Why I think ‘weird old art’ has value

I am in Borth for a couple of days. It’s lovely to get away from the chaotic nature of home, work and family life. I don’t have much head space for creative thinking these days (as evident in the lack of entries in this blog).

Today we had lunch in a wonderful (albeit understaffed) cafe in Aberystwyth and something about today has sparked my creative brain again. It is a joy. Being of an artistic disposition, I am always attracted to and curious about the artworks that public places such as cafes choose to put on their walls. I have been known to ask the staff about the choice of artworks as well (as I did in this case as I will explain later).

The artwork in this cafe was weird. None of it had been created recently, so it would be wrong to attach the word ‘contemporary’ to this artwork. The pieces seemed to straddle at least two centuries from the mid-eighteenth to the mid-twentieth. Most of the art was oil on canvas. An awful lot were portraits. Some were in good condition and some were in decidedly ropey condition. There didn’t seem to be any theme at all, beyond ‘it goes on a wall’. There didn’t seem to be any thought behind placement either. 

To give you a couple of examples of the paintings on the walls in this cafe. These two caught my eye in particular.

Early Victorian Cross Dresser

The first, above, for the fact that it looks like a man in early Victorian drag. The detail on his lacey cuffs is exquisite yet the attention given to his / her hands is lacking. His fingers are disproportionately huge and are rather sausage-like. Who was he / she? Why does this person look so sombre? They don’t particularly look comfortable in this outfit. Perhaps the lace was tickling their hands and face.

Lady with Small Head

I couldn’t take my eyes off this second painting, above, for the comparatively small head and huge hands she seems burdened with. Her shoulders are also rather burly if measured against the size of her neck and face. Who painted this and who was she? Was she really this oddly shaped or does this reflect on the skill of the artist? 

Do we expect ‘master’-like oil paintings to be good paintings? I think the answer is largely, yes. It seems, they aren’t always. Just like the art we create today. There is some good art, some great art, some average art and some truly awful art. 

Does that matter? No, not one bit. All art has value. Forgive me for sounding trite here and please don’t roll your eyes. I truly believe this. What is the most important thing about a piece of art? Is it that it resembles what it is depicting? Is it that it is technically accurate? Or is it that it captures something about the subject or concept? The latter of course.  All art, whether in written form, aural form or visual form is about capturing the essence. These pieces of artwork caught my eye so they achieved that, on some level. They made me think. They reminded me that I am an artist even though I haven’t practiced for two years. They made me write this blog. That’s enough for me. They are art.

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