Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Arty Pants

Be of Good Cheer. Today finds me in a much more positive frame of mind - thanks for asking. I have successfully fashioned all drafts of suicide notes into tree top angels and sprayed them with gold glitter spray. You can get this off your fingers with nail varnish remover, eventually. The reason for my improved mood is that I have been to see art. Mr T, who is very thoughtfully a member of the Tate Gallery, took me along to the members’ evening last night.

I spent a good part of yesterday dreaming about barrelling down the biggest of Carsten Holler’s four plastic slides but they had already closed the queue. I considered being cross but decided to view the queue and the people who were going to be in it for two hours as part of the art concept and subsequently enjoyed it. It was then that I remembered I wanted to see the David Smith exhibition. I should really enter my memory in the Turner Prize. I am certain it lacks precedent in its ability to have no other function beyond its self-actualisation.

Sculpture for me has the restorative power of a couple of Feminax and a bloody Mary followed by smoked salmon and scrambled egg on golden rye toast, followed by lazy sex and… never mind. David Smith was the Hemingway of sculpture and represented a manly integrity that was bound up in rugged landscape, heavy machinery and the honest graft of the industrial working man. He himself looks forged – I mean in the sense that he appears to be hewn from steel himself rather than faked obviously.

In 1962 Smith created 27 large sculptures in 30 days for the Spoleto art festival. Knowing that fact alone will probably keep me happy for at least a week. His pieces are all vividly conceptualised and beautifully executed and, in that sense, not challenging. They tell you quite loudly what they are and I find that quite striking. I like it when art greets me like an old friend, although I hasten to add I have no expectation whatever that it will.

I had the same feeling last year when I went to Havana and stayed in Hotel Ambos Mundos where Hemingway had lived. His old room was just down the corridor from mine. It is preserved as a museum and contains some simple possessions – his typewriter, glasses, a baseball cap, army uniform, pictures of boats and some editions of his books. It is a powerful and evocative experience because Hemingway becomes very much alive again when you enter that room.

It is rare, I think, that you can feel the presence of a long dead artist by just being in the same room with their work. It doesn’t happen for me with Da Vinci or Turner or even Rembrandt or Velasquez but it does with Picasso, Kahlo and Smith. If I connect with art it is always physical – probably because I lack both the knowledge and the will to deconstruct its meaning much less pinpoint its intent. But that is not to say that I am arrogant enough to regard art criticism as invalid just because I don’t know anything about it. I know it needs to be there because, like the strings in a puppet show, it is as much responsible for the animation that the public sees as the artists themselves.

I sometimes think I’m being a little over-sensitive about the creep of anti-intellectualism that is wheedling its tawdry little way into culture. On Saturday, Channel 4 who really should know better conducted a fee-saving exercise to find a member of the public to present the Turner Prize on Monday. I normally admire Jon Snow because he’s not afraid to stand up for what he believes in, even to the point of being virtually a national pariah for refusing to wear a poppy on Remembrance Day. If more TV personalities displayed this kind of commitment, we might get a more reasoned debate about the morality of making wars. But when it comes to culture, Snowy lets the side down badly.

‘Most people think it’s crap don’t they?’ he probes provocatively. Memo to you from me Jon, probably not a brilliant idea to diss a prize your employer is sponsoring. Poor old beleaguered multiculturalism always gets the blame as public figures, noticing that the audience for fine art is still predominantly white and middle-class, set themselves up as apologists in the mistaken belief that art somehow owes it to society to be compulsory. Even I know that is about as far from artistic motivation as it’s possible to be.

I’ve said unkind things in the past about Germaine Greer but her retaliation in today’s Guardian on discovering that she had been given an award by the Plain English Campaign for linguistic pomposity seems to have totally focused her mind and she’s demolished these idiots with a scrupulously succinct beginner’s guide to aesthetic theory. The Plain English Campaign has similarly set itself up as official apologist for dumbed down culture and appointed itself as the protector of a population it perceives to be excluded from high culture. If we had a fair and equitable education system, we wouldn’t need these fey props. Still they can’t be all that bad if they can reacquaint Germaine Greer with her old self. Hope it lasts.

The visit to the Tate had an immediate impact on my imagination. I was wondering what to do about this year’s Christmas card. Last year I used a rather lovely picture of me drinking a daiquiri in El Floridita next to a giant bronze statue of Hemingway quaintly propping up the bar. In past years I’ve had a cartoon strip of Australian native animals performing classic plays – Hamlet, The Cherry Orchard, Summer of the Seventeen Doll, The Iliad. On the way home I got the idea of using a picture of our family holiday to Disneyland. It wasn’t very Christmassy so I have embellished it using the crude but reasonably effective paint box on Picture Manager. I have discovered you need a steady hand and probably a less clunky mouse than the one I’ve got to execute this operation to a reasonable standard but I find the results not displeasing. Seasonal Salutations to all.

seasonal art by Me!


fringepoet said...

Good to hear you are feeling better. Art has the same effect on me!

Ms Baroque said...

You've beat me to the Greer post. I'm going to make mine anyway.

I'vealways loved David Smith's sculpture, but I never thought of is as manly per se; however, interesting thought! I shall think of him differently now.

That's so pants said...

Thanks fringepoet. I do feel considerably more human than I have been.

Hi Ms B. Smith had one of those magnificent pre-war girths you just don't see any more - huge but all muscle! I think there's great delicacy in many of his smaller pieces but also a profound blue collar empathy and a working man's fascination with machinery - rolling stock, farm implements, pipework, the stuff of industry. I think that's also evident in his personal life being anti-war and pro-union. I had only seen a couple of his pieces before so the scale of this exhibition I found awesome.

Groucho said...

Well, art is art isn't it? Still, on the other hand, water is water. And east is east and west is west and if you take cranberries and stew them like applesauce they tast much more like prunes than rhubarb does. Now you tell me what you know.