From harsh critic to someone who enjoys contemporary art, Riley McLean talks about a museum experience that transformed her ability to appreciate art.
There are many people who don’t take modern art seriously. These people are often also not aware that they actually mean “contemporary” art, when they say “modern” art. In quite a lot of circles, both in real life and on the internet, people will point to the worst examples of contemporary art and compare them to the best examples of previous generations. Then they declare that these are equally representative of their eras, with the more recent examples being worse.
For a long time, I was part of these circles as well, and so I believed the same things that they did. I did not actually know very much about art, whether contemporary or older; I just had a vague sense that all newer art was inherently somehow worse. This was an idea fostered by a very limited experience of art. I had seen the examples often shown as vulgar, ugly, and low-effort, without any of the actual context behind them. That was all I thought contemporary art was and all I thought it could be.
My view on that didn’t change until I was visiting my grandmother in Philadelphia. My family decided to visit the Philadelphia Art Museum, since it was closeby. I spent most of my time admiring much older art, fascinated by its beauty. Eventually, toward the end of our day there, I wandered over to the galleries dedicated to modern and contemporary art, mainly out of curiosity.
What I found there was not actually what I expected. There was just as much beauty present as there had been in the other areas, it was just presented differently. The exhibits were more experimental, more willing to take risks. Even the art that I had thought was ugly and low-effort took on new meaning as I read their descriptions and came to understand their rebellious punk roots.
Since then, my view on art has shifted dramatically. I try to appreciate all pieces of art that I come across, even if they are dramatically different. I think this is why I have enjoyed working at Krannert Art Museum.
It allows me to expose myself to a massive variety of different art from different sources, and put in the work to really understand them. Learning more about the different time periods and cultures within art has been an eye-opening experience, and I hope working at KAM through the Summer Youth Employment Program this summer will allow me to do so even more.