Girl with a Pearl Earring - Johannes Vermeer
The majority of the population do not visit art museums…[they] take it as axiomatic that the museums are full of holy relics which refer to a mystery which excludes them: the mystery of unaccountable wealth. Or, to put this another way, they believe that original masterpieces belong to the preserve (both materially and spiritually) of the rich. – John Berger, Ways of Seeing.
Girl with a Pearl Earring must be amongst the most copied paintings in the world. In the 1970’s a print of it could be found in many homes (my best friend’s mum had a copy on her living room wall), and the art of the wealthy was now in the hands of the many. Logic should dictate that mere curiosity would send the masses running to art museums and galleries to see the originals, but it seems that did not happen. Whilst people liked the idea of ‘real’ art on their own walls, the majority of people still felt uncomfortable entering these hallowed spaces to view original works. Forty years on little has changed, it seems. Walk around the Leeds City Art Gallery and who do you see? People who ‘know’ what they’re looking at; students researching artists for visual literacy modules; home-educating families taking advantage of a free resource. Generalisations, I know, but you get the picture: everyone there feels comfortable in the environment. Getting in those who wouldn’t ordinarily step over the threshold of such places is a tricky challenge. Convincing the many that they are as welcome as the wealthy, financially and spiritually, to experience the awesome beauty and aura of original art, is a task that I doubt will ever truly be conquered. Perhaps more films about the great artists will help, but even these will have to be cleverly contrived to appeal to the masses in order to expose the uninitiated to art for all.