September 29, 2003
Art critics being silly

Perry de Havilland reports on the ruffled feathers of the art critics in connection with the Lloyd Webber collection now on display at the Royal Academy, quoting from an Ian Hislop piece from yesterday's Sunday Telegraph (paper only):

What appears to really annoy a lot of the critics is the literalism of the paintings: the idea that there is a story or a message, or even something as vulgar as a moral in the artwork, rather than just an impression or a mood or an emotion. Brian Sewell says that Webber has "a literal eye" and that this "has nothing to do with Art". Nothing at all? This seems rather harsh.

Indeed. Perry comments:

… Most art critics hate literal art because literal art can be understood by anyone who takes the time to learn a bit about the context within which the art was created. … much of what passes for art these days is so obscure that it requires an ArtCrit, such as Sewell or Saatchi, to give it some meaning. I guess what I am really saying is that much of what the likes of Tracey Emin does is so devoid of intrinsic meaning that only a professional arbiter of artistic values and taste can tell us poor muggles what the hell it means. …

Perry himself supplies that link to The Bed. (The Bed has now replaced The Pile of Bricks as the popular British definition of the silliness of Modern Art.)

I'd go further. Literal art can often be understood without any extra learning at all, especially if it is literal art of the here and now, like the movies or television or pop music. Yes, there may be plenty more to enjoy if one learns some more, but the enjoyment can start straight away, without any critic being involved at all.

A central skill for all culture vultures is that of keeping critics in their place, at the back, explaining why the punters seem to enjoy this rather than that, and adding humbly that they might also enjoy this, and maybe that, and that they personally rather like this, and also that. But what many critics seem to want to do is to decide that people must enjoy this rather than that. And sometimes they even announce that the punters do actually enjoy this rather than that, and that if the punters say otherwise, they are mistaken.

Perry supplies a link to a piece by Brian Sewell, who I think probably knows a thing or two about oil paintings, but who knows very little indeed about art in general. As I report at the end of this Samizdata piece, he proved this to me in just the one fatuously wrong-headed syllable with the answer he gave to a question I asked him about popular art. Basically I asked him if popular art can ever be to art of the higher sort, artistic type art. His reply was: "No." Idiot.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 01:04 AM
Category: Modern artPainting