McCann: Do we still need art museums?

Published 11:30 am Thursday, October 27, 2022

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

By Bill McCann

Guest Columnist

Sometimes serendipity helps determine what I write about. For instance, recently, it was announced that Oct.28  is to be the last day that the Golding-Yang Art Gallery at Morehead State University will be open.

Email newsletter signup

Located in the Claypool-Young Art Building on the MSU campus, the gallery shows artworks of various types by students, faculty, and various outside artists, known and unknown.

The debate has publicly been framed as a desire by the university’s president–Dr. Jay Morgan–to have a faculty member take on the gallery’s director role as part of his/her/their duties.

Meanwhile, members of the MSU Art Department want to hire a full-time director for Golding-Yang. I am certain that I am giving short shrift to the subtleties of the disagreement. But my concern is not with that debate.

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 sent an email to perhaps a dozen artists and arts administrators to get their opinions about whether or not there is a need for art museums. Here are some of their answers.

Jordan Campbell, the executive director of the Gateway Regional Art Center in Mt. Sterling, said, “I believe our cultural institutions, including the brick-and-mortar buildings that house art collections, are vital to thriving communities. For us here in Mt. Sterling, the Gateway Regional Arts Center stands as a cultural center where people gather around works of art from near and far; they laugh, cry, and engage in discussion around important topics that arise from conversations about art. There is simply no question that art museums are essential and critical needs in our communities.”

Stuart Horodner, the director of the University of Kentucky Art Museum, said, “Yes, there is a need for galleries. Artworks of all kinds need to be seen in actual space in order to be truly understood. Artists throughout time have utilized materiality, scale, and touch, and these cannot be experienced on a screen. It is like suggesting an image of a meal is the same as eating one. Universities should have galleries/museums/art centers for those students studying art, but also for faculty and students whose interests and classes connect with art— be it philosophy, history, creative writing, music, science, etc. And, of course, these venues draw visitors from their local community, neighboring cities, and beyond.”

Kopana Terry, a photographer who is a graduate of MSU and whose photos have been exhibited at the Kentucky Folk Art Museum in Morehead wrote,” Visual art is an immersive experience. For instance, looking at the Mona Lisa on a 13-inch screen is a vastly different experience than looking at it in person, and the former certainly was not the artist’s intention. The portrait is two-and-a-half feet tall. Sure, you can do a high-resolution photo and zoom in to the nth degree, but it still doesn’t present the painting in situ or in the context of other nearby art and observers. These are part of the viewing experience. We have technology at our fingertips, but that doesn’t mean we should default to its use. Assuming all art can or should be conveyed electronically indicates a deep lack of understanding of the craft(s) and the artists.”

Zed Saeed, this columnist’s brother-in-law and a 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 for live music to exist when online streaming music is widely available? Do we have to have physical books now that most all books are accessible to digital readers? Do I need to talk to real people when I can meet them online? Should I need to visit any place in person since I can visit just about anywhere on the world wide web with endless photographs? Is there a reason I need to go outside and look at the sunset when websites full of gorgeous sunset pictures are there but for the click of a mouse button? All tough questions. “