It’s not what you think
By Laurie Carmount
Curator, Agnes Jamieson Gallery
Is Art “elitist”?
Art is a reflection of society. There is little else that could be more about humanity. Why is it, then, that some people think it is not for them but only for the upper society, those “elitists”?
Part of the answer to this question lies in our history. Art evolved into something that began to engineer technical skill and was connected to the scholars. It developed into such refined levels of beauty and inspiration that it was seen as a powerful form of influence, something monarchies and churches took control of. It was not for the everyday person, in their estimation, unless they wished to persuade the masses to their way of thinking.
From here it was sequestered into museums for the purpose of preservation; cared for by curators, a word meaning “custodian” (a term derived from the church). It was not until the mid-1700s that works of art were open to the public.
With nearly a thousand years of a separation between art and people, it is no wonder that it has a stereotype even today.
To add to this, when art became quasi public, the French salons in Paris adopted a name for preview to an art exhibition called a Vernissage (meaning “to varnish”) which were often private. At these pre-openings, artists would give a finishing touch to their works by varnishing them. This custom of private viewing, with the patrons and members of academies, led to the 20th century receptions where it was an opportunity to market the works to buyers and critics.
In our recent history, however, as more and more art has been donated and purchased for public collections, and public art galleries began, art is for the public. Unlike the Parisian salons which were exclusive, public art galleries are mandated to engage their community in educating them about art and to grow an appreciation for culture. Unlike the Parisian salons, and commercial galleries, public art galleries’ only purpose is for the enlightenment of their community.
A good comparison: a public art gallery to a commercial gallery is like a library to a book store. Wherein both kinds of galleries have openings, the public art galleries purpose is to educate, and not for just the selling of artwork.
This past Friday, March 3, the Agnes Jamieson Gallery held an opening reception for an exhibition titled Engagements by Peter Adams (see photo on page 12). Opening receptions are a time for one to take a break from their week, arrange to meet with friends and maybe enjoy a glass of wine or beer. One will meet the artist(s) and have an opportunity to listen to their reasoning behind their art.
At this recent opening, Peter Adams stood by his first set of paintings with visitors, explaining his background. He was born in Scotland and now lives in Creemore, Ont. He has been an artist for 25 years. He attended Queen’s University for film studies. The work in his exhibition primarily involves landscape – he is especially interested in the realm in which human and natural worlds meet – both in harmony and in opposition.
Adams then introduces a group of paintings that are of waterways in China, specifically the Yangtze River. The work is not a typical piece as it relates to an environmental occurrence in 2014, where the river became red. Adams was intrigued by this, and found the images being broadcasted globally as disturbing and intriguing. He then shows visitors an accompanying painting of a woodland, by where he lives, with a red creek running through – because wouldn’t that be provoking and concerning?
Across from these works, Adam points to work which is part of a series called Earth Scars. They illustrate some of the biggest holes in the earth, gigantic diamond mines. The works are to cause reflection on the sustainability of resource extraction, asking the viewer to ponder at what cost are they being taken.
Moving further into the exhibition, Adams stands surrounded by expressive paintings of cloudscapes. He explains clouds are ever changing and evolving, capturing his imagination. One can see a relationship to his film training here.
During this opening, people are asking Adams questions about the work as they think of them. It is a pleasant banter and leads to all forms of conversation. Visitors not only learn from Adams but from each other.
The following quote from Kathy Sweeney, who attended the opening, sums it up nicely:
I went because I think it’s important to value and support our local art gallery. My knowledge of art is limited so I appreciated that I could attend the opening and learn through a casual, non-intimidating walk-through what the artist had to say about the items chosen for this exhibit; the significance of the work within the timeframe of his development as an artist, and the techniques used in these paintings which may set them apart from others. Everyone there was very relaxed, the presentation and questions asked were interesting and informative, and I will definitely attend future exhibit openings!
Discover for yourself what an opening reception is like. The Agnes Jamieson Gallery has opening receptions for exhibitions on Fridays from 4:30 p.m. to 6 p.m. The next opening is for the Members Show which will be May 5. At this opening, one will meet many of the artist and may learn much about why and how they made their art. There is a very good chance you will leave surprised, saying “It was not what I thought it would be…”
Laurie Carmount is curator of the Agnes Jamieson Gallery in Minden.