Music all the time, but art not so much.


At any moment, almost anywhere I can say to almost anyone, “Hey what are you listening to these days?” And the responses flow easily and fully. People love to talk about music. Everyone has opinions, likes and dislikes. I learn new music, and in turn get to share things others don’t know. This is very often enjoyed by everyone I talk to, as very rarely (honestly I can think of no instance as I write) has someone responded to me completely negatively. Even if they don’t feel they are big music fan, they will dig something up such as an often listened to radio station or even a jingle.


Its never that way with art. If I mention a gallery, a museum show or even an artist, all I tend to get in return is a blank smile, or a “that’s nice.” If I ask someone what art they have enjoyed lately, I very often get a response like, “I don’t really know anything about art,”or worse yet “I don’t understand art.”


They are such a curious and weird answers. Where does the perception come from that one must “understand” or “know” about art to enjoy it? Why not just enjoy it like music?


I know I have art-friends who might argue that this is a natural way of things. Art is exclusive and it is a separate and intellectual activity. This is of course marketing-styled bullshit rooted more in defending academia than expanding the value and role of art in contemporary culture. There is so much art, so many venues and varieties of experiencing art, that even if this was true for some art (as it’s more than arguable that it is for some music), it cannot encapsulate all art into it.


I’m sure this attitude doesn’t help things, but its also not the sole reason for people’s reluctance to embrace the visual arts. There remains an undercurrent of animosity and a total lack of curiosity towards art throughout mainstream American culture. The result of this is to neglect the possibility for deeper understanding and the development of deeper thinking on problems and possibilities throughout contemporary society. And I believe that art provides those opportunities in a vital way no other act can.


Instead another idea that many default to is that everything is art and all art is good.  An idea that more than anything is boring, and essentially heaps disdain on visual artists in a way no one would a musician. Who would argue that every act in a local bar is as good as every well-known band?


So what is it about art? Why can’t we talk about it when we can talk about music so easily? What makes it feel inaccessible, and what would make it accessible?

4 thoughts on “Music all the time, but art not so much.

  1. The first things I thought after reading this were “cultural isolation” and “niche elitism”. And no, I didn’t use those terms.

    I’m on a train platform right now with five other people. Three of us are using smartphones, one is listening to music on headphones, one is drinking coffee, and one has a newspaper. No one is talking. In my office with ten or so other people, it’s a coin flip as to whether anyone will make conversation – at all – during the nine hours I’ll spend there.

    These people aren’t willing to talk about the weather, much less how they responded to a piece of art. And that response is personal, more so than a lot of what humans chat about, on average.

    Second, I think people (in America, in the last fifty years) have conditioned themselves to believe that there’s something about art that they couldn’t “get”. Pollock: “my kid could the same thing.” Surrealism: “That’s a pipe.” Even traditional art as understood by the average viewer can usually be shown to be more complex than the viewer understood, at least by someone with advanced degrees in the subject.

    Just the fact that there can be an advanced degree in the arts defines a kind of spectator hierarchy that wards off some folks. It’s the same point youade about elitism from within, but acknowledged and perpetuated from without.

    I apologize for not having good conversational material and will try to rectify that before the next conversational opportunity.

    • I think there certainly is a lot of social isolation that occurs in our culture, and people prefer to stay in the comfort of there socially networked circles rather than reach out to new people randomly. But, even in situations where interaction is the norm (parties, events, etc.) its much easier to start those conversations with music as a shared experience rather than art. That annoys/saddens me.

      And there are certainly enough advanced degrees in music out there. But even with a music like Jazz, people aren’t turned off by the depth at which one can talk about it musically. At least I don’t think they are to the same degree that one would be compared to visual art.

  2. One thought i have is that all children are exposed to music since infancy and regularly hear it throughout the day. You go shopping, there’s music playing in the malls and stores. Elevator, you get some muzak. You drive in your car, you’ve got music playing on the radio. On TV you have music as soundtracks and theme songs to every show and movie, plus the music channels and concert showings. Music is everywhere. But where is the art?

    As a child you learn to sing songs with the other kids and as you get older you learn to play instruments or sing in choir. You also get to do some drawings while you’re young, but after you start to get in later elementary/middle school years, you’re not encouraged to keep up with it. It’s just a class you have to take and no one places much importance on it. Musicians and singers are household names and make millions, but how many people can name a contemporary artist or even identify the artist of a famous painting? If we’re not taught to value art, why would people talk about it?

    I wish it was different, so I do my best to educate my daughter. She’s 18 mos now, and for the past year her favorite show has always been Classical Baby. It features art, dance and classical music in a child-friendly format and she adores it. Hopefully I’ll be able to continue to foster a love for art and music as she grows up.

    • Thanks for your comment Sarah.

      I’m excited to hear about your encouraging your daughter’s arts education, because I also have a young daughter in whom we hope to nurture a lifelong love of the arts. I really take your point to heart about not fostering enough young people to value the arts. Its a total shame.

      I do however think that the average person is exposed to a great deal of visual art. Its predominantly graphic and broadcast design but also photography and illustration, so there is a ton of crafted visual imagery being consumed everyday. Thats not even to mention film or television, which themselves are incredible sources of visual art. yet, we don’t recognize them as the ‘arts’ and maybe that is part of the problem. Certainly the connections are there to be made.

      Without arts education, I think its possible a majority of people are consuming that visual stimuli while at the same time being essentially illiterate in the craft of creating visual information. That in my mind is really problematic both culturally and socially.

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