Berk Chappell recently wrote a letter to the editor criticizing the fact that the city of Corvallis didn't like a recent installation of public sculpture. There is one quote that I think sums up a key point quite nicely:
To attack a work of art because one doesn't understand it is forgivable only if the critic takes measures to correct the problem. It is called "education."This is a great quote, and when I first read it I agreed with it. Then I realized "Wait a minute. This assumes that you can't say whether or not you like something without being trained." Aesthetics can be understood in more detail with education, but you don't need to take a course to know what you like or don't like. It's a sliding scale, not an on/off switch.
As an artist, one must always remember who the art is being created for. (You make more money that way.) Sometimes it will be for your teacher. Other times you'll be making it for yourself, friends, boss, significant other, or any combination of the above. If you've been commissioned to do a public sculpture, guess what? Your audience is the public. If they don't like it, you can't blame them - it's you who failed. In my opinion, some of the artists that get pretentious about the public being uneducated masses not understanding their genius are just talking about sour grapes and not willing to admit to their mistakes. This happens almost as often as some artists never liking anything they do in spite of the public raving about it. (Even Michelangelo once took a hammer to his statue of David because he thought he made a mistake.)
What upsets me the most is the idea that those in charge of buying this art take someone else's word for it that they "just don't understand" the art and "really, it's quite good." Please, if your goal was to have others think FOR you, then why did you ever go to school?
I remember back when I was in college, my father and I were driving down a highway and we passed a business with a large sculpture in front of their building. Without thinking, Dad blurted out "Man, that's an ugly sculpture!"
I later found out that he then started thinking that he had said a faux pas. After all, here was his son sitting next to him - someone who was working towards a four year degree in Art Education. Was I now thinking that he was the art equivalent of a luddite?
He soon found out he had nothing to fear. Not knowing what he was internalizing, I took a good hard look at the sculpture. (Well, as much as I could - we were still driving down the road.)
"You know," said I, "Two years ago I would have agreed with you and said that was an ugly sculpture. But now, I have two years of college under by belt. I've taken classes on sculpture and art criticism. Because of this, I can safely say that sculpture is ugly on so many levels!"