Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Art Gallery Adventures

I went to the Art Gallery a while ago with a friend. I didn't plan to, in fact I didn't plan on spending more than a few minutes with them in the city because I was giving them back their external harddrive. But as we sat talking I looked at the Art Gallery and was moved by a sudden burst of impromptu need to relive childhood memories I could no longer grasp clearly in my head. We embarked on what could potentially be a nostalgic adventure armed with 3 years of Arts Major learning and a mindset moulded to fit.

I expected to walk in and see something artsy-fartsy and start raving about "the elegant simplicity in the brush strokes" and finding deep and meaningful symbolism that just wasn't there in a self-mocking parody of Arts Major discourse. Instead I discovered a few things: some abstract art is really cool. Some abstract art is so bad it infuriates me. And art galleries make you feel like you're in a library for upperclass people.

Seriously. You walk in and there is a shift in volume like someone has grabbed the knob and turned it way down. There were no signs that said "quiet", there was no previous set of rules or a social guideline that told me I was obliged to be quiet (and how would I know if there was anyway? I don't visit these sorts of places), there was no people watching me to shhh me if I spoke too loudly. There was just this sudden unconscious need to emulate the quietness of the building and whisper my praise or criticisms near my friend so they could hear.

Some abstract art is really cool. There was one piece that was a "self portrait" but there was no person in it. Instead it was of a cello. Well, I have met some talented cellos in my time but none that could wield a paintbrush with that skill. That was really fascinating that the artist had taken the idea of a "self portrait" to be shown in a different way. Instead of representing the physical aspects of who they were they emphasised the ideas, interests, and thoughts that make that person who they are. In this case they were a fan of playing the cello (other things were painted around and behind it but I can't remember what they were).

Some abstract art is awful.

Ralph Balson infuriates me. His artwork is just awful. It is a bunch of squares and circles with bland colours painted onto canvas. They're not even very good squares and circles. They're not well done enough to look good, but the edges aren't rough or curved enough to be deliberately or aesthetically interesting. It was literally the worst thing I'd seen in the art gallery. I was offended by how stupid it was. It was so distinctly bad that I saw another painting by his and didn't even read the name to know it was his.

Now I don't want you to think I hate abstract expressionism. It is not awful in of itself, but Ralph Balson is basically the kind of artist that makes people look at modern art and think "That's stupid, even I could do better than that" and they might be right. Which is really sad.

For example:

Right next to one was something that looked like it had required equal effort, but was far better. It looked like you could see a fish in its jumbled mess of colours and lines, or maybe a flower. That had meaning. That had aesthetic beauty. That was at least painted properly.

So in a video I will be making soon I decided one of the jokes could involve abstract art. Not a cruel one I assure you. So I sat down and I made some bad art with some paint my Dad had kept since he was in Year 8 (he's nearly 50 now) and painted random things. Didn't even go in with a plan for most. And I showed them to people and they liked them.

"No no!" I cried "You're meant to hate it! It's awful! I didn't even try!"

"But I really like them. They look cool."

I got told they could see my art being hung in an art gallery which saddened me.  It had literally taken me 5 minutes of effort tops on some of those paintings and people thought they were good. Only my brother told me they were awful and stupid but he doesn't care about anything.

So what if Ralph Balson was me? What if someone out there is like me only they're taking the joke too far? What if the world of Abstract Expressionism is just people out there making fun of themselves by painting random stuff and calling it "art" and laughing as it sells then going home and shaking their head in disbelief? What if people don't actually care and it really is just all a joke?

"I honestly thought if I tried doing this I'd die poor..." they say to themselves. "I mean, who even BUYS art these days?"

That'd be horrifying.

Let's all be abstract painters and never have to do a proper days work in our lives. Though admittedly most of us will die from starvation if we try but I'm sure some of us will make it.

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