Tuesday, 19 November 2013

That's Not Art!

In the Oxfam shop I have the old debate about Modern Art with the guy behind the counter
- who had opened the Rauschenberg book I was thinking of buying, pointed at a sculpture (I'll call it)
and said: 'See, this kind of thing...'
then went off about it not meaning anything and what was the point? 'If I go into a gallery and see a pile of straw' etc.
I rose to the defence of Modern Art. I couldn't resist.
though it wasn't clear whether he meant Modern Art in the classic sense or Contemporary Art.
Anyway, I looked at the Rauschenberg saying, for starters, that if he actually saw the piece and could therefore walk around it, he might think differently. I knew he wouldn't think differently.
he then told me about how he's been to Art shows where nobody was interested in the Art, only the free wine, just like him.
And I laughed and said 'Yes, I know.'
I countered with the old line about meeting the (conceptual) artist and finding out more about their work.
Then I said that the trouble with his attitude was that it was the start of opening the gates to allow the barbarians in - and they rule the world anyway. they're the ignorant ones
the closed minds
the philistines
the tabloid-reading, shite music-loving idiots who shape mainstream culture.
then I pointed to a building over the road and asked him if he didn't think that someone educated a little in architectural history would get a lot more out of looking at it than an ignoramus.
got him!
He said nothing. thinking.
I laughed. 'I'm right, aren't I?'
But he was too competitive to agreed. Too male, though not a complete ape because I'd heard him talking in the shop before about culture, philosophy and religion.
he pulled out a piece of paper from under the counter. on it was a cartoon face that I knew he'd drawn because I'd heard him talking about his drawing before in another discussion about 'Bad Art'.
'If someone said that was by Picasso,' he said. 'Everyone would say it was great.'
'That would be OK, ' I replied. 'If they think it's great. But anyone who knows about Art would also know that it isn't a Picasso.'
he had no answer to that.
Then he started on about how he was a poet.
And how words were more meaningful and could convey things properly.
he said something about symbolism but my eyes were starting to glaze over as they always do when poets breath words in my face.
I told him the mystery of some Art is what's magical about it. Imagination is required.
let something be unknown.
let the viewer interpret it how they like.
not words telling listeners & readers what's what.
I got the impression that telling me he was a poet was supposed to make me respect him - recognise that he was 'cultured' & 'intelligent'. because poets all think they're a bit special.
I was the guardian of Contemporary Art. all of a sudden. without knowing the first thing about it. really.
I told him that there had to be pioneers, rule-breakers, free souls,
knowing all too well that I've looked at many contemporary pieces and shrugged indifferently. but that's Art, that's making things and that's the nature of looking. greatness is in the eye of the beholder.

anyway. he knocked seven quid off the book, so he wasn't a bad chap.


  1. Dammit, I wish I'd been in that shop at that moment, eavesdropping on the whole conversation. Sounds brilliant!

    1. Hah-hah! Well, it passed half-an-hour, and I'm always up for that kind of 'fight' when the gauntlet's thrown down. And the two of us would have ground him into dust... ;>)

  2. Yeah, sounds like he wasn't a bad chap. Agreed. But if his opinions on art are that limited and that rotely reactive, I have serious doubts about his abilities as a poet.

    > words were more meaningful and could convey things properly.

    But poetry often hinges on not using language and syntax "properly" -- i.e., directly, clearly, in the expected or standard manner. Which is why I often like it when poets write about visual art. Sure, they can deploy their extensive grasp of language for the descriptive parts; but by dint of their own craft, they also have a keen understanding of the more subtle or oblique aspects of art -- allegory, metaphor or metonymy, etc. (Or at least the good ones do, anyway.)

    1. Oh, he's all right. I see him often...and from now on have to decide whether to wind him up about Modern Art, or not. Then again, best keep in his good books. I'm ambiguous about poetry, as you can tell. I've known quite a few who write it. The old romantic poet shtick still lingers. I've never read one writing about Art, to my knowledge.

    2. Dunno if winding him up is the best strategy. Pace yourself. He probably appreciates being engaged in some stimulating discussion. A debate probably adds spice to his day, but I recommend you leaven it with a fair amount of humoring the guy. Whatever works in your favor. That's diplomacy.

      And not that I meant to come off as some grand literati type. As far as poetry goes, I was mostly speaking in the hypothetical sense. I'm very ambivalent about it, myself. , Far more often than notI find the whole poetry thing s the sort of thing that sounds good on paper, except for the fact that the thing itself too often doesn't sound all that great on paper & etc.

      (And, yes -- I meant for some of the above to be borderline gibberish.)


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