Ars longa, vita brevis

I went to art school you know.

Amongst other things, I learned that beauty is absolutely in the eye of the beholder. Writers have an advantage over painters in that their work is merely a block of paper to the casual observer. If you don’t open the book, you won’t be troubled by what goes on in there. You can be James Joyce or Douglas Adams, but no one will criticise your work because they walked past it in a gallery or glimpsed it on TV. If you paint something, by definition anybody can look at it and form an opinion.

In other words, the visual arts are more accessible but it’s a double-edged sword, people may not know much about art but they know what they like, and they’ll tell you, quite forcefully sometimes. You might be trying to explain the human condition with painful subtly, but your audience will look at it for three seconds and say, “There’s far too much red in it and why is that man naked?”

Working as an artist, you quickly learn that there are two conversations you’ll have pretty much daily if you practice your craft near other people – “Ooh, that’s lovely, I wish I could draw” or “What’s that?”

When you’re in a social setting (the pub) and you tell people what you do the conversation will invariably drift towards the question, “Modern art, what’s all that about?”

Now, although the long answer to the latter question fills several national libraries. The short answer is, “Whatever you think that it’s about.”

What little remains of me as an artist loves the 15th Century painters from the Low Countries previously dammed with faint praise as the Flemish Primitives; the van Eyck brothers, Campin, van der Weyden and so on. I’ve made an effort to see everything Velasquez ever painted – appalling social climber and snob but a sublime talent. I believe that El Greco had a time machine; that such art came out of 16th Century Spain is hard to comprehend. Van Gogh possessed so much genius that it killed him.

As for contemporary art, well Hockney every day of the week but Koons and Gormley are welcome around my house. I could go on for hours, but you get the gist.

I’ve written before about the von Clausewitz husband and wife team and their observation that in war, and business, the art is in the strategy.

So here’s the point.

All the artists I listed were or are professionals. They made or still make art to sell to make a living. Even poor Vincent, thanks to the partnership with his almost equally tragic brother Theo, was about 18 months away from fame and fortune when his demons took him.

We can all be harsh critics in art, but it is hard to argue with success and the opinions of the influential. I’ve never been able to find much more than grudging respect for the Pre-Raphaelites. Gaugin I find unpleasant as a man, and it colours my appreciation of his work. Munch scares the willies out of me and as for Philip Guston.

Are they successful artists though?


So what if I think that a business that uses random capitalisation and Makes A$$$$$$$ is rubbish? So what if some business cultures value gaudy display as symbols of success? So what if I think that their presentation is banal?

Are they not entitled to do what they wish? If they have an audience that keeps them going, where’s the harm?

Posted on: 1st May 2019 by Ivor Campbell

Into his fourth decade of search Ivor has a voice with stories to tell, observations to make and the odd picture to share. Mostly related to the day job.

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