This will be a difficult one.
As I’ve mentioned before, I was going to a few galleries on Thursday: The National Gallery, and the Tate’s New Wing. I have already written about George Shaw’s exhibition at the National Gallery, though at the time I had not yet visited it. I’ll just say this: pretty amazing and definitely worth a visit.
The Enamel paints he uses give his paintings a strange sort of sparkling effect which cannot be captured on video or in any pictures I found on the internet. It’s also interesting how he manages to treat his subject matter (mainly trees). Going through the exhibition, I didn’t feel like I was looking at pictures of trees and nature because they had the air of human portraits. It did not make me happy necessarily, because it portrays humans as natural beasts, without ever actually showing a human figure, while nature appears to be elevated and somehow victimized by a brute species which doesn’t seem to appreciate its superiority. It’s not the type of subject depiction that would make you feel gooey and happy. But it left me content. It was good art. I felt I had engaged in an intelligent conversation, without ever having to interact with one human. Win.
And then I went to the Tate’s new wing and by god it made me so angry. I was so furious, I actually had to put off writing this post for fear I might lose the little sense and objectivity I had left. What a load of pretentious crap! Pardon my French. I refuse to acknowledge most of what I saw there as art. The most you can call it is an exercise in craftsmanship. Because some of those pieces do require skill in using a particular material, but so does forging an ax and you don’t see people going around calling the blacksmith of the village an artist, regardless of what he says about his weapon.
I agree that some might have interesting concepts behind whatever thing the “artist” has exhibited. However, that cannot be the only requirement for a thing to be elevated to a work of art. I can attach an interesting concept to basically anything around me. A cigarette butt can represent the decaying of humanity in today’s socio-political context. Does that make it art? It bloody shouldn’t. Maybe we live in a decade when the majority is so stupid that we need to distinguish those capable of some thought by calling them artists and putting them on display in galleries. Maybe I am in the wrong time period. Maybe I should acknowledge the fact that everyone has the right to express themselves in any manner they choose , even if that means calling stupid things “art”. But maybe I also have the freedom to call bullshit on that.
Call what they do in the Tate’s New Wing freedom of expression. But don’t insult the old masters by calling it art. Art is that which apart from showing skill and craft, also carries that je ne sais quoi, the insubstantial something which moves us to tears when looking at Van Gogh’s “Starry Night”. It’s meant to make you feel something, as long as that something is not outrage at having had my time wasted in such a pretentious way.
Honestly, I don’t know what art is supposed to be. Maybe I am too uneducated to understand the pretentiousness of what I saw at the Tate. Or maybe it is art because it reflects the deplorable state of today’s society and as we know, art is supposed to do that. It’s supposed to be a mirror, or a pastiche so that decades from now, people might look at it and grasp the essence of our period. If that’s the case, I really dread to think about what they might say. Although, it’s not all that bad. We still have good ones out there…
I am sorry for the long rant. As I’ve said before, it made me angry and I needed to vent off the frustration. Maybe one day I will have all the answers. That would be very nice…