I was with a group of artistic people recently. I don’t merely mean creative people, I hang out with them all the time. These people were visual artists of. I know about as much about paintings as I do about wine. Which, technically, isn’t much. But I can tell you what I like and I can tell you why. Maybe I can’t tell you why in the jargon of the professionals, but I know that doesn’t make my preferences or opinions any less valid.
The conversation drifted to the Tates in London and everybody else expressed a preference for the Tate Modern. One or two people positively gushed in appreciation of the works of genius housed there. I wrinkled my nose.
‘Can’t stand it,’ I said. ‘It irritates me.’
Raised eyebrows all round.
‘Seriously. It’s full of pretentious rubbish. So much more of what passes for ‘art’ does not display any talent. None of any artistic merit, anyway.’
There were audible gasps. I am old enough now not to care if I don’t appear sophisticated. I am secure enough in my opinions to proffer them fearlessly. In fact, I was a little amused. It did occur to me that these artistic people seemed to think that in order to appear sophisticated and knowledgeable about Art, they felt that they must profess appreciation of the most outlandish offerings labeled ‘Art’.
‘The beauty of modern art is that it can be whatever you want it to be,’ one of the Artists told me. ‘You need to be able to look at it and see beyond what’s on the canvas or in the frame.’
I smiled, remembering how, on a visit to the Tate Modern my eldest daughter – then aged just five – pronounced how she could have ‘done something like that’. I was in no position to disagree with her.
‘Can we leave now and go and look at some real paintings?’ she had asked me. She didn’t have to ask a second time, I can assure you.
To be perfectly honest, Modern Art smacks to me of ‘The Emperor’s New Clothes’. The thinking seems to be that only those who are rather old, very conservative, incredibly gauche or terribly unsophisticated would admit that they don’t ‘get’ it.
In conversation with these Artists, however, it suddenly occurred to me why I don’t like modern art; why I like Art to look like what it’s supposed to look like. I like pictures of people and flowers and mountains and sunsets. My entire life has been spent in chaos. I am a past-master at making sense of madness. I have skills in that arena that – if I could teach them – would make me enough money to retire on by my next birthday!
Taking a big, awkward mess and trying to make it – inside the shell of my skull at least – into something that is ordered is something I can do with ease.
Organising chaos is first nature to me because in order to stay alive – literally – it was something I had to learn to do as a young child. So, the idea of choosing to do the same thing as a pleasurable pursuit is laughable! I don’t want to have to work at turning a load of paint splattered in a corner of a canvas into something coherent.
So I make no apology for my apparent lack of sophistication. I do not regret that I have no interest in looking at pictures that require ‘work’ to understand them. I’d much rather look at pictures that represent objects that are what they seem to be – pictures without agendas, if you will.