Sunday, 5 February 2017

How to talk about art without scaring the horses

As I was born in 1970, and had seen the 1960s mythologised all through my youth, I sometimes asked my parents about them. I knew my limits, though, as they were from the more (socially) conservative era that many now pretend never existed. So Beeching or Harold Wilson (the local MP, for what that’s worth) were okay, but Bob Dylan and Syd Barrett weren’t. I was pleasantly surprised by how much they could tell me about The Kinks, Scott Walker and Tariq Ali. (Generation Wikipedia will wonder what all the fuss was about).

The Beatles were the stuff of contention, though. They had bought nearly every record until a very exact cut-off point of “Rubber Soul”. I was young, I could hear music that I liked and I wanted to know more, and what they had to tell me stopped halfway through. BBC2 and the local library eventually gave me the rest.

One day, when my parents were visiting me in Newcastle towards the end of my student years , Dad asked me what Yoko Ono actually did. Yes, I could have replied “well, father, she’s a conceptual artist”, but I knew exactly what the next question would have been if I had. Mum and dad came from a world where painters painted and some loose-living beatniks might have dabbled in sculpture, but conceptual art? What’s that about? In other words, art was another subject with a barrier halfway through.

“That’s a good question, Dad”, I replied.

Now my daughter wants to be an artist. I have tried talking her out of it, believe me. So I've now changed tack and am giving her my moral support, but this comes with a message: if you want to pay the bills with this stuff, you have to start treating it like a career and not as a hobby.

I'm encouraging her to go to as many shows as possible; that way she can take on board some ideas and have something to talk about when the interviews start. So there we were at the Glasgow School of Art's graduate shows last June. In among the sitting rooms filled with cuddly bananas and jokeshop dog turds and the poorly-shot videos of people dressed as nuns climbing over fences in country fields (I'm making NONE of this up) was the work of this student:

"I want to go to art school so I can paint like that", said my daughter. The best of luck to her, and Georgina Clapham for that matter.  Tellingly, her exhibition had run out of business cards - most of the others had plenty left over - and one of her paintings was on the posters advertising the show. Most professions have a "no bullshit" clause; if you try pulling a fast one in my field, you're found out very quickly indeed. Art has no such backup.

I wonder if Marcel Duchamp ever regretted those urinals.

1 comment:

  1. Hello - just came across your blog through another mutual one and I can see there's a lot here for me to enjoy - I'll be trawling through your back pages in due course.
    I wish your daughter lots of luck in her artistic ambitions and approve of your support! I very much wanted to be one too... more in the design/illustration side than fine art, but still it meant trying to convince the adults (not so much my parents, but certainly teachers and careers advisors) that it could be a viable option whilst they did their best to put me off. Well, I did go to art school (twice) and in terms of career I got there in the end and I'm still there now, even if I did lots of other jobs first to pay the bills - but if you've got it in you then you've just got to explore it as much as is practically possible, I do believe that. Georgina's work is great, but oh yes I do know what you mean about the bullshit aspect of art too...
    Anyway, great blog, and thanks for adding mine to your roll!