Luc Tuymans: Art Is Not About Changing The World

This video, which came to me via bOingbOing, shows us an experiment staged by, a Belgian cultural collective. In the above scenario, a Luc Tuymans painting is removed from its gallery context and placed on an ordinary street. Only 4 percent of passersby stop to look at the painting. The purpose of this experiment may have been to slap us with a shockingly low number to demonstrate how underappreciated art is. But other voices in the video seem to contradict that. One representative from Christie's maintains that art is context-dependent, so we shouldn't be surprised when interest in art plummets outside the gallery:

" is usually defined by the intention for it to be a work of art, and the context in which you see it." (quote from the video)

That's the central problem with art after the twentieth century. As soon as it became okay to make any object into art (or no object at all), our culture lost the ability to determine what is art and what isn't. (I see that as an inevitable, not a negative, development.) Plus, with so much visual culture (advertising, cinema, television, internet) saturating our attention, it can be difficult to tell if an image is intended for our quick consumption or sustained contemplation. That's where context comes in: if the image is in a magazine, we know it's okay to flip the page. In a museum, we know we're supposed to stop and consider.

This experiment neither surprises nor discourages me. I already know that as a painter, my impact on human history is extremely small, and that's okay. I chose a path and have worked hard to perform well at it -- that satisfies me. Tuymans himself seems reconciled to his role in visual culture:

"I don't think that art can change the world. That's not what art is about. Art is about creating images and passing on ideas." (translated quote from the above video)

I agree. Art is a form of communication. One piece of information passed between two entities is all that's needed for a successful communication. If just one person stops to look at a picture I made, then I've done my job. My success is not measured by a certain number of eyeballs. Every creation matters, and every viewer matters.