted and get your tickets and all of that later. But it’s like, you immediately send the message, “You are not welcome here. We don’t trust you.” You know?
And then you go and you see they have like really high ticket prices. And then you’re like, well, that’s not accessible for a large part of the population. And then there was even a lot of controversy recently about an Indianapolis museum. I think it was Indianapolis, but they had fired their director because the director actually put … Or they were looking for a new director and in the job description they put “making sure to cater to our white core audience while also expanding diversity.” That was a big controversy. But that tells you that that sort of thing is there, that that elitism is built into the system of art museums.
And it’s not the fault of any one art museum. There’s a lot of art museums really opening their doors, really making changes, really becoming inclusive. And I use the Dallas Museum of Art as a negative sample, but really they are a positive example. They took away the admission prices to the museum. They have family spaces. They have late-night events with DJs. They’re really trying to get the population, a more diverse population into the doors, and get more people connecting with the art, and that’s really wonderful.
So, but that feeling is there. If I were to go ask just people in my community, I live in the suburbs of Dallas, I bet you most of them haven’t been to a museum. And if I were to ask them why, I’d get a wide range of answers, but a lot of people feel that they are missing something. So they’re not rich enough. They’re not knowledgeable enough. They’re not connected enough. They’re not enough to have a good experience with works of art.
And so how are we supposed to get those people to understand that art does have a place in their lives? How are we supposed to do that if we’re telling people, we’re putting rules on what your art experience should look like? If you go to that Van Gogh exhibit and you have an emotional experience, you’re moved by it, you’re delighted by it. You go away and you look up Van Gogh’s art and you want to see more. You make an effort to go visit an art museum to see a Van Gogh in person.
Yes. Okay. That money-making thing, that was a light show, that wasn’t his real work, inspired someone to make a connection to art that didn’t make it before. And before I clicked record, I was talking to my team in Art Class Curator about this, too, just to tell them I was like, “I got in a little fight on the internet.” I was like, but I’ve got really good, I’m going to start recording a podcast about it. But one of my teammates, Rachel, said that she had seen her friends who were not particularly interested in art, they took their kids to see the Immersive Van Gogh show in Chicago. And she said it was magical for the kids. They had conversations about how the color made them feel, about the flowers that are painted to invite you to take a closer look. She said that the artist made the world feel closer.
Those kids had a magical, powerful experience with works of art. And you’re telling them that those experiences are not okay because it doesn’t fit what your rules are of an art experience? That art experience has to be a silent experience sitting in front of a static painting? And I think the person I was arguing with on the internet actually put silent in all caps at one point. But we can’t impose our rules on someone else, especially when this is going to create more art lovers. This is creating more cultured people. This is creating more connected people. It’s giving them a fun experience outside of their house, connecting with something. Something beautiful, something meaningful, something powerful.
And because it wasn’t paint on canvas and because it was a digital media, it doesn’t mean that it’s worthless. It doesn’t mean it’s wrong. It doesn’t mean it’s not real. It doesn’t mean that your experience is any less powerful or meaningful than if you had seen it in person. And chances are some kids are going to have a more powerful experience with the video installation of the Immersive Van Gogh than they will with the Van Gogh in person because they’re used to a more dramatic media. This is putting the art onto a level that will grab them in. And then that will lead to them connecting with art.
We’re reaching more audiences with things like this. We’re broadening the scope of what art history is and who it’s for. And that can only be a good thing, that can only be beneficial. The art is still going to be amazing whether or not this experience happened. I mean, even think of the movie Loving Vincent that was brought up a few times, too. I don’t know about if it came from this person I was disagreeing with. But people, you don’t watch that and have a moving experience with that and say, oh, you know what, that wasn’t actually Van Gogh. Your emotions don’t count here. You know? I mean, it’s crazy, right? I’m not crazy, right? I got to be right, here.
And it reminds me of … Okay, for a really long time, I would watch Survivor. I still watch Survivor. It hasn’t been on since the pandemic and I’m so sad. I just really love Survivor. I love just, I could go on about it. But I actually a little bit worry telling you that. And I worried telling people that for a really long time because I was ashamed of it. Because I was ashamed that I enjoyed something that was so like, not academic. Or not thought provoking. Or whatever it was. That I wasn’t reading a book instead.
But who cares what other people enjoy? Who cares? If that’s something that brings me joy in my life, if I enjoy watching the plotting and the puzzling and then the competitions, and I enjoy figuring out, thinking who’s going to be let go, and what would I do if I were there … Like, that’s fun to me. And I enjoy that time.
