Friday, 23 January 2009

What's 'Real' Art?

One of my favourite artists died last week. I admired Andrew Wyeth not only because he was a great artist, but because he never gave in to the critics. He stayed true to himself. They panned his work as ‘sentimental’ and therefore not ‘real’ art, yet he touched the lives of millions of people through his work. Why? Because he connected with them. They could understand his work and it raised some emotion in them.

Anyone who knows me knows that one of my pet grievances is snobbery – of any sort, but especially intellectual/artistic snobbery. It annoys me that a group of people can decide what is ‘right’ and what is ‘wrong’ and then label others accordingly. So, to them, Andrew Wyeth was ‘sentimental’, Andre Rieu is ‘the King of Schmaltz’, JK Rowling is a mediocre writer who got lucky because of commercialism. Garbage, I say! (Or words to that effect that I don’t want to come up on Google). What’s wrong with doing work that appeals to real people? Millions of real people.

A couple of years ago, I wrote a rather irate letter to a magazine. They’d quoted a poet who’d just won some big poetry prize (I can’t remember his name, that’s how popular he was). Apparently he’d been asked if he’d write some poetry for someone’s wedding, but he’d refused, saying that for him to write wedding poetry would be like an artist doing pet portraits. That, of course, I took personally. Yes, I paint pet portraits. I love doing it. There is nothing better than the look on someone’s face when I hand them the completed portrait of an animal they love. I’d rather make the day of a little old lady who’s lost her beloved dog, than have a ‘critic’ condescend to praise my work any day.

The first time I ever entered an art competition, the organisers hung my painting of a puppy about ten inches from the ground. I was rather peeved until a toddler, who was obviously rather bored with this exhibition, stopped at my painting, plonked himself on the floor and gave the puppy a kiss on the nose. His mother was mortified, but I thought it a huge compliment! I'd reached someone, even if he was only two years old.

The same attitude goes for my writing. I want to give people a really good read, not make them twist their brains into knots wondering what it’s about because some elitist intellectual said it was ‘good’.

A few days before Christmas I happened to turn on the TV just as a visiting European conductor began ‘Bolero’ with a big Australian orchestra. I decided to watch because P had recorded Andre Rieu and the JSO playing it on TV while they were in Australia and he’d played it over and over, (that's my husband who never listened to classical music before) so I was interested to see the difference.

The conductor sat on a stool, with his arm resting on the stand in front of him and conducted by raising and lowering his finger about three inches. That was all he did for the whole sixteen or seventeen minutes! The musicians in the orchestra slumped in their seats looking bored out of their brains. Even when the piece reached its climax, they looked as if they were about to fall asleep. In front of them, the audience sat ramrod straight, looking equally catatonic.

I watched to the bitter end, hoping something exciting might happen. It did. On the last note, as if to say “wasn’t that fun?”, they dropped balloons on the audience. Haha, how original! Now, where did they get that idea from? In my opinion they would have done better to shout “You can wake up now!” Yet the ‘critics’ had raved about this performance.

Oh well, if I’m a plebeian philistine, I’m happy to be. I’m in good company, I reckon.

Vale Andrew Wyeth 1917 - 2009


C.R. Evers said...

Very well put!

And your story about the 2 year old kissing your puppy painting made me go "awwww!" That's what it's all about.

a great big thumbs in the ears while the other fingers wiggle and I go "thhhhhhhhhhhpppppppp" to artistic snobbery elitism!

Kelly said...

Kate, your cat portrait is beautiful. Great post. We have a family friend who is a wine enthusiast. He's tried wines from all over the world and has an extensive wine cellar. But even he has said, "The best wine is the one that you enjoy and think is best." Same thing for art/literature/music.

Kate said...

Christy, that gives me a perfect mental image!;)

Kelly, your friend is exactly right.

primadonna20 said...

You are absolutely in good company! :) Terrific post...I couldn't agree more.

Kate said...

Hi Primadonna. Thanks for visiting my blog and, even better, leaving a comment!

Lily Cate said...

Oh, I totally understand, and I can relate. I spent years being taught "proper art" from high school all the way through college, by completely snobby teachers. All that did was keep me from developing my real talent, which is for illustration. I finally found my niche years after school, when I was totally frustrated, and took an illustration course for the fun of it.
The best part was the many professors I had who were quite insulted by the idea that artists can be snobby. Oh the delicious irony.