In the past, art was exclusive to the elite. If you wanted to be an artist, you had to have a patron who paid for your work and supported your artistic ventures. The best demonstration of this was the popularity of portraiture among the ranks of nobility and rich businessmen, pointed out by Rijksmuseum curator Matthias Ubl. Wealthy patrons wielded portraits as a symbol of power—their ability to commission artists to memorialise their faces signified their stature in society.
The idea of universal accessibility in art did not take hold until the 18th century, when artists like William Hogarth began using their work to critique society and reflect social norms. The current art scene has come a long way from its exclusionary history. It is striving to become an expression of creativity for everyone, not just for the rich and powerful—but it still has a long way to go. Today, we’ll dive into diversity in art and how it evolved to become communal and inclusive:
The evolution of art
In art from earlier societies, the goal was to create something that had never been seen before and was beautiful or intriguing in some way. For example, Egyptian art began with simple drawings on walls and eventually developed into more elaborate paintings emphasising colour. During the Renaissance period, artists began exploring new materials and styles to set themselves apart from their others.
Modern art differs from traditional art in that it focuses more on the medium and technique than on developing new ideas. Austin Kleon in Steal Like an Artist discusses how creativity does not always mean originality. He explains that artists are not always aware of how much others influence them, but this does not mean that their work is of lesser value. By remixing and reimagining, today’s artists can discover their own paths and appreciate the communal nature of art.
Why art should be communal and inclusive
If art is to be truly meaningful, it must be inclusive. It is in the nature of art to be both a personal expression and a shared experience, and it cannot be separated from today’s emphasis on diversity. As a result, some 21st-century artists are starting to create works meant to be experienced by more than just one person. A few incorporate their audience into the piece itself; others use the space their work occupies to draw people in. There are artists who have dived into emerging mediums, such as performance art, to create interactive experiences for all who participate.
Even art platforms like galleries and fairs have acknowledged the need to tackle inclusivity issues in the industry. For instance, the Superfine Art Fair aims to boost LGBTQ+ and artists of colour by providing them with spaces to share their work. It also prides itself on creating a fairer system marked with transparency regarding booth fees, artwork prices, and ticket costs. This kind of initiative helps break down barriers that give too much power to gatekeepers and keep art pieces away from communities that can equally enjoy and appreciate them.
In its 25 years of history, Attenborough Arts Centre has consistently advocated for diversity and inclusion in art. From improving physical access to the site to working with artists and performers with radical and ambitious messages, we aim to uplift underrepresented communities and give them a chance to engage with the arts.
Making art communal and inclusive is a continuing challenge to members of the artistic community. To do so, we must provide a space where artists can build on their own experiences by sharing themselves with others.
Post contributed by Wanda Mae Talbot for attenborougharts.com