Some people enjoy landscapes
Some people enjoy eating these!
The idea was edgy 50 years ago, today it is only mildly eccentric
Diversity is marvellous. Who would want us all and everything we see, to be the same?
But - it is often difficult to understand WHY - why do some people enjoy eating deep fried Mars Bars? Some people enjoy gazing at very realistic pictures, while others prefer their stimulation to come from concepts.
Personally, I cannot imagine eating a Mars Bar that has been coated in batter then sunk in a deep fat frier. I also find some art that was cutting edge when it first appeared to be little more than mildly eccentric today.
I have to accept that there are trends, though - look at the number of young men who are now proud of their beards, or young couples who insist on dressing their young babies in absurdly expensive clothes because they carry designer logos - both are concepts that I find completely bewildering.
While diversity is great, there must be an instinct amongst us to feel that we belong with the tribe, we seek to conform to norms and standards shared by people we respect, or whose respect we crave. So the decisions about how we choose what to hang on our walls, and hence what art work, if any, we choose to purchase, will be complex.
I have never understood why anyone would buy a book purely because it is (allegedly) written by someone who was once a famous catwalk model, and the same doubt applies to artwork created by ageing rockstars or retired actors. The rationale has to be that those works will give the buyer something to talk about with those friends and might somehow garner a notch more esteem in the tribe.
Take that line of thought forward and it would suggest that my paintings are more likely to become more sought after if there was some story associated with my name that would give future owners of those paintings something to talk about - Cut off my ear? Deep-fry the paintings? Hang them in the Oval Office? Make them so ridiculous they will gain coverage?
Or maybe there are people out there amongst the billions of us sharing this earth who will want to look at a picture because you like it rather than because of something odd about the artist?
A very long time ago in ancient Greece, the philosopher Plato explained that whereas a carpenter making a stool has direct, first-hand experience of the stool, someone looking at a painting of it is further removed from reality.
Which seems pretty obvious, really, except ….. in today’s art world, the reactions of the viewers of the piece of work, especially the installations, are integral to the whole experience of it, and that experience itself is the ‘reality’ the artist seeks to stimulate.
But this cannot be true of every image - all those millions taken every day on the camera-phones are valueless except to their owner. Your reaction to most of the pictures on my phone is unlikely to qualify as a lifetime experience, whereas my reaction to Wei-Wei’s infinity pool, along with those of the other people present at the same time, certainly contributed to each other’s memories of it.
This means that there must be dividing lines somewhere, or categories, to recognise that random snaps on our phones are different from huge pieces of installation art, and so somewhere on that spectrum there is point to one side of which the object is not memorable and has no intrinsic value to anyone other than its owner, and on the other, the object is inherently interesting, even to people who have no affinity with the subject matter.
Just as we can be uplifted by listening to a great piece of music entirely on our own, unaffected by anyone else, so we can with a piece of art, so the impact of the reality of the experience of that piece does not depend on being with others, the artwork, or music itself is capable to triggering a reaction, and my argument is that this can be as direct as Plato’s carpenter with his stool, because of the quality of the artwork.
As someone who derives great pleasure from the outdoors and who tries to create paintings which evoke for the viewer some of the sensations that I have experienced from being there, my challenge is to produce work that IS inherently interesting to neutral viewers - ie paintings which may be representations of a place but somehow present more than a mere postcard of that place.
I have enormous respect for fellow painters who work out in precise detail in advance how their painting is going to look. And their portrayal of the real scene is generally a lot more accurate in terms of photographic quality, than my sweeping work. The values of the two different styles are distinctly different. Some artists take it as a great compliment if a viewer comments ‘Its just like a photograph…’ I would be very hurt by such a comment as my objective is more evocative than representational.
That quest continues, but people’s reaction’s to paintings are direct reactions to the reality of those paintings rather than a third-hand reaction to the object portrayed.
Photography today is not
only ubiquitous (it is everywhere), there is also a vast quantity of very high
quality work around as what was once a pretty exclusive field for the few
dedicated professionals is now affordable, and the power of the internet means
that anyone who produces a good photo can share it for us all to see. As
millions of us now carry cameras all day every day, we are also more critical
of what makes a good picture.
So where does this leave the 21st century artist? Or more
specifcally, the 21st century painter?
There are some, of course,
whose brilliant talent is such that they can paint an ordinary everyday scene
with such accuracy and technical skill that their work stands out from the
photographic competition. Others adjust reality by going for their own naive
almost cartoon-ish style, or by setting reality to one side and capturing the
atmospheric or abstract.
Surrealism – the deliberate
distortion of reality not unlike our memories of dreams, was in vogue mainly in
the 1930 – 50’s. Some of it was simple fun, some delved more deeply into darker
symbolism and sought to be unsettling. Today much of that seems a bit
irrelevant. Maybe because we are that much more aware, unshockable.
– is there still a place for an artist to seek to cause you to pause and take
another look at something that is distinctly different from all those
photographs because the reality being presented is deliberately distorted? And maybe distorted in some way that is stimulating in itself?