Rant 107: I don’t get art

Rant 107: I don’t get art Rory Duckhouse at Tate Liverpool. Photo credit: Amy Edwards.

People who say they don't get art are missing the point says Rory Duckhouse in this month's Rant

I often hear the comment ‘I don’t get art’. It can be used as an anti-intellectual badge of honour or a defensive way of saying 'I don’t like it'.

Art can work on many levels, from the aesthetic to the conceptual, and for some people it’s easier to dismiss it outright than attempt to engage with it.

As Ryan Gander notes, "Adults are genuinely scared, unless they've had visual training, of approaching contemporary art because they think they're going to get it wrong, or be made a fool of, or say the wrong thing.” 

While engaging with an art work can be a subjective and instinctive experience, many people also feel they need a certain level of knowledge to understand it properly. Art is hard, but it is a language you can learn the more you engage with it. It can be scary, too, but it won't hurt you if you get it 'wrong'.

There are also external factors that hinder audiences engaging with art, from the language we in the arts use to the way institutions are set up and marketed, as well as personal experiences with art education.

The gallery space can be intimidating, and sometimes the quality of the interpretation doesn’t match that of the work on show. This mismatch can reinforce the feeling of being made a fool of.

If you believe that art should be relevant to everyday life and accessible to all you might be right to blame institutions for unintentionally disengaging audiences and urge them to do more to support their visitors.

Perhaps more could be done to reassure people that they don’t necessarily need an art degree to appreciate art and that a personal response can be valid, even if others disagree with you.

I'd like to tell people that there's no need to be hostile or dismissive, and there is no need to be afraid - you just need to make an effort!


Contributed by Rory Duckhouse, October 2014

Rory Duckhouse is an artist and writer based in Cardiff, Wales. Rory graduated with an MA in Photography: Contemporary Dialogues from Swansea Metropolitan University, and now works as the exhibitions assistant for the Glynn Vivian Art Gallery, Swansea.

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