On Medium and Reputation

A wonderful friend commented a few posts back that she would like to read my thoughts on how medium affects the perception of art. Well, Taylor, here goes. Thank me later.

My artistic development took place in the ceramics department of my college and birthed a vehement interest in functional art. The initiated among you may recognize this as “not the most classical place in the art world” – indeed, that would be painting.

Painting as an art form is practically never questioned. In fact, when introducing myself as an artist, I’m often immediately asked about my paintings, in spite of the fact that I do not and never have had paintings. But that’s the first stop on the art train, it seems. And if someone calls themselves a painter, unless they’re painting houses with Behr, a vast majority of people would consider them to be an artist without the slightest consideration for what they’re actually producing. Painting as an art form, it seems, is taken for granted, not only in the public eye, but within the art world as well.

Like I’ve mentioned here and elsewhere, I studied as a functional potter. I love functional art and personally place it on a higher pedestal (a ceramic pedestal, of course) than other art forms because of its intimacy. But pottery requires much, much more defense to acquire or maintain its standing in the art world. How many painters can you name? Many, I’m sure. Now, how many potters can you name? Shoji Hamada? Bernard Leach? Mike Jabbur, perchance? For most people I talk to, I might as well be making up names. I suspect there are many reasons for this, such as pottery serving a non-art purpose for such a long time (depending on your opinion of artist agency, I suppose) and general fluctuations in opinions within the art world. There’s not a doubt in my mind, though, that pottery as a whole experiences much more artistic scrutiny. Ceramics – distinct from pottery – is a bit more highly regarded as a “fine art” because of its sculptural applications, but it is still questioned more than, say, marble.

What I’ve discovered is that there is a sort of hierarchy. Whether you think this is justified or not is a topic for debate, I suppose, but to my mind it’s undeniably present. Self-evident, even, such that I’d like to move on to a related topic, though do let me know if you have any interest in me expanding on the effect of medium. I may write a more opinion-focused post on it soon.

This related subject is the significance of the artist’s achievements; art by an established artist is more readily accepted as art. I haven’t spoken to my friends with psychology degrees about it yet, but it wouldn’t surprise me if there were a term for such a thing in other fields. Now, there are some obvious and reasonable explanations for this, such as people with experience being less likely to make bad art, and I don’t entirely begrudge this attitude anyway because established artists are largely the ones with the ability to push boundaries, which is always good. However, art from young or unestablished artists is considered less valuable inherently than that of an established artist and I find it to be a great shame that the perception of an artist’s work would be judged, essentially, by their resume rather than the art itself.

This is a difficult argument to navigate, since it’s easy to confuse for “why can’t everyone be famous?”, but I promise you that’s not what I’m after. I am certain that, when viewing a piece of art, an observer’s opinion is hugely influenced by the achievements of the artist, such that bad art is accepted due to the fame of the artist and good art is dismissed due to their lack of reputation.