Arts’ Watch: Do we need art museums?
Posted at 11:30 a.m. on Thursday, October 27, 2022
By Bill McCann
Sometimes serendipity helps determine what I write about. For example, recently it was announced that October 28 – the day this article will likely be published – will be the last day of operation for the Golding-Yang Art Gallery at Morehead State University.
Located in the Claypool-Young Art Building on the MSU campus, the gallery features works of art by different types of students, faculty, and various outside artists, known and unknown.
The debate was publicly presented as a desire by university president Dr. Jay Morgan – for a faculty member to take on the role of gallery director as part of his duties.
Meanwhile, members of MSU’s art department want to hire a full-time director for Golding-Yang. I’m sure I ignore the intricacies of disagreement. But this is not the debate that interests me.
After all, at some point in the near or distant future, the debate will be resolved and the gallery will reopen – how can a university have an art department and not have an art gallery?)
Instead, I emailed maybe a dozen artists and arts administrators to get their thoughts on whether or not art museums were needed. Here are some of their responses.
Jordan Campbell, executive director of the Gateway Regional Art Center at Mt. Sterling, said, “I believe that our cultural institutions, including the brick-and-mortar buildings that house art collections, are essential for thriving communities. For us here in Mt. Sterling, the Gateway Regional Arts Center is a cultural center where people gather around works of art from here and there; they laugh, cry and engage in discussions around important topics from conversations about art. There is no doubt that art museums are essential and critical needs in our communities.
Stuart Horodner, director of the University of Kentucky Museum of Art, said, “Yes, there is a need for galleries. Artwork of all kinds must be seen in real space to be truly understood. Artists throughout time have used materiality, scale and touch, and these cannot be experienced on a screen. It’s like suggesting that a picture of a meal is the same as eating one. Universities should have galleries/museums/art centers for students who study art, but also for professors and students whose interests and courses are related to art – be it philosophy, l history, creative writing, music, science, etc. And, of course, these sites attract visitors from their local community, neighboring towns and beyond.
Kopana Terry, an MSU graduate photographer whose photos have been exhibited at the Kentucky Folk Art Museum in Morehead wrote, “Visual art is an immersive experience. For example, watching the Mona Lisa on a 13-inch screen is a very different experience from watching her in person, and the former certainly wasn’t the artist’s intention. The portrait is two and a half feet tall. Sure, you can take a high resolution photo and zoom in to the nth degree, but that still doesn’t present the painting in situ or in the context of other nearby artwork and viewers. These are part of the visual experience. We have the technology at our fingertips, but that doesn’t mean we should default to it. To assume that all art can or should be transmitted electronically indicates a profound lack of understanding of the craft(s) and the artists.
Zed Saeed, brother-in-law of this columnist and large-format photographer who lives in Louisville, asked me, “Is there a need for libraries in the age of online access to endless knowledge? Is there a reason live music exists when online music streaming is widely available? Should we have physical books now that most books are accessible to digital readers? Should I talk to real people when I can meet them online? Do I have to visit any location in person since I can visit just about anywhere on the web with endless photographs? Is there a reason I have to go out and watch the sunset when websites full of beautiful sunset photos are there but for the click of a mouse? All difficult questions. “
So what do you think? Do we need art museums? In the case of Winchester, which has barn quilts, public art – including the recently completed Ruth Bader Ginsburg mural – and the Bluegrass Heritage Museum, which already displays photographs and quilts, does Winchester and Clark County need a local art museum? Send me your answers to these questions, and I’ll include at least a few in an upcoming column.