There seems to be a general understanding that art is something sophisticated, refined, and inaccessible. The word ‘art’ conjures up images of royal portraits painted by aristocrats, stored in museums, which themselves are often old, imposing buildings. Art is something superior to the physical world and the people looking at it. It transcends real life.
Artists are almost erased, overshadowed by the discourse that makes their art into something it shouldn’t be: a pretentious commodity.
The truth is art is everywhere. When artist Anish Kapoor bought the exclusive rights to use Vantablack, the blackest synthetic shade of black, he created yet another instance of someone making their art, and the means to producing it, into something to consume and buy. It’s something quite literally inaccessible, but that does not make art itself middle class.
Personally, I believe the best art stems from frustration, and the search for empowerment. Some people may say this has been proven in recent years, with the rise of diverse literature and media. When there is violence against marginalised communities there is often an artistic response. This can be speeches, activism, and hashtags, or novels, poetry, paintings, and graffiti. In other words, art! This art isn’t for buying. It unleashes anger, sadness, and hope, and seeks empowerment. It is a way to deal with emotions, to put them into words.
This art isn’t meant for the middle class. But it becomes just that when it transforms into a popular phenomenon, something praised, sought out, something that makes money. Suddenly the market is filled with poetry collections and novels about things that are raw and personal, something no publisher should ever profit from. And the people who consume this, who become obsessed with these stories of suffering and empowerment, are none other than the middle class.
We should not be asking if art is for the middle class, but how to stop them from polluting something so personal and honest. The middle class are stealing people’s suffering, and making it into a commodity. Art is in the hands of the oppressed. We need to stop raising certain works to a standard that makes them ‘worthy’ of our attention, sensationalising stories we perceive as ‘other’, and making art about money. The ideas of the industrialisation of art and the romanticism of one ‘unique’ piece of artwork both function on the same level. These ideas feed into a culture of oppression and measuring of worth. We need to let art exist on its own terms, let it be a part of real life as opposed to something separate and divine. That is when art will truly be art.