Surrounded By Art; All the world's a gallery in Paris
Dating from the age of patronage, the french culture puts a high value on art for the sake of art. Citizens regularly sign-up for classes in painting, mosaics, pottery, sculpture, poetry, creative writing, music, dance, theater and gardening. Throughout Paris you can find artistic courses being offered by the city halls of all the different neighborhoods. This is not only a sympton of their historic love of art, but it also introduces younger generations to the idea that artistic endeavor and appreciation for art is normal behavior for everyone, rather than something reserved for the entitled or for prodigies. It's good for individuals and good for society.
Whether you're going to the market or taking a subway across the city, there is a feast of intellectual and artistic expression all around you. I know I talk alot about the architecture; I think the buildings are beautiful, but they are sometimes just the backdrop. The buildings often add to the impact of the artwork by virtue of the fact that they reflect the same time period, style and social pressures existing when the piece was created. Frequently, however, the architecture is such a contrast to the ultra-modern or contemporary artwork that it exaggerates how the art affects passersby. For instance, last year I visited the Chateau Versailles and was (not to my enjoyment) exposed to a celebration of a cartoon artist from Japan. The entire chateau, and much of the grand lawn, had become an exhibition gallery for huge, colorful statues of cartoon characters made famous on Japanese TV and in comic strips. I have no idea if the cartoons are also famous in France, but the french celebrate art, so artists from around the world are often invited to join in an exposition or to have their own, dedicated installation. I just prefer to see the home of the kings without giant, pastel, cutesy characters in every room. It was more than a bit distracting! On the other hand, I love the modern sculptures and artwork in front of buildings around Paris and in contemporary museums or sculpture gardens. I can imagine how it must have felt when people first saw impressionist paintings. The artists were often scorned and rejected before winning-over the public or finding a wealthy patron to subsidize their new artistic methods.
Visiting Paris today, you will have no difficulty in finding substantial galleries, small installations or tiny collections of art. Although there are plenty of museums where you can queue-up and pay to see the exhibits, there are also plenty of free museums and public gardens where you can spend hours enjoying the art or watching artists practice the nuance of painting, and students critiquing a collection for a school project. There are painters selling their landscapes on the streets in the more touristy areas, and there are theater and music students performing in the metro tunnels and on the subways. Everywhere you look, Paris is truly a gallery.