Paul Richards’ article in the Washington Post advocating for a Disney-based museum show has inspired some interesting responses around the blogosphere. Greg Allen makes a plausible case that it’s nothing more than “a fanboi/critic [trying] to turn some offhand party chatter about the worst show ever into a mouse-eared museum manifesto.” Kriston Capps, in a more even-keeled post gets a bit closer to what I see as the real problem with the idea:
To admit Disney would be to open up a massive new genealogy in visual art that includes all the things that are visual but aren’t called art. So it wouldn’t be Disney and Murakami or Disney and younger fine artists but Disney and the makers of Final Fantasy or Disney and the Coca Cola designers. That might all be defensible, but it would get very confusing very quickly.
Just because something is important does not make it visual art and at the end of the day, just because something is visual art does not mean that it is represents the most important visual thing. Rather this notion of visual art you find at museums offers a streamlined conversation within visual culture, one that (one hopes) influences and is influenced by other conversations in the broader culture. But museums cannot hope to archive all those other conversations, too.
But I think it’s not just a question of what is deemed visual art or what is deemed important. The issue comes down to a more practical question of access. Museums allow us to see genuine, rare works of art from a field that was founded on prizing the unique object. When you start to show Mickey Mouse cartoons, interesting and important as they may be to visual culture, you’re showing people things they can already see in the comfort of their homes. It’s not that the material is inappropriate for the museum, but that museum treatment isn’t necessary. Without the museum, many of us would never get to see a Frank Stella except as a reproduction; but if all the museums in the world disappeared, we could still participate in the visual culture of cinema, more or less in the way it was intended to be viewed.
Maybe we’re past the point where we refuse to consider Disney or Alfred Hitchcock or Matt Groening to be “real artists,” but that doesn’t mean that the public would be well-served by seeing their work in museums.