It’s not my job to tell anybody that what they like, whether it be movies, whether it be music, whether it be art, it’s not my job to tell them that that’s not okay that you like that. We are all allowed to like what we want to like, and we are all allowed to have experiences that we want to experience. And it’s so important that we let our students know this, that art is for everyone. It is for everyone. It is not just for the elite few that go to museums. It’s not just … Powerful, aesthetic experiences, my very first one that I had, was at a movie theater watching the Circle of Life scene from Lion King when I was in the eighth grade. And I’ve talked about that before, but I saw that movie 12 times at the theater because the dollar theater was right around the corner from my house and I was just like, dollar theater every day. We’re going to watch this movie. Because it was so moving to me.
If someone have come and say, oh no, you haven’t seen real lions in the wild in Africa. This isn’t the same. No, you’re not going to tell that to somebody. Oh. Okay. So I’m glad I recorded this while the emotions were still here. Another thing that gets me and that came up in this Facebook thread between me and this other person is she kept mention being educated, and how this exhibit is spreading misinformation, and the importance of being educated. And the word educated came up time and time again. And that is another thing I take issue with too, because I don’t view works of art as something for me to teach about. And I know that sounds probably weird coming from me, seeing that that’s what I do is I teach about works of art for you guys to include them in your classroom.
But you’ll notice that there isn’t a lot of, there’s no lecture. We provide information about the artworks, about the artist. We give sort of the basic talking points, but we’re not giving you pages and pages of information. Because that’s not what art is about. It’s not about the things to learn. It’s not about the artist’s life and facts that we need to learn. It’s not about memorizing the date that it was created. It’s so much deeper.
So, yeah. If you’re teaching AP Art History, absolutely you have to do all that stuff. Hundred percent. But for the most people in this world, they’re not taking AP Art History. They’re not interested in taking AP Art History. But what they could be interested in is having delightful experiences with artworks.
So if I then take the value of art and make the value of art the information that it has to give you, I am taking away emotional aesthetic experiences, personal connections, connections with the artist, connections with the human spirit as a whole, that connection to the art … You know when you see like the fingerprint of the artist in the painting and how cool it is, and you can imagine what strokes they made? I am connecting with the person who made that a hundred years ago, 200 years, 400 years ago. That’s really meaningful to me.
The way the paint is applied, the colors and the lines and the shapes and the movement and the contrast, that is making me feel certain ways and I want to explore that. So it’s not about the information, it’s about the connection. It’s not about the appreciation. And I think this is one of those times where the word appreciation becomes troublesome because we are now, and I talk about this, that I don’t like the term art appreciation. I always think it’s just, it’s so much deeper. But right now I’m almost thinking the word appreciation is feeding into that elitist view that your art experiences are only valid if they follow these particular terms in these particular situations in this particular environment.
Art appreciation implies that you’re appreciating it for its value, for its famousness, for its, what would the right word be, notoriety, probably not famousness, that’s not a word. You’re appreciating it for things that don’t matter. But connecting with it, that’s matters because that’s important to you. You see the value. Not the value in art history or the value, like its monetary value, or any of that. Or its value in how it changed art, which are all great values, that’s so amazing about works of art. But you can’t take away the value of you having that personal connection and the value of that on your life because it makes you better. And it makes everyone better who experiences it.
So if everybody that walks in that door and spends that $40 on a ticket, whether or not you think that they were ripped off, if they had a personal or if they had an emotional aesthetic experience there. If they talked about art with their friends. If they thought about it later and googled Van Gogh and looked at more of his art, that’s changing the world. That is giving art to people who may not have experienced art before. And that is a gift and that is worth it all. Just totally worth everything.
Okay. There was my rant. Thank you for listening. I really feel strongly about this and I’m sure you could tell. But it’s really important to me that we give art to everyone, and we start that by making art accessible to everyone. And it’s in their terms and it’s in different ways and we need to play and experiment and be curious about what opportunities we have to give them art. And if this is one way that brings art to people, then yes, I am all for it.
Okay. I think that’s all I have to say. Thank you so very much for listening to my little rant here today. I’ll be back next week with the podcast episode that I promised, the big talk versus small talk. All right, thanks so much. I will talk to you guys later. And I really want to hear what you think, so go ahead and leave a comment on the show notes and you can also leave a comment on any of the social media posts about this episode. We would love to hear about it. So thank you so much. Have a wonderful rest of your day. Bye.
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