(illustration by the author for Hyperallergic)

(illustration by the author for Hyperallergic)

Not all surveys of public opinion about visual art are equal. The fact that “painting a picture” is considered sexier than coding, for instance, is useful information. The fact that 51% of US citizens consider “enjoying art an important part of living a well-rounded life,” as a new YouGov survey discovered, is not all that useful.

The results of the YouGov poll of 1,000 US citizens, conducted on May 14 and 15 and delivered under the misleadingly cheerful headline “Most agree art is an important part of life,” show that while a slim majority of respondents thinks art is important, only 34% would pay an extra five dollars in taxes every year to make art and culture “more accessible to the wider public,” and the word most frequently chosen by respondents to describe art (47%) was “expensive.” Distant seconds, at 26% each, were “popular” and “worthwhile.”

At 73%, the demographic segment that most prizes visual art as part of “a well-rounded life” is that living in households with an annual income of more than $80,000. They were also the most likely (at 48%) to pay a $5 annual tax to boost access to art and culture. Among YouGov’s respondents, 27% were unsure when asked if it’s “acceptable or unacceptable for some of the most important works of art to be sold to private collectors who may or may not display them to the public,” while 51% said it was acceptable, a figure that went up to 57% among men, and 63% among Republicans.

Beyond the study’s muddled findings about the ways US citizens value visual art (or don’t), YouGov’s more tangential poll questions turned up some amusing results. For instance, when asked “Do you own any paintings, sculptures, or other art works?” a full 4% of respondents — or about 40 people among the 1,000 polled — said they were “not sure.” Twice as many Democrats (6%) chose the word “conservative” to describe art as Republicans (3%), suggesting that the politically conservative rarely see their values represented in visual art. While an equal share (37%) of Republicans and Democrats said they put a lot of effort into making their “house and garden look good,” only 27% of Independents did the same. And in response to the completely off-topic question “How much effort, if any, do you put into making yourself look good?” 10% of male respondents said “none at all.”

Benjamin Sutton is an art critic, journalist, and curator who lives in Park Slope, Brooklyn. His articles on public art, artist documentaries, the tedium of art fairs, James Franco's obsession with Cindy...

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