Being a better consumer of art


The question asked of me still rattles around in my brain. How do we become better consumers of art? I guess this was a good question to ask me because I can’t stop thinking about it and I don’t feel I have done a great job answering it.

Something has always bothered me about this question, even though it was asked in the sincerest way possible, about looking for solutions to interacting with art.

Then I read this article, Disturbing, not pleasing, should be art’s role, about the closing keynote address Frie Layson gave at the 2015 Australian Theatre Forum. She was addressing theatre, but I firmly believe this is an art issue in general.

‘How can we make the audience a partner in adventure instead of a consumer?

‘How can we communicate with audiences that theatre is a living art form, every night created again and again. And fragile. That even the biggest artists also make work that is not fantastic?

‘We should valorise the risk, the adventure, the ephemeralness of theatre, the uniqueness of the experience, the temporary community that is created every evening again with the actors and the audience.’

There is much to argue over in the speech, but I don’t think this is one of them. I’ve written on this before, taking risk and failing, all necessary to get better at our work. But this article and speech put that idea in focus for me from the perspective of being a better “consumer”. In other words, we need to change our thinking of art from being a consumer to, in a very real sense, being a part of the process of an artist’s work.

Whether the work is ephemeral, as in any live performance, or set once, as in visual and recorded art, the initiative should be to become invested in a way that does not require a Consumer Report article. We shouldn’t always be looking for a “best buy” work of art. Yes, there is an economy at stake. Yes, people will want to buy only certain things for display in their homes.

But there are also people’s lives at stake. Not just the artists’, but also the audience who will be inspired or even transformed by their work. Maybe a work really only resonates for one person. Maybe the work is the step that takes the artist to the work that transforms a generation, or creates a new era.

That doesn’t happen in isolation or a vacuum. It happens because the supporters are willing to wallow through the bad because there is something intrinsically worthwhile in the process. It is a committed relationship. We don’t bail at the first sign of trouble. We stick through it because there is hope that on the other side is dry land and calmer weather.

There is a need for the artist to have someone who will reach down in the storm to give them a hand to help them back up, who won’t desert them.

Want to be a better consumer of art? Don’t just buy art. Be a friend and companion to the artist, either directly or just through their work if you never get the opportunity to meet the artist. Appreciate the things that aren’t all that great as much as the things that are great. Weep when they weep as well as rejoice when they rejoice.

Thanks for reading!




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