Thanks for sharing! (Though I wish your post wasn’t behind a paywall; I used one of my free views of premium content to see it…) Some of the views you express in your post are ones I also held a while ago, so I wanted to explain where I currently disagree, and give a hint of the reasoning that made me change my mind.

Thanks for introducing me to The Weather Project — I wish I could have seen it! If I keep seeing cool contemporary art like this in the comments on my post, I just might change my opinion about it. :)

I‘’m not convinced by the point you make about this artwork, though — is the role of the observer really greater here than in more traditional art? You might think that just soaking in the warmth of an artwork is at least as passive as soaking in its beauty! (And I don’t think appreciating beauty is passive, either .)

Of course, if — as you do — we take the artwork to be not just the sun-lamp, but the whole hall in which it’s set up, then the viewers will get to be part of the artwork, and their role will be more active. But then you might wonder why the whole room is the artwork here, but not in the case of classical art. Why not think of “School of Athens” as a sun emitting beauty, warming up the space around it? (In fact, it’s a fresco, made as part of a palace to be lived in! It wasn’t made to be just passively enjoyed.) Why not think that part of the “School of Athens” is also located “in my head,” in the way the colors appear to me, in the thoughts about the history of philosophy it induces, in my swirling sensation of awe?

So I think the role of the viewer isn’t necessarily greater in contemporary art than in traditional art. But if it is, then I think there’s a tension in your (and many people’s) attitude toward contemporary art. On the one hand, you think the work is basically whatever you make of it; you’re part of the artwork, and co-author in some sense. On the other hand, you treat the artist with as much praise and respect as if they were the sole author of the work; you say:

It’s always me: i have to strive more. I respect deeply the one who creates and so I want to understand it.

Aren’t you also “the one who creates”? If you’re co-author, you deserve some respect too! Why is it that when you look at a glass of water in a gallery, it’s always you who does the hard work of finding an interpretation that will make this into a great artwork, always you who strives more — but it’s always the artist who gets attention, respect, and money?

In your post, you advise me to be open-minded and enjoy it when I’m next in a contemporary gallery. Fine, but wait — what am I doing in the gallery in the first place?

I used to think that you should give artists the benefit of the doubt. You should speak up to defend art you love from those who don’t get it, and be silent about the art you yourself don’t get. Now I think that contemporary art abuses our tendency to be charitable. Going to an art gallery is an implicit vote in favor of the art exhibited there (especially if you pay an entrance fee). Time spent in a modern art gallery is time not spent looking at art which gets less attention.

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Staff writer at Rabbit Hole Magazine. Harvard PhD. Want to video chat about one of my articles? Pick a slot at

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