The most important questions in art… Take 2

I return to this subject with some trepidation, as I have no academic background in it, apart from a (very) dimly remembered essay for my first degree. I feel compelled to add something to previous tentative stabs at it. (See ‘The most important question in art’)

Grayson_Perry_by_Ella_GuruThis thinking has been sparked off by watching Grayson Perry give his opinions on gardens at the Royal Chelsea Flower Show. He said (and I’m paraphrasing wildly here) that to say “I like it” is a hugely complex thought: class, background, job, age, education and gender (I might add sexual orientation and race, if I knew what I was talking about) are all leading up to that moment.

My thoughts on the subject were, if you remember (do try to keep up, we were on this months ago) that the first, most important question is: “Do you like it?” The second is: “Why?”

Grayson Perry’s comment implies that we all have different reasons for liking it- whatever it may be, a garden, art, music….. any endeavour that might be considered partly aesthetic. After all, we all differ in our class, background, job…..

It follows, I believe, that no one aesthetic opinion is worth more than any other. If that was the case, then one person’s class, age, gender… would be worth more than another person’s. (I am sure we could debate education’s role in this endlessly. So forget that one for now.) If you feel that a work has more aesthetic worth than another, you are entitled to that opinion; there is no absolute ‘good’ here here.

My second question in considering art was “Why do you like it?” (The factors of class, background, job….. may obviously figure in any discussion, but will probably be secondary to points of colour, harmony, rhythm, composition, form, craftsmanship, technique, etc.) I feel that this question is the key to much pleasure and particularly to aesthetic education. If children can be taught to explain their likes and dislikes and to discuss them sensibly, then their horizons can be hugely expanded. I do feel that art is important, although the reasons for that view are a subject for future exploration, at least as far as the Oblique world view is concerned.

Woolly, isn’t it? As I have explained before, this blog is often about me sorting my ideas out. I really would welcome any responses.

[I should mention an incident from a Royal Academy Summer Exhibition, many, many years ago. There was a gloriously splashy, colourful portrait of Guy the Gorilla by John Bratby. Two ladies with upper-class accents stopped in front of it.

And this,” said one, “is obviously rubbish.”

Perhaps I should have asked: “And why do you think that?” Being English, I smiled, looked carefully at the painting, decided I liked it (because of its gloriously splashy colourfulness) and walked on.]

“Grayson Perry” by Ella Guru Copyright © Ella Guru, Released under GFDL, 28 March 2008.



Art for all

I am discovering that writing a blog is partly about clarifying my thoughts on a subject. Please excuse this post, as my thoughts are more muddled than usual.


I have been fortunate enough to visit some amazing art galleries (and museums). A few of these have been outside the UK, including the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and the Orangerie in Paris, where, predictably, I cried to see at last the huge Monet waterlily paintings I had read and dreamed about for so long. Less well known is the Kröller-Müller Museum in Holland, which has a lovely sculpture park set in the woods.

At home, Tate St. Ives is one of the loveliest galleries I know, both in setting and in design. The Yorkshire Scupture Park is what it sounds like. But I particularly like the more quirky, individual ones: Kettle’s Yard, the former home of collectors Jim and Helen Ede, in Cambridge (sadly closed at the time of writing); the Russell-Cotes museum in Bournemouth; Pallant House in Chichester.

There are so many more, but I want to mention the great London galleries. The National is astounding, especially the Sainsbury wing, which presents an early Renaissance collection in fresh and exciting views. My earliest love as a gallery was the Tate, now Tate Britain, which retains its charm for me. I remember seeing Picasso and Braque collages and for some reason being impressed by the newspapers used in them. (I can’t pretend to like Tate Modern, which seems to dwarf even the greatest art; apart from Rodin’s ‘The Kiss”, which retains its humanity even in the vast spaces. Perhaps I should go again and reconsider.)

What do the galleries mentioned in the last paragraph have in common, along with the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, the Victoria and Albert and others around the country? Correct. Entry is free. Now here is where I might get confusing. I believe that encountering art is a valuable, life-enhancing experience. Mrs Oblique says it “lifts the soul”. It makes you look at the world in fresh ways. We have take school children to galleries and been amazed to see them cry because “it’s so beautiful”. I believe that everybody should have this experience. Furthermore, our  collections are owned by us, locally and nationally. We shouldn’t be charged to see what is ours.

My favourite art gallery, anywhere, is Southampton. It’s a lovely space, or series of spaces. It’s not a daunting size. It has varied and fascinating exhibitions. There is a large collection which is regularly rotated. It has a good education programme. Above all, it’s free. You can wander in at lunchtime, at the weekend… whenever the mood takes you. If your children want to go, you don’t have to think about the cost.

In my very  muddled opinion, publicly owned art should be free to all. Southampton is a shining example. Long may it continue.

Photograph by Jim Champion [CC BY-SA 2.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons

The most important question in art

A brief post this time. The important question is of course: “Do you like it?”

I used to tell students that this was the most important question  in any art form and that the next most important question is “Why?” or  “Why not?” This usually started some good and sometimes heated discussion, getting them talking and thinking about what they were experiencing.Vinci,_Leonardo_da_(attributed)_-_La_Bella_Principessa_-_16th_c

I was reminded of this at the weekend, when I was reading about the alleged fake of a Da Vinci. The drawing ‘La Bella Principessa’ is said to be not by Leonardo but by Shaun Greenhalgh. Apparently if it is genuine, it could be worth £100m million. If not…..

It will probably come as no surprise that my reaction is: “Who cares?” Well, obviously the monetary value is of huge importance to owners. Apart from that, let’s apply the Important Questions. Well, yes, I do like it. Why? It’s light, delicate and rather prettily coloured. OK, this is not exactly top notch art criticism. But it’s a legitimate view, as is any view you might have.

I was very glad to read that Shaun Greenhalgh apparently feels ‘you should buy things because you like them, not because of the signature in the corner.” My thoughts exactly. I’m rather ashamed to say that I’ve tried too hard to like one or two Monets, just because he’s my favourite painter. Not that I’m buying any. And I must admit that- shock horror- I don’t like every record the Beatles made. Just because something is famous, or popular, doesn’t mean it’s good. That’s a subjective term in any art form. You, of course, may disagree. I’ll try to stick to my Important Questions.

Picture:Attributed to Leonardo da Vinci [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons