It's Art, Jim, But Not As We Know It
“I’m struggling to understand art,” said my friend Toby, a musician whose depth, wit and wisdom I have come to love and admire. This called for another round of g and t’s and spritzers. Toby had determined to encourage his 10-year-old grand-daughter in her pursuit of knowledge and was very much afraid that he would fail at the very first hurdle. With an air of resigned desperation he took from his bookshelves a beautiful collection of the works of Vermeer.
“Incomparable,” I breathed, seeking out the notorious Girl in Pearl Earrings. “So lifelike, you imagine you are right there in the room.”But my friend was troubled.
The cruel paradox nagging at him was that the cleverer the artist, the more lifelike the picture; the more lifelike the picture, the more it is in direct competition with the camera.
“Critics say, ‘why bother – you might as well click the shutter’,” he said mournfully.
His argument was that the big money went on Picasso-style representations of reality because, presumably, art was necessarily felt to be a representation of life, not a polaroid picture. Hence, some of the works held in highest regard (and therefore commanding the highest prices) were to the layman’s eye, a hideous abomination of abstract ideas. A woman’s breasts in her neck, her curvaceous buttocks protruding from her right hip.
As a newspaperman I am used to simplifying matters, in order to make them palatable, easily digestible. I attempted to race to his rescue.
“Art is entirely subjective. If it moves you, it’s art. If it doesn’t, it isn’t. No matter that someone, somewhere is willing to pay millions for a stuffed sheep’s penis mounted on a piece of blotting paper. If you think it’s crap – it remains crap.”
“Funny you should say that,” he rejoined. “Down at the pub there’s a fabulous little picture on the wall by a local artist of a barmaid pulling a pint. It’s got everything – colour, reflections. And although you can’t actually see her face, I recognised the barmaid immediately. “
“Then that’s art,” I said. “Buy it.”
I was all for getting up there and then and nipping down to the pub to snap up this new discovery.
"Give over - I can't afford to throw away £25 good drinking money," he said.
-ends- Nov 27, 2009-
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