I was watching a wonderful interview on the BBC with Thomas Hampson the wonderful American baritone, and some of his comments struck me as applicable across the entire art spectrum.

First, a link to a relevant snippet of the interview – http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-23468086

Now, what got to me was this idea that there is a dilution that goes on when you are bombarded by something in venues that are not appropriate or traditional.  That saturating an environment with something makes us insensate to the artistry of it.  This strikes me as intensely true.

This is I think especially true in the world of the visual arts.  In fact, it is holding us back by a large margin.  In particular one certain habit which is engaged in routinely, and is almost ubiquitous now –  Making everything an “art gallery.”

I like to call this the “and gallery problem.”  It is the tendency for all sorts of businesses to look at some bare walls and just declare that they are now “an art gallery.”  Coffee shops do this a lot.  For some reason every non-Starbucks coffee shop needs to also be an art gallery now.  Restaurants too.  In my own city a recent restaurant opened up and threw on the old “and gallery,” at the end of their name.  We even have a head shop that makes this claim!  Yes, they won’t just sell you a bong, they will also sell you a painting.

This is ridiculous.  Now, I am sure many people have good intentions here.  In fact many probably feel that they have to do this now since, well, this is what everyone does!  But what is really happening here?  What is going on?  What is the impact of this on the local art scenes?

Dilution is what is happening.  Just as Mr. Hampson mentioned in his interview.  If everything is a gallery, then what are galleries?  What place do they hold in a world where every bare wall can be labeled as a gallery?

An art gallery is more than empty space that needs to be filled.  It is more than a series of blank walls.  Far more!  A gallery is the heart of the art world.  More so than the museum I would argue.  The gallery is economic life blood of the art world.  It takes more than some white paint and nails to have a gallery.  Far more.  You have to know the art world.  You have to know trends, and history, and tastes.  You have to have a keen eye for good art versus bad art.  And you also have to manage the artists.  A good gallerist is a mix of agent, salesperson, parent, and yes, even psychologist.  They tend to the local art scene like a gardener.  They encourage growth in certain directions, and discourage it in others.  This is a good thing.  This is a needed thing.

This is something that the “and gallery,” can’t deliver.

Simply put, the people in charge of these things are usually far too busy making their business work to worry about the art side of things.  They are often rarely, if ever, educated in the field.  It is simply a matter of putting up whomever comes in with art they find non-objectionable.  Which, by the by, brings up another issue.  You can’t truly call yourself a gallery if you have to censor work because of what the guy buying his daily latte might think.  Controversy does not do well in environments like that, what with the business owner having to consider, well, their business.

So here we sit with “galleries” popping up everywhere and really doing nothing for the art world.  In fact, all they do is dilute the word “gallery” into something rather inappropriate.

Rather like playing Mozart in an elevator.

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