LAS VEGAS ART MUSEUM
Introduction of the Museum
REMEMBRANCE OF THINGS PAST, AND PASSING, AND TO COME
James Mann, PhD - Curator
Almost everyone alive believes his or her taste in the visual arts is adequate. One knows what one likes, and for most people, that's enough. Except that it isn't enough. Because no one who has ever lived has had infallible taste, has had both taste and responsive understanding completely adequately to the intellectual challenge the visual arts offer at the highest cultural level. Great art, great literature, and serious music present the most difficult fields for interpretation that the human mind is confronted with.
This is so because these disciplines together subsume or include virtually everything that impinges upon the existence of human beings. This compass even includes science, because it is through the values of their own culture, largely imparted through the arts, that individual scientists conceive their own purposes, and choose what fields of physical phenomena to investigate for the advancement of mankind.
For anyone to identify and evaluate adequately the most important new divelopments and achievements, in the fine arts of one's own time, is the greatest mental challenge there is, for those who care to undertake it fully. It also requires the expenditure of a great deal of time in learning, contemplation, analysis, and comparison - time that few people in the busy contemporary world have, if they themselves are not actually employed in teaching or creating in the fine arts. Connoisseurship, a concept almost forgotten nowadays, is extremely difficult for an individual to acquire, and it cannot be done without the will, talent, perserverance, and time to develop such impressive ability of artistic judgment.
There follows a cruel irony: those who successfuly become wealthy enough to begin collecting serious art, in our capitalist world, have spent most of their time becoming wealthy, not studying art. They are in a sense at the mercy of the artistic opinions of others, mostly art dealers. And art dealers, especially of contemporary art, cannot be trusted to give entirely objective opinions, or to possess genuine connoisseurship (as differing from mere journalistic awareness) themselves. Art dealers are busy trying to become wealthy also.
In no field of commerce can the warning caveat emptor be more pertinent than in the buying and collecting of contemporary art. "Let the buyer beware," in spades. A serious collector's only real self-defense in this marketplace is to study the great art of the past in a serious way, and to do so for years on end. There is no other way to develop an informed taste and artistic sensibility. There is no effective short cut, no cheap crash course to enroll in.
Moreover, the problem does not end there. Because it is literally impossible for anyone's sensibility to make correct fine-arts judgments all the time, no matter how much learning one might acquire. No one's taste is acute enough to accomplish that. How else to explain, for example, that the great French writer and editor, Andre Gide, rejected for publication the work of the even greater French author Marcel Proust? A failure for which Gide later could not forgive himself.
None of us, indeed, is smart and learned enough to escape such failures altogether, if we are intellectually honest with ourselves. Yet still, we must try. The ongoing improvement of one's esthetic judgment is no less than a lifelong endeavor, for those who find themselves sincerely and earnestly called to this task which, though endlessly difficult, is also most deeply rewarding.
In the next few years, the Las Vegas Art Museum aspires to show the best art there is, by artists both well-known and unknown, of the age in which we live. The most technically and expressively competent, the most imaginatively advanced, the most profoundly meaningful, the most beautiful new art that LVAM and its curator are fortunate enough to ferret out and can financially afford to bring here.
In a few dacades, or in many centuries, history will pass judgment on the artistic judgment made by LVAM at this, the dawn of the third millenium. But that's an inevitable chance that must be taken, if one is genuinely dedicated to looking at art and evaluating it with all the learning and sensitivity one can bring to bear.
James Mann, 1998
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