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If it needs explaining it’s not art

The workshop was the adreniline shot in the arm I needed. I turned up at the village hall just before 10am, balancing art bag stuffed with watercolour paints, paint palette, a large selection of brushes, pencils, kitchen roll, masking tape, water pots, A3 sketch pad, A2 and A3 watercolour paper, my easel, my lunchbox (cheese sandwiches if you’re asking, cheddar), and a photo album stuffed full of French photos without any thoughts other than I was looking forward to the day. The tutor running it was a nice chap, and started by describing his tools of the trade, his favourite colours, the size of paint brushes he uses, the type of paper he prefers. There weren’t many of us there that day, only eight, but we all knew each other and had painted together on other occasions. We sat in a loose semi-circle around the tutor as he chose a photograph to work from, and started his painting. By 11 I was ready to paint, oh so ready, my foot started twitching, a bad sign. My 11.10, it was twitching even more, I crossed, and uncrossed my legs, by 11.20, it was worse, as I sat and crossed and uncrossed my arms as well. By 11.30, oh sod it, I can’t stand this any more, I got up, quietly, trying not to interrupt the tutor working on his painting, and went through to the kitchen to make myself a cup of tea, with the thought of returning to the back of the hall, and quietly getting on with some painting of my own whilst the tutor carried on with his tuition. But, hey, what was this? Everyone, but everyone else had also made a move, it seemed my movement had been the catalyst to motivate them all to action as well. One of the women followed me into the kitchen came up to me and said a meaningful heartfelt “Thankyou for that!” under her breath to me, apparently she had had enough too!  That amused me and I grinned at her! Tea in hand, we all started sorting out our source photos to work from, and as I had planned I found some lovely inspiration in my photos of  the delightfully pretty and colourful village of Ville-Franche sur Mer just around the corner from Nice. I got on with my initial sketches, then the drawing, then started getting some paint on - I could have done with more darks in my painting but ran out of time on it.  I didn’t particularly like the tutors use of dark and depressing colours but I did like his strong use of colour and the quick and efficient way he got paint on the paper. He was a pleasant enough chap, and we all got on well with our watercolour paintings.  And I know I thoroughly enjoyed the day, the picture I did was ok, not exceptional, but that doesn’t matter, it was good to be there, and lovely to be back into painting mode again! I really enjoyed the day, and when I got back was mentally and physically knackered which was a good sign of being so involved with the art process!

One of the things the tutor did say, was something that I feel very strongly about, as he was talking about the pretentiousness of some artists when they talk about their work, their motivations, their inspirations, and he said that if it needs explaining, its not art, and I smiled and nodded to him in total agreement. I didn’t know at that time how close I would get to proof of that the very next day…….


My man and I went on a whim down to Birmingham the next day for a day out, and I happily showed him the Brindley Place canal area which he’d never been to before. Its an area I’m very fond of, for the many bars and canalside restaurants that make up that area, and even on that cold winters day it was attractive and interesting to spend a few hours wandering around. I’m not saying it was windy, but there were, and I jest not at at this, white caps on the waves on the CANAL. This is bearing in mind that its in the middle of a large city, and surrounded by tall buildings, and still it looked like a monster was stirring in the dark churning waters of the deep.  But, it was a sunny day, and that always makes me feel better, that was until we walked into the Ikon Gallery……. 

……. and walked around it in five minutes flat (it took us longer to climb the two storey stairs than it did to look at the “art” (crap!) that was hanging there). I do not count as “art” black and white snaps of photos taken in the 70’s of television sets, estate houses, and electricity sub-stations. They weren’t even arty pictures, just the sort of thing absolutely anyone with a camera and no eye for a picture, would have taken. Crap. I almost, almost, but stopped myself in time because I know I would have upset someone, went up to one of the stewards sitting there to ask if they ever had any *proper art* hanging on their walls, but I know I’d have got uptight at the response, and I’d have certainly upset them with my thoughts as well. Bite lip, count to ten, and walk away……….back into the windy day….. and moan to my man for the next five minutes about the pretentiousness of some art.

Anyway, sunny mood resumed,  after a lovely relaxed lunch we went to the large Washington Green gallery by the Symphony Hall where they had “proper art” (although whilst I’m slipping back into moaning mood, Bob Dylan should stick with music, since I didn’t rate his art at any level either!). There were some lovely paintings there, a couple that I would gladly have had on my wall, and one of which intrigued me as to how it was painted so I spent some minutes contemplating the effect of the paint on it, with my nose bear inches away from the surface. After losing half an hour or more lost in the gallery and its gorgeous art, we wandered on and ended up at the main Museum and Art Gallery, and popped in there for a lovely cup of tea, and thought whilst we were there we’d see what chance (hah!) we would have to see the Da Vinci drawings on display there for only a couple of rare months. There were only ten of them, and they are usually tucked away in albums in the Queens bottom draws, so it was interesting to see something that normally doesn’t see the light of day to the general public. As we walked towards the room they were exhibited in, we passed  signs saying “One hour wait from here” and carried on, winding our way around corners to find that as the gallery was shutting at 5pm, and it was gone 4 at that point, that we had hit it at exactly the right time, there was a wait of all of …..oohh…… all of three minutes before we could view them. I found them very interesting to see, and was entranced by the rag paper that has lasted far longer than ordinary paper would have one, although its helped greatly that they haven’t seen the light of day either in their long and illustrious life, and am very glad to have seen them, but I certainly wouldn’t queue an hour or more to see them, they are after all just notebook drawings, albeit fabulous ones. My favourite was the incredibly detailed one of the oak leaves and acorns, in red pencil. Da Vinci could certainly draw exquisitely, and even small inconsequential drawings in old notebooks show the huge standard of ability. If you can draw, you can draw anything. The art doesn’t need to be explained in words, its all so very clear in pictures.  

There was some other interesting art there in the rest of the art gallery, although nothing that particularly leapt at me in the quick half hour we had to view them before the art gallery closed, except for one, by an artist I’d never heard of who painted the most exquisite stones as a backdrop to Jesus and a woman walking towards him. I know, its the inconsequentialness of some things that make the impact sometimes!

So, Birmingham was good, I saw some stunning art, I saw some masterful art, I saw some art by a true master. And I saw some crap art. Even if I hadn’t seen the good stuff, the other stuff would still have been crap. I just think it seemed more so in comparison. But, and I’ll sigh as I say this, it is ever thus with art.  We all have our own opinions on what makes good art, and bad. But, at the risk of repeating myself, if its good, it doesn’t need explaining.

2 thoughts on “If it needs explaining it’s not art”

  1. The title is very true. Both painting and photography are forms of storytelling. A good story doesn’t need any explanation. It grabs its audience on sight, and won’t let it go.

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