I found these interesting lines from a book I am reading now called ‘Art Objects : Essays on Ecstasy and Effrontery‘ by Jeanette Winterson.
Art takes time. To spend an hour looking at a painting is difficult. The public gallery experience is one that encourages art at a trot. There are the paintings, the marvellous speaking works, definite, independent, each with a Self it would be impossible to ignore, if…if…, it were possible to see it. I do not only mean the crowds and the guards and the low lights and the ropes, which make me think of freak shows, I mean the thick curtain of irrelevancies that screens the painting from the viewer. Increasingly, galleries have a habit of saying when they acquired a painting and how much it cost…
Millions! The viewer does not see the colours on the canvas, he sees the colour of the money.
Is the painting famous? Yes! Think of all the people who have carefully spared one minute of their lives to stand in front of it.
Is the painting Authority? Does the guide-book tell us that it is part of The Canon? If Yes, then half of the viewers will admire it on principle, while the other half will dismiss it on principle.
Who painted it? What do we know about his / her sexual practices and have we seen anything about them on the television? If not, the museum will likely have a video full of schoolboy facts and tabloid gossip.
Where is the tea-room / toilet / gift shop?
Where is the painting in any of this?
We are an odd people : We make it as difficult as possible for our artists to work honestly while they are alive; either we refuse them money or we ruin them with money; either we flatter them with unhelpful praise or would them with unhelpful blame, and when they are too old, or too dead, or too beyond dispute to hinder any more, we canonise them, so that what was wild is tamed, what was objecting, becomes Authority. Canonising pictures is one way of killing them. When the sense of familiarity becomes too great, history, popularity, association, all crowd in between the viewer and the picture and block it out. Not only pictures suffer like this, all the arts suffer like this.
(Note : I found the second passage really interesting because I have been thinking about this issue for quite sometime. Why is it that artists are ignored when they creating interesting pieces when they live and they are forced to live a hand-to-mouth existence (and here I mean not just painters but also writers and others who work in the creative arena), and as soon as they die they become legends? The latest example I can think of, from this perspective, is Roberto Bolano, who was not well known when he lived (and who probably considered himself a rebellious writer and who rejected the existing writing tradition from Latin America and tried to establish a new tradition) and now that he is dead and gone for around seven years, all his books have been translated and published and are bestsellers and are sweeping literary awards – the quintessential example of canonising a rebel’s work! I liked Jeanette Winterson’s answer to this question.)