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Is Art Elitist?

The peasants may have stormed the Bastille and the royal palaces, but the art world remains a exclusive circle.

It used to be that art was for Kings. Before the printing press and before the internet, art was a primary means of displaying power. The one percent used the awe-inspiring power of architecture, painting and sculpture to remind the little folk how very little they were. Then little folk then got a hold of gunpowder and across the world, the art of the elite was put behind glass for all to see.

In the 21st Century, anyone can walk into the Louvre and see mankind’s greatest masterpieces. You only need a passport, a job that affords you time off, and a couple thousands of dollars for the plane flight, and lodging. Also, it helps to speak French.

The peasants may have stormed the Bastille and the royal palaces, but art remains shut off to a lot of the world.

In America, the highest profile museums are concentrated in the country’s wealthiest cities — New York, Boston, Los Angeles. These are long bus rides, car trips and plane flights away from vast swaths of Americans. But, the obstacles to accessibility go beyond geography.

Art, especially modern art, requires a certain degree of visual literacy. But, most public schools don’t have the resources to be able to teach art history. Art classes, where funding even allows them, are typically never required in high school or college. Hell, schools struggle to impart the basics of history generally. The result is that visitors walk into The Met or the MoMa or the National Gallery with next to no context.

As income inequality in America increases, it seems that visual arts have gone the way of Maseratis and Louis Vuttion handbags. Imagine if Netflix was only available to those with an address in Manhattan. Or you had to pay $15 a day for Spotify. Or if all the dialogue in Game of Thrones was in High Valerian without any subtitles.

These scenarios sound absurd, but it’s the reality of art in America. These barriers are very real and ensure that visual art remains a pastime of a select few. Lots of great organizations are trying to change this. Khan Academy offers amazing online art history modules. Museums have uploaded more and more of their collections online. The art world is ripe for disruption — and I look forward to seeing how we bust down the doors this time around.

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