The Opposite is also True

Most people have, at some point in their lives been required to go and admire Art. A large percentage of these people will hope they are never required to do so again.

The first time you get taken to a gallery it is usually in the most inauspicious manner imaginable; the school trip. 2 hours of being crammed on a bus with a lot of people your own height and instructed to behave yourselves at all costs because the reputation of the school is at stake. Once you get there you are lined up and given a task to complete, usually copying one of the paintings into your sketchbook which, frankly, you could have managed at home from a book and saved the bother of getting dressed up.
Having completed your task you are instructed to head to the gift shop where you MUST purchase 2 postcards. These will be vital to your future art education. If you fail to comply you will be disgracing yourself, your school and the empire. Small children will point and laugh at you in the street. Never mind that the postcards will spend the rest of eternity languishing in the file of vital study notes which will enable you to pass your GCSEs but which are far more useful for raising the height of your telly to achieve maximum bed watching comfort; parting with half of your monthly pocket money is a mandatory requirement.
With your new postcards clutched in your sweaty palm you are now free to use the rest of your time looking around the gallery. 10 minutes later you are on the bus home.

I found these trips rather bemusing. As a smaller child I had been hauled across Europe repeatedly and my Mammy felt that as Strider and I were missing school we should make up for it by doing something educational. I’d been around the major galleries of Paris, Berlin, Amsterdam and Brussels before I managed to set foot in a British one. I may not have understood what I was looking at much of the time but found an endless source of amusement in the Renaissance works featuring people with their heads recently detached and bodies pumping blood in a pleasing volcanic manner.
The concept of going to a gallery and not getting the time to look at the paintings was rather alien to me. The concept of going to a gallery and only looking at paintings deemed suitable for a 12 year old was even more so. There are only so many Dutch paintings featuring fish and a lump of cheese a young mind can take so I would prefer to go in search of more interesting subjects. Fortunately as I was quiet, polite and knew how to pronounce Van Gogh correctly I could get away with neglecting to complete tasks I didn’t grasp the point of. The teachers were rather more concerned with devoting their attentions to those students struggling with the more basic aspect of the task, like staying inside the building.

With this kind of grounding it is unsurprising that the modern world is full of plebs who whine that all modern art is rubbish. While reading the headlines earlier I came across somebody confidently asserting how much they disliked the “The modernist mafia - the Hirsts, the Emins” and who went on to proclaim that when Rothko was no longer promoted as a great artist, the “end of modernism” would be nigh. I haven’t the heart to tell him modernism ended about the same time as the ‘60s.
Personally I find it sad that anybody would dismiss Rothko because, whatever you think of his paintings, he was hugely important to Abstract Expressionism. I find it disrespectful when people feel the need to jump on the Daily Mail bandwagon and start instructing the nation that all modern art is a load of cobblers.
If you are the kind of person who feels the need to negate the recent trends in art and boorishly demand to know why a shark pickled in formaldehyde is Art, you may find it helpful to consider that there is a probably a lot you don’t know about. Begin with DuChamp. Think about Wilfred Owen’s poetry and why he wasn’t writing amusing limericks about a man from Nantucket. Keep an eye on the changes in society as you move through the 20th century and watch how Art is inextricably connected to them.

Somewhere along the line people have got confused about what Art is for. They seem to think it is supposed to be about beauty. It isn’t. It rarely has been. Art is about what Artists say it is about. Traditionally Art movements begin with a manifesto which defines what the members aim to achieve and how they set to go about it. This aim will only be upheld until the bar closes, but in the beginning there is usually some kind of logic.
Art demands to be judged by its own rules. You cannot judge Salvador Dali by the Pre-Raphaelite “Truth to Nature” aesthetic. You cannot apply Surrealist values to Conceptualism. The list goes on.

Art is like philosophy. There are no right or wrong answers about anything. Would you throw your arms in the air and pronounce Spinoza or Descartes a waste of everybody’s time? Of course you wouldn’t (or at least I hope you wouldn’t). You would, quite rightly, regard it as a field of academic interest with little or no bearing on your attempts to get the gas bill paid.

I’m not expecting to change your mind about this. Claims that Holbein (or whoever) are what real Art is about are disingenuous. He was as dependent on a patron as the YBAs were on sensationalist headlines. If Hirst had placidly spent his life drawing a bint with no eyebrows, you would never have heard of him. If one is to earn a living from art these days, fame becomes necessary.

Art is elitist, incomprehensible, hypocritical and intellectually cheap. It is also cerebral, honest, clear and inclusive.

Glad we’ve got that one cleared up then.

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