It should be quite straightforward looking at Art, but it’s not. We should be able to just go in there and it should blow us over but it doesn’t. One of the problems that we face is the abject quality of so-called contemporary art created during our lifetimes. It has always been the state that one needs to look very hard to find gold, or kiss many frogs before you find a prince but it’s never been this difficult.
I have been looking at Art as an interested observer and as a participant from most of my lifetime, and I come to the conclusion that is not as easy as it should be. One needs to understand how to do it and that is perhaps why I am writing this. You see however cultured you may be or however ignorant you may be you still have pretty much the same chance of getting it wrong .
I believe that one needs to understand that beauty is not in the eye of the beholder. That beauty resides within the beautiful object, it is an objective assessment not a subjective assessment. There are wonderful things to inspire and illuminate our lives and they are out there doing their stuff. They will do their stuff whether or not we know about it, care about it or choose to be affected by it. They are transmitters, sending out their messages of loveliness whether we care to receive it or not. They are not the problem they choose to transmit whether or not the culture is a ripe to receive it or, like whether it is like now, pig ignorant.
The problem is that the receiver, that’s right you and me, we are the receivers, whether we are tuned in, whether we are even switched on, is a matter, is the issue. I believe it is entirely possible for a supposedly cultured individual to be in the presence of a great work of art, say for example, the Botticelli Venus, and and walk right past it, licking ice cream, more intent on sucking calories than being uplifted by one of the greatest paintings ever created by mankind, and why not they make good ice cream in Firenze.
In order to receive one needs to be switched on, in the receiver mode, humble enough to believe that one can be moved by a work of art and ready for the experience. When I go into a public gallery I almost invariably now go in to just see one painting. If it’s the National Gallery in London in may well be a Uccello or maybe Franz Hals. These are images that I know, these are old friends that I have taken the trouble to get to know, like a real old friend. These are paintings that I have looked at many many times. In seeking to experience, one needs to go in there in a frame of mind to be receptive literally open-minded. You don’t know what the effect is going to be you don’t pre-plan it or know how it’s going to affect you. Everytime I see those paintings I see something that I’ve seen before but every time I see something I hadn’t seen or I experienced the piece in a different way. That is what great art does.
And it’s often a feeling that can turn it upside down a feeling so intensely physical that quite literally it can physically move you. The great art critic of the London Times David Sylvester spoke of a trembling hand, of a palpitating heart, tingles of running up at the back of his neck. I have attended an exhibition of late period Picassos that left me wiped out to 3 days. The experience was profoundly exhausting but at the same time uplifting and that is another of the things to be aware of, great Art is inevitably uplifting. It may be difficult, we are not in the entertainment business here, it may not be comfortable but it will be uplifting. If it does not do this its not the real McCoy.
When you’re in a gallery where you don’t know the occupants, or you’ve had your conversations with your “friends”, just wander around looking, use your eyes and listen with your heart. Sooner or later something will beckon to you, “come over here” a quiet voice will say, “come over here and talk to me. I will tell you everything you need to know and more”. You find yourself looking into the eyes of a Rembrandt portrait and the old man is sat there telling you silently everything about his experience, his life, the women he has loved and the world that he has known. All you need are the eyes to see and the heart to listen.