Is art too popular?

We posed this and the other four key Great British Art Debate questions to our keen debate fiends over on facebook. Here are some of their thoughts:

When you say it like this it sounds like popularity is bad. Is that bad, and if so why? There’s been this idea for a long time that art shouldn’t be the same as television and pop music. Those things are too easy to digest whereas art is meant to be difficult, because if it’s difficult it forces you to think. Art should make us think, but is there a danger that it becomes inaccessible? Can art be both accessible and challenging?
– AB, Facebook

It’s very true – and quite sad – that most people don’t have a favourite artist. Art has traditionally been more obscured than other media; it’s a far easier thing for an artist to be seen as a sellout by becoming popular/doing too many media appearances than an actor doing the same.
– HF, Facebook

Nope, never can be, never could be. I guess this question leads to the issue of ‘popular art’ as being lesser, inferior to, proper art, which needs to be restricted to a smaller audience. I think the real issue here is about hierarchy rather than numbers – I think there are false values which arise in association with established hierarchies.
– Martin Myrone, Tate Curator

What do you think?

Posted on by Hannah Flynn
Filed under Questions

About Hannah Flynn

Hannah Flynn is E-Learning Assistant for Tate and Co-Ordinator for the Great British Art Debate online. Her favourite British artist is John Martin.


  1. I agree with Martin: it’s impossible for art ever to be too popular. It’s not seen as an important subject in schools and some people still think galleries should be quiet elite experiences. At National Museums Liverpool and at the Walker Art Gallery, we strive to make art as popular as possible. That’s why we admire Rolf Harris and are going to work with him in 2012 – he has brought an interest in making art to millions of people.

  2. Don’t know whether art can ever be too popular, but the concept of popularity is itself too popular. Bums on seats, eyeballs, sales or hits, however you measure it, it’s not the same as impact.

  3. I look Fwd to it becoming even more popular.I want Art to be Consumed in the Same way Music and Literature is.People buying it on a regular Basis visitng Websites and Galleries to buy it Art becoming accessible and cheaper.more and more people producing it putting on guerilla exhibitions,more available thru other outlet, we need a revolution in the way it is consumed,there is an appetite out there for Art. go to any Gallery,art is popular,needs to be more so

  4. Far from it… Art is what you what you make it, what you take from it and can live on in your mind – providing treasured memories and endless inspiration.

  5. Not only is art never popular enough, there is a lack of popularity amongst those not actually engaging in what we might term the ‘art world’. Looking at the entire populace, despite ‘art’ being introduced in just about every childhood education and every piece of public art yearning to be seen, art is still a very exclusive and unflowered field.

  6. or is not too popular just too popularized (in the wrong way).

  7. Art it is not and will ever be too popular! To like or to feel close of any art form, most like this one who you promote, means somewhere in childhood, someone laid the foundation blocks to form a person inclined to art. In our days parents are to busy with making money, and fail to introduce their children to the beautiful world of art. And in schools, teachers don’t find the time to present to their students this wonderful world.
    The art is present in peoples heart, only where is a family tradition or where as a child had penchant for art.

  8. I don’t think art can be too popular. Historically in all cultures, individuals have expressed themselves artisitically, and art has been used by religion, politics and for economic means. I think it is important that we have images and objects that are aestheically beautiful, interesting or thought provoking; I think it is a basic human need, and a person can enjoy fine art or popular, comercial art.

    I don’t know whether it is specific to the middle-class culture, but I find that many people use art galleries as they might have once have done a church or place of worship. Artists are treated with great reverence.

    I am an artist and art teacher working with teenagers in an exclusion unit and I feel a little uncomortable with art being treated as an edifying religious experience.
    Yes, artists have important things to say, but they are just people. I know you could go onto debate that religious philosophy and texts were/ are also produced by normal people …

  9. It’s difficult to judge what is popular and what is in fashion.As an artist I try to use my ideas and imagination and if it does not appeal to everyone,that’s natural.Being popular can be short lived and depends on many factors such as marketing.
    Who decides what is popular,the public or the media?

  10. Who is John Martin?

    • John Martin was a British artist. The next exhibition of his work is going to be in Newcastle from 5 March, find out more here. :)