Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The Importance of Being Art

During my last few weeks here in the Big Apple, I have taken myself to a few museums to really drench myself in culture and art.  I am happily saturated.

In Vancouver, I have been working on a project to raise awareness and convince Vancouverites that the city needs a new, purpose-built gallery.  About 90% of those to whom I speak are all for it.  But it's the annoying 10% that is really pissing me off.

Here are some fun facts about the VAG:

- it only holds 3% of its collection.  No museum showcases 100% but 3% is a bit ridiculous
- there is a permanent collection - in jail.  That's right, in the vaults below the gallery (which used to house prisoners - it was a courthouse after all) sit our Carrs and Group of Sevens.  The VAG rotates its' Carr permanent collection which doesn't enable tourists to guarantee a Carr sighting or for a Vancouverite to revisit a favourite painting years later
- 20 000 school kids were turned away last year due to lack of room to educate and inform
- there is no space dedicated to education for children or adults
- the vault/jail has leaks, mice, rats and pot smoke
- there is terrible security as the only doors to get art in are the same ones open to the general public
- those doors are too small to let larger exhibitions in
- the gallery is not climate controlled
- there is terrible handicap access
- if there was an earthquake the building would collapse straight down squishing not only art-lookers-atters but the art in the pot-smoke vault

The list goes on.  And as you see, it's all building related. There is nothing wrong with our art.

Working at the gallery has really made me open my eyes to art and its importance to society.

I can't help but wonder:  what would a world be like without art?

Let's just take the visual arts.  I don't know that my day-to-day life is directly affected by Monet and Renoir.

Or is it?

Take the beauty of emotions, feelings, statements, politics, history, religion, and more that artists transcribe on to blank canvas.  Isn't it possible to think that those watercolour strokes are the inspiration in how we choose the colour to paint our walls or how we place our furniture?

I mean, that's really a prosaic thing for art to inspire.  It's true though.

In a world with no art we have no concept of beauty.  Or what makes us feel. What inspires us.  Art belongs not just in the visual playing field -  but in our books, on our television, on our iPod.  Sure, Paris Hilton's BFF is not exactly the best example of 'art' on television - however, it is a statement to our times.  And that is what art is.

Okay, now I am on a tangent.  Back to my point.

I am so disappointed with Vancouverites and their response to a new building.  They are so attached to the current building (don't get me wrong - it's gorgeous.  But it isn't doing its job anymore.  Let it be a home for a new museum!) that they are unable to envision a future Vancouver.

Imagine a gallery on a rainy winters day.  You take the escalator to the top floor where Emily Carr paintings hang lavishly on the walls.  The room feels like you are in the very rain forests she painted - and with the tap-tap of raindrops on the window pane, her world suddenly becomes intensely real.

This is what art does.

A young teen asked me if we had a permanent collection wouldn't we get bored?


She hasn't travelled the world yet to discover the joy of revisiting a work of art time and again.

In order to appreciate and develop a relationship with art, one must be able to grow and mature along with it.

As an example, I have been going to the National in London since I was 19 in 1999.  There is a painting by Delaroche called 'The Execution of Lady Jane Grey'.

For whatever reason,  this painting has always fascinated me.  Her story has fascinated me. I can look at this painting and work through the emotions each person must be feeling.  I can transport myself to that room.

Fast forward ten years.  I have seen that painting on all my return trips to London.  Just this spring I popped in briefly simply to say 'hello'.

The Impressionists are the same for me.  Wherever I bump into them, I feel like I am meeting up with an old friend.  'Oh good afternoon Degas, lovely ballerina's today - I haven't seen this one before'.  OR, 'Monet - I love how you make sunset at Big Ben look the way sitting on Westminster Bridge makes me feel'.

This is what art does.

Art needs to reach people. From a young age preferably. I remember holidays with my parents - them dragging me to art galleries all over the world.  I was bored to tears mostly.  However it's clearly done some good.  I may have been bored, but I was still affected.

Art needs to reflect people.  The VAG isn't showing off its potential.  We do have world class art - BC style.  It's just locked up.

In fact we just acquired this Arthur Lismer in the spring.

Where is it?


I urge you to close your eyes and think about a Vancouver in 2030.  Next to the Queen E theatre and down the block from the library sits a beautiful building that reflects British Columbia as a place and people.  The outdoor sculpture garden is teeming with children who are learning to make their own sculptures.  Inside, a group of twenty-something aspiring artists share their sketches over hot tea and debate which medium is better:  oil or pencil.

You are there too, a bit older, and even more in love with art.  You smile as you pass the kids and the artists-to-be, on your way to visit your favourite painting.  You need a bit of a pick-me-up after too many rainy Sundays.  This painting always makes you smile.  It makes you think of golden summers and the way leaves smell when they start turning orange.  You remember seeing it for the first time with your mum, which reminds you to go visit her with some flowers.  You remember the time you came after you had your heart broken and how the quiet loveliness of the gallery soothed you.  You remember having a copy of it on your first apartment bedroom wall after university.  When all your furniture was hand-me-downs and you still tacked posters to the walls.  You remember bringing your daughter to see it for the first time and how she tried to make her own painting at home - on the kitchen door.  You were mad then but now you smile.  You've been through a lot, this painting and you.

Art makes memories.

Please please please take a minute to write to the mayor.  All the actions you can do to help are on this website.  Please remember that in the spirit of 2010 we have to work to make Vancouver as pretty on the inside as it is on the outside.

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