This is what Alan Bennett famously said in 1995 that he’d would like to be put on a sign outside the National Gallery.
I seem to find myself having lots of discussions recently about what art is and what makes something good art. Often this feels fairly futile.How can I convince someone that Kazimir Malevich’s Black Square is art when their response is simply ‘anyone could paint that’? Or ‘if I paint a purple circle is that art?’ To me the Black Square is art. It was a piece of its time. It was art then and I still think it is art now. It’s partly the idea that makes it art. Yet it’s partly the emotional response of the viewer that makes it art. The idea behind the Black Square (which incidentally came to Malevich after he’d painted it for a different purpose) was that with an absence of any physical influences, the viewer could feel a sense of release of their emotional response by looking at it (he wanted it to be shown in an empty room). It is all about the sublime, that feeling that many artists crave to generate in people. But if one of those two elements, either idea or response, is lacking, then by my argument, it isn’t art. I now think that my argument is wrong.
This week I came across this quote by Alan Bennett ‘You Don’t Have To Like Everything’ and concluded that I shouldn’t be trying to change the minds of people about the value of art that they don’t think are worthy. And also that just because they don’t ‘get’ it or ‘like’ it (i.e. just because they don’t have that emotional response) then that doesn’t mean it isn’t art. We can’t all like everything. So what if we don’t?
Many people when visiting an art gallery feel they have to see everything. I wonder if they force themselves to some extent to get an emotional response to everything they see? I don’t think that’s a good idea. I think it would be better if they just go see what they think they will like, perhaps sample something they are ambivalent about (they might be surprised) and ignore the rest.
As Grayson Perry says in this news item art should be made accessible to everyone and not just shut away in art galleries or in the houses of the rich. Currently, he’s promoting an initiative to display copies of nominated artworks in public places around the country. I think this is an excellent idea. This could turn out to be one of the largest public exhibitions ever.
If you can’t bring the masses to art, bring art to the masses. They will either like what they see, or they won’t.
Bennett, A. 24 May 1995. ‘I know what I like, but I’m not sure about art’, www.independent.co.uk. Available from: http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/i-know-what-i-like-but-im-not-sure-about-art-1620866.html [last accessed 19 July 2014]
Can Malevich’s Black Square be considered art? BBC News. 16 July 2014. Available from http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-28323247 [last accessed 19 July 2014]
Artists Perry and Gormley on putting art everywhere. BBC News. 17 July 2014. Available from: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-28344026 [last accessed 19 July 2014′