Who is art for?

Art, Article, Arts, Uncategorized

Jon Aitken recently wrote an article for Rife magazine sharing his thoughts on artist Jake Chapman’s statement that taking children to art galleries is a “waste of time“. Young Arnolfini – in case you hadn’t guessed – is a group associated closely with Arnolfini, and one of the points in our manifesto is that we aim to bridge the gap between young people and contemporary art. Statements like Jake Chapman’s are exactly the opposite of what we are aiming to do. 


So firstly, I want to address one of the first points Jon raises in the article – that often, young people can feel out of place in art galleries. This is based upon the research of lecturer Mar Dixon who, when talking to 6th form students, found that most wouldn’t visit cultural institutions. Which is something that I can see. When I tell friends I’m a member of Young Arnolfini, their first response first response is to just look at me, wondering what I’m talking about.

Getting young people interested in the arts and galleries – especially contemporary ones such as Arnolfini – can be difficult. Unless it’s something you’re already actively involved with, you wouldn’t know where to start. There are still times where I walk round the Arnolfini and think “am I slightly out of place here?”. Contemporary art can be daunting, which is exactly why Young Arnolfini is trying to encourage as much involvement with young people as possible.

But on to Jake Chapman’s thoughts..

To say that art galleries aren’t for kids, you have to have misunderstood something. However, he is spot on with one point. He seems to feel that there is “no connection” between the simplicity of Henri Matisse’s work and a childs painting, and I feel that he’s spot on with that. Perhaps what he would be better off saying is that sometimes, children (and adults too might I add!) may not understand the work of less “traditional” artists.


Which is just fine?

Understanding does not equal appreciating. I’m not even sure if you can say that you can understand some pieces. I am confident that I can enjoy a wide range of artwork without having to even consider trying to understand it. I don’t need the one true original meaning to a piece to think “I like this piece”, and I will never understand why elitist artists feel that justification is always needed.

I am confident that I can enjoy a wide range of artwork without having to even consider trying to understand it.

Okay, I get that there are times where a deeper meaning to a piece might help you appreciate it more. There are lots of pieces that if it weren’t for their meaning, wouldn’t appeal to me as much. However, by saying that a child stood in front of a Pollock is an “insult”, all it does is make your “average joe” feel excluded.

Engagement is part of everything we do within Young Arnolfini, and Arnolfini as a whole. What we do aims to be as inclusive as possible, and in no way exclusive. Who are you to say that art is for you but not me? Art is for anyone and everyone. Through engagement and involvement, it allows interest to grow and passion to develop. If it weren’t for a young persons programme like Young Arnolfini, then I don’t know what I’d be doing now.

Who are you to say that art is for you but not me?

Jon’s Article was a really interesting read and if you’re interested, definitely check it out! But does anyone have any thoughts on the topic?

Thanks for reading


5 thoughts on “Who is art for?

  1. I teach 6 year olds.

    Once, when we were studying the work of Bridget Riley, I was amazed at all the different ideas that the children were talking about when they looked at her work. They said it reminded them of the waves on the midnight sea, and long hair someone had curled, and patterns in the soil where dinosaurs might be found.

    I asked them how come they had all these different ideas. One child told me that if you look at a picture of a mountain (for example), then it is a picture of a mountain; but when you look at a more abstract picture then it can be lots of different things to different people.

  2. This is so true. I also find that it’s not just young people who might feel out of place in galleries and other cultural institutions – but also adults, of different backgrounds and interests. I myself am an exhibiting visual artist, however I sometimes still feel like I am out of place in a gallery. You are so right in your comment “I am confident that I can enjoy a wide range of artwork without having to even consider trying to understand it” – I feel sometimes that the exclusion and elitism with some artists is not only pushing people away from art, but could be damaging to the visual arts (and art in general). It is important for art to be accessible, it should be for everyone, not just the artists and people who ‘get’ it! – Lara

    1. Definitely agree! Art is for everyone to enjoy and appreciate – be it through understanding the deep meaning behind it, or because you like the colours they used! Its important that we bridge these gaps between the artists and the public! Thanks for your insight!

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