Featured Image: Vogue
What do a banana and the Mona Lisa have in common?
The answer: they are both considered art. Pretty expensive art, at that. At Art Basel Miami in 2019, a banana attached to the wall with standard duct tape sold for a whopping $120,000. One version of the installation was eaten by another artist who proclaimed that this action enhanced the art itself. Just like that, this innocent piece of produce skyrocketed into viral Internet fame.
When it comes to the art world, many people feel disillusioned at how these pieces sell for millions of dollars each. This industry presents itself as inaccessible, only for the elite few with refined taste. But why is some art deemed more worthy than others, and who decides what goes in museums and galleries? As a young artist myself, I don’t have all the answers. However, I do know that a staggering percentage of the art industry is dominated by Eurocentric ideals and rich, white, male artists — as it always has been.
Although it may seem that more young girls are interested in visual arts throughout adolescence, fine arts remains a male-dominated industry with only 11% of art in museums being created by women according to the New York Times. These professionals run in the same circles, coughing up absurd amounts of money for the same paintings by the same artists. Whether it’s gender, race, or social mobility, there is no entry point into the art world for those who are disadvantaged.
This process is rigged from the very beginning. Many high schools don’t offer an arts education, and for schools experiencing budget cuts, arts feel the impact first since they are not required for any standardized testing. Notably, the schools that receive the least arts funding are often the most ethnically diverse. On top of that, sharing one’s work in publications and exhibitions often comes with hefty fees preventing low-income artists from participating. All of this results in a systemic lack of representation in the arts.
Besides, if you’re from a low-income background, you’re likely not going to consider that path in the first place. This is because art has been labeled as an elite industry, something that won’t safely pay the bills. Kids are often pressured to give up on their dreams and pursue a more “realistic” career. This is especially true for minorities — I myself struggled to make art because my parents subscribed to the immigrant standard of forcing your child to choose between being a doctor or a lawyer.
However, as my art reached exhibitions and publications, my family realized how serious I was about being an artist. With these opportunities came hefty fees, though. I quickly recognized my privilege as somebody who could afford to pay for entry fees, hanging costs, and materials. As a young girl struggling to find her purpose in life, art had helped me cope with the feelings of anxiety and uncertainty that accompanied adolescence. I knew that it could help others as well.
Arts education is often perceived as a waste of money, detracting away from core subjects like math and science. This viewpoint contributes to the stigma that art cannot lead to secure jobs or smart adults. Most of the time, the main argument against this is that art has tons of other benefits such as fostering emotional maturity and developing out-of-the-box thinking skills. I say that if art helps teens appreciate beauty and feel fulfillment, then that is reason enough to continue integrating art into all aspects of education.
By guaranteeing every child an opportunity to learn about the arts, we can eliminate the stigma of privilege around art. Nowadays, it feels like a foreign language to many of us. What are we supposed to get out of it? What’s the value? Art has become associated with a pretentious lifestyle that only a select few can experience.
If we make art accessible to people from all backgrounds, we can whittle it down to what it was always meant to be — a visual tool for communication that everyone can understand.
In fact, I believe art is the most powerful form of communication. If you can see, hear, smell, touch, or taste, you can experience art. And I’m not just talking about that guy who ate the banana, no. Last year, I visited the Seattle Art Fair, where various forms of bread sculpted into faces piqued my interest. The exhibit was a hit with visitors. This year, at a gallery I curated, there was a sculpture that invited you to touch it, to feel its texture. Most people think of art as an oil painting on a wall, but it’s not just that. Art has the ability to connect people to new experiences, to open up their comfort zones. Art can bridge generational gaps, introducing older folks to the issues Generation Z deals with in a way that statistics and articles could never do.
It’s about time we started engaging diverse narratives in professional art spaces, and this change begins with giving youth artists the confidence they need to succeed.