Still up to my eyes in scriptwriting for impending deadlines, this post had been put to the back of my mind like a not-quite-ready-to-burst boil. Left to its own devices, however, and the boil has grown hot and ripe with throbbing infection until I woke this morning and reluctantly conceded the blasted thing needed lancing.
You may want to look away …
This particular boil took the suppurating form of contemporary ‘art’, incubated as it was by two things: an Eduardo Paolozzi exhibition at the Granary Gallery on Bridge Street and an invitation to a Visual Arts postgrad degree show at Baltic 39.
And really, those inverted commas express more eloquently my position on this than the following several hundred words.
“Hi, my name is Chastity and I don’t get modern art.”
Which upon further consideration isn’t quite accurate, rather:
“Hi, my name is Chastity and modern ‘art’ that looks as if it has been glued together by a bored, colour-blind and possibly dyspraxic three-year-old and that is held up to represent the artist’s perceived experience of loss, love and litter against a backdrop of Burmese self-immolation and the rising cost of butter, makes me ill with fury.”
When this sort of contemporary art speaks to me, it’s usually under its breath and along the lines of, “For fuck’s sake,” with a mental prompt to take the recycling out.
The last time I visited the Tate Modern in London I left white-lipped and shaking, marvelling through my incandescent wrath at the gravitas with which people – functioning people, holding down jobs, raising families — contemplated three light bulbs, a lolly stick and a dead rodent.
I wanted to stand in front of every last one of them rapping them firmly on the head with my plimsoll until they understood. “It’s okay, my child. It is shit. I release you from your need to intellectualize. Now forget this and better serve your time by getting pissed.”
I recall stomping back across the (second edition) Millennium Bridge flinging my arms around in despair and shrieking at the aptness of the Tate Modern being cut from the new clothes of the ultimate emperor, Tony fucking Blair; a connection which so pleased me at the time I kept repeating it until my husband told me to shut up, people were staring.
I recently told a colleague of mine, a Guardian reader, this story. He looked at me first aghast and then with well-brought-up pity, as if I was disabled and had accidentally rolled myself across his picnic rug.
“Oh, my God. Modern art is brilliant!” he spurted. “It’s all about the space it sits in and the emotions it evokes. The very fact that you felt so strongly about it means that, as art, it succeeded.”
Christ, I feel exhausted just remembering.
If I hang a picture on my wall or place a sculpture on my mantelpiece, I want it to be a meditative experience, to soothe the soul, enhance my environment and possibly even go with the cushions. What I don’t want it to inspire is a homicidal killing spree.
Art to me is something that raises the spirit without the brain knowing why. There’s a wonderful inarticulacy of emotion, the result of not just the effect of aesthetic beauty, but amazement at the skill it took to produce it. There is no dissonance, no jarring juxtapositions, no sticky fingerprints of an artist’s over-inflated ego. It is an experience gifted to us to feel as we will. Andy Goldsworthy gets this. So does Hockney, Gormley, Hopper, Freud and Banksy, to name a scant handful.
Visual art, by its very nature, should be indefinable — is indefinable; I get that. Yet this doesn’t chime with those contemporary artists who feel the need to dictate to us what we are seeing. While each sculpture, painting, installation and even blog-post could be said to be a single act of egoism, once it has birthed into the world the creator has no ownership. The work is free and floating, borne on the fickle currents of taste, and as I don’t presume to tell the artist what to create, I would appreciate the same courtesy from the artist in not telling me what to perceive.
And it’s not just the preciousness of the artists — understandable to a certain degree; I’m tired of people like my colleague assuming a smug and patronizing stance, believing that they ‘get’ contemporary art when really the only thing they’ve got is a suggestible personality type. Because, I’m sorry, if an exhibit requires an A4 laminate of explanation beside it … well. Call me naive, but aren’t artists supposed to convey things through the medium of — and I’m fairly confident I’ve got this right — art?
Which brings us neatly to the aforementioned Eduardo Paolozzi exhibition.
Yep, I get that he was a major player in the origins of the Pop Art movement and that, yep, he was pretty nifty with a silkscreen. I further understand if there was anyone who loved a collage and a splash of colour, it was Paolozzi. And I admit, a few of the pieces would make lovely tea towels.
But, oh. Why did he insist on attaching such meaningless and pretentious descriptions to his work? Didn’t he have enough faith in its substance, enough belief in its own merits that it could stand independently?
Paolozzi isn’t alone. I have a sneaking suspicion that many artists finish a piece and think, “Hmm, it’s pretty enough, but I haven’t a fucking clue what it means.” So they scribble down a few lines of hasty twaddle to keep the art critics happy and to alienate the general public.
Because as Vettriano and Jolomo know, there’s nothing the art world hates more than an artist whose work the public enjoys.
But anyway, you have one day left to see Paolozzi for yourself.
And thank you, I feel better now.
Berwick Visual Arts presents Eduardo Paolozzi, General Dynamic F.U.N., a Hayward Touring Exhibition, Granary Gallery, Berwick-upon-Tweed, 27 July to 26 August 2012 (11am to 5pm), free entry.