Ar the moment we are on holiday in Devon. Today we visited Plymouth. And, as is fairly normal, while we were there at lunch time we needed to find somewhere to eat. ‘Somewhere that sells paninies‘ my husband suggested. We all nodded in approval. The consensus seemed to be we needed a cafe, that sold paninies’.
Roughly two minutes after we made the decision to find a panini-selling establishment, I saw a sign that read ‘art gallery cafe 40 meters on the next left’ The sigh also promised an ‘arty atmosphere’ in which to enjoy our paninies. So like a honey bee to a daffodil I followed the instructions with much eagerness, with my family trailing behind me.
We easily found the ‘art gallery cafe’ and after inspecting the menu to check it did indeed serve paninies, we sat down inside.
We like to go to art gallery cafes when we are on holiday. There is one in Borth and we visit every time we go there. In fact it has earned the nickname ‘mummy’s favourite cafe’. Every time we go there we play ‘MFP’ (my favourite painting) where we take it in turns to pick out of the offerings a favourite painting that we might take home with us money no object. We also play ‘MLFP’ (my least feavourite painting), the painting we’d hide in cupboard if given to us. We play this second game very quietly. This cafe in Borth was part of the inspiration for me to write a few blog entries about arty farty cafes.
This ‘art gallery cafe’ in the centre of Plymouth was not what I had hopped for. I won’t mention the name because my opinion is just that, opinion, and I don’t want to give the wrong impression of the objective value of the establishment – the food was nice and as my son said ‘the service was good’.
So what was wrong with this cafe? After all it had paninies on the menu and it had plenty of art on the walls, as promised.
In fact the walls were completely covered with paintings, lots of paintings. You could hardly see any wall at all. It was an explosion of art. I found the overall effect quite disturbing. The paintings were all of a brand that is seen in many 21st-century art galleries: thickly applied or conversely, airbrushed, paint; dogs, more dogs (see image above) and lions; and seascapes, small children and horses. There were also beaches, people on beaches, pirates, sailors, and cityscapes as well as boats on seas, boats on rough seas and boats on beaches. This was post-modernist art at its best, but not the good end of post-modernism. The over all effect was chaotic and nightmarish. I felt quite disturbed. I wanted to cover my head to hide from all the art.
I struggled to pick MFP. I struggled to pick MLFP. Not because the art was no good, but because there was too much of it.
I don’t want to come across as a snob here. I’m not trying to be. I wouldn’t dream of saying that my art is better than the art I saw today. I can’t paint lions that look like those lions I saw today. I’m not saying that the value of these types of paintings are any less than a painting that might excite me for being unusual or simple (I have said before that I am attracted to calming art rather than chaotic art because I am a chaotic person). However, I do think that the gallery here is missing a trick. They have tried to put too much on display. It was confusing, blinding and overwhelming. I couldn’t ‘see’ the value in any individual painting because each was placed either side, above and below, diagonally from, horses, dogs, seascapes and pirates.
But my worry about snobbery also leads me to ask: what is it about horses, dogs, seascapes, thick paint and children playing in the sand that artists like to paint? I suspect they are painting to a market. They are painting to sell rather than to encourage a response or make a point. They expect that people will pay up to a certain amount of money (up to about £200) for pictures such as these, pictures that borrow from 20th- and 19th-century art styles, paintings of objects that bring pleasure and feelings of nostalgia to people (childhood scenes, Parisian street scenes, horses and dogs). If that is true, then they are successful and should be admired. Proust would be impressed – paintings as madeleine cake.
I still worry that I do sound like a snob. But I’m really not trying to be. I’m just trying to understand the art world and seeing if there is any point me trying to be in it. I really can’t see myself making a career out of it because I only want to draw and paint things that interest me (such as iPhones and cream eggs). So I guess art will forever remain a ‘hobby’, yet in my mind the word ‘hobby’ belittles the importance of it for me. I think I just have to keep doing what I am doing and hope that some people will take notice and take something away from what I have done (even if I don’t get any monetary benefit from it).
The cafe did sell very good paninies. So we left full and satisfied on the nutritional front, if not so satisfied on the art front.