What is art…and how can you tell the good from the bad? Well, I’m glad I asked but I haven’t a clue about the answer. It’s like asking what punk is, there’s no straight answer. We all have our own ideas of what art means to us – very different ideas.
The first thing 90% of people say to me when they hear I ‘do art’ is, “Oh that must be great, I can’t draw a straight line.” I haven’t had to draw too many straight lines in my life and I’m not sure just how vital that particular skill is. In fact, up until I painted the restored horse-drawn caravan I talked about last time, I had never needed to do anything even resembling a straight line. Yes, I did technical drawings at school but I had a handy little instrument called a ruler to help me with those.
“I can’t draw a straight line.” That conjures up images of school and maybe for a lot of people, that’s the last time they thought about art so when confronted with the notion again, they go right back there as their point of reference. We should think a little bigger though. Art can be anything, absolutely anything and just because you don’t like something, that doesn’t mean it’s not art. It’s just not for you.
In a world where a urinal and a messy bed can win the turner prize we have surely broken all boundaries. Now, I’m probably more guilty than most of seeing something like that and dismissing it as someone just pushing their luck but deep down I have to admit that by my own set of rules, it IS art, it’s just not for me.
By my reckoning, the ‘is it art’ test has a number of boxes and if something ticks even one of these, it qualifies. Does it make you feel something? Does it let you see the world from a different perspective? Does it draw you in? Does it start a conversation? Does it change you? Sometimes it’s even enough to just look nice.
I was at an exhibition once where I came across a painting that stopped me in my tracks. I was rooted to the spot and couldn’t take my eyes off it. I had to eventually drag myself away but before long, I was back in front of it, just staring at it. I loved it. It was just so…ME. Maybe that’s what we’re all looking for, little pieces of ourselves staring back at us. I dread to think what part of ourselves we find in a urinal or an unmade bed but to each their own! That painting changed me insofar as I now call the artist, Olivia Johnson Murphy a very close friend and the picture itself hangs in my house. Both these things have been life-improving.
The important thing to remember in all this is there are no experts. No-one can tell you what to like or dislike. Each and every one of us is an art critic and your opinion is as valid as anyone who claims to actually know what they’re talking about. The truth is none of us know beyond what we feel ourselves. The next question I suppose is what makes an artist? God, don’t ask me, I can’t even draw a straight line.