Wednesday, 27 March 2013

I know what I like


There has been a lot of public argument here in our local newspaper recently, as to who is qualified in pronouncing a sculpture 'good' or 'bad' - or even if anyone is qualified to make such a judgement at all.

It was sparked off by the lumps of stone seen above, which have been given the most prominent position at the entrance to the new shopping-mall development, 'Southgate', which has recently been built, after the demolition of an even more hideous and soulless mall, which was built in the late 1960s, after the demolition of some perfectly fine, Georgian terraces by ruthless developers and builders who were given the go-ahead to destroy a massive part of the city's heritage by short-sighted and careless councillors. (That was a long sentence - sorry).

I have been taking my mind of things recently by writing brief instalments of a fantasy tale, because the fall-out from some untimely and - ultimately - unkind comments by me have made the lives of others very difficult, so I am going to try to be as diplomatic as possible about this sculpture - especially since it was made in part by local masonry students at the college, but under the guidance of the sculptor, Ben Dearnley - but it's going to be difficult.

There has been a myth perpetrated by a handful of people over the last 20 or 30 years, that 'Art is for everyone'. Well yes, that is perfectly true, but it should not be implied that anyone can make good art - or at least art which is good enough to be mounted on a pedestal in a public area, and dominates the area to such an extent that it cannot be ignored. You need an innate understanding or a good education to be able to produce good art, but you do not need that to appreciate the difference between good and bad. That's where the myth comes in - a myth which almost implies that it is everyone's RIGHT to be able to speak a foreign language, whether taught one or not. It is always the mediocre artists who spread the lie that nobody is qualified to pronounce their work as mediocre or just plain bad, if they are not artists themselves.

I do not know the percentage of total expenditure put aside by the developers to allow for public art works, but seeing that this is the only thing in the vast area which could be described as anything like 'art', I would say that it was extremely low - so low that it would not even show on the balance sheet on the completion of the development.

Well, I have to say that this sculpture is so poor, that it does not deserve to be allowed to be situated where it is by developers and councillors, trying to save a few quid by getting the college involved, rather than putting the commission out to tender amongst truly professional artists.

What is the first thing that strikes you about this bit of sculpture? For me, it is the fact that it is simply ugly and brutal. That really ought to be enough, but there is more that can be said about it, by anyone who knows about the technical procedures of stone-carving or 3D modelling.

The second thing about it that really grates on my vision is that you can still see the four corners of the original block, which is a mistake so basic to 'free carving' of the figurative kind, that I am amazed that any experienced sculptor allowed it to go out on the streets in that form.

I cannot see any reason why the top of the head of the model (an Olympic swimmer) should be chopped off as if it were a photo taken by your 80 year old granny on a Box Brownie, and I cannot understand why the rest of the torso has been abruptly terminated as the block ran out, as if granny had decided she needed to crop the rest of the photo when she got the print back from Boots. It can't have been an actual decision to chop it like that, surely?

The deep, hard lines of the poorly observed muscle structure make the whole thing look like The Incredible Hulk after he has burst out of his shirt, as well.  Even the masonry plinth which it sits on is grossly out of classical proportion, especially as it alludes to classicality in this 'Heritage City'.

In their defence, it is extremely difficult to make public sculpture which conforms to all the criteria set by local government these days, and that criteria is almost bound to make the stuff look ugly and brutal right from the start. Transcending the rules and regulations and making something which actually looks good is where the true skill comes into it. It is not enough to be good at hitting the stone away from the block - you have to transcend the technique as well, also right from the start.

I am amazed that the council did not get them to round off the corners of the cap stone, just in case a drunk walks into one of them one night and sues for injury.


17 comments:

  1. I don't like it. The body looks like it is in the transformation stage from tadpole to frog - or toad, in this case.

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    1. I would rather look at the real toads - now they are works of art.

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  2. I think this is something that has happened to 'art' in general over the last thirty years or so Tom - this idea that anyone can do it. To some extent I blame so called 'modern art'. When people like Rothko for example exhibit pictures which, to the untrained eye, look like stripes of colour then folk begin to think anyone can do it. Not so of course. My father's favourite quote (can't remember which poetsaid it) was "a thing of beauty is a joy for ever - its loveliness increases". We can't all like all art - some will appeal to us and some won't, but we ought to be able to recognise the basic principals and that perhaps is done through education. End of rant. But I do agree with you - as I mostly do.

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    1. Very good point about Rothko, Weave. Those paintings are the most sophisticated and spiritual 'abstracts' ever created. Most extremely gifted painters would die to make even one like those.

      When someone cannot tell the difference between truly naive painting and something that attempts to copy children, then they don't know what they are looking at.

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  3. 1. It is ugly - to me it looks like a shrunken version of a sort of frog-sphinx. No wonder the person whom it wanted to leap at (might be the princess of 'The Frog King, or Iron Heinrich) smashed its skull - to quote James Thurber: "Moral: It is not so easy to fool little girls nowadays as it used to be.")
    2. I agree with you that not everyone who can hold a chisel is an artist. There is a cute little book, showing a cartoon on its cover, where a person stands in front of a modern painting and says: "I can do that too!" and the painting answers: "No, you can't."
    3. Who might that person be, running drunken into the square sharp corners? Do I hear a Bell ringing?

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    1. No, I don't go to The Bell anymore.

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  4. The anatomy of the upper arm biceps looks all wrong and, what's that at the back ?
    ....and, on the subject of art, what do you think of Tilda Swinton performing the art of sleeping in her one person installation called ' The Maybe ' in NYC's Museum of Modern Art ? XXXX

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    1. I'll show you a picture of the back. Re sleeping, it has been done by Disney in the past, and I am not sure if that was art either.

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  5. It's provoked a debate....
    Therefore it's ART!

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    1. Your right buttock provoked a debate today as well - is your arse a work of art?

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    2. Ask Chris... He seems to think so

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    3. TVR cars were also enhanced by the owner's (Trevor) dog, biting bits of the sculptured model before the production process. Trevor would come back from lunch to find a bit bitten out of the right side of the model, so he would bite a bit out of the other, and a legend was born. Take a leaf out of his book and go back to the Russian Terrier?

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    4. I suppose what I am saying is essentially Christian - offer the other cheek.

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  6. Before I read your comments about the 'sculpture', my immediate thought was 'dumbed-down classical'. Surely that's perfect for a shopping centre; most of which have fibreglass Corinthian pillars somewhere or other.

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    1. Bath has been packed-full of 'dumbed-down classical' since the early 1980s, when it became mandatory to include the slightest of nods toward the Georgians, by using old drain pipes as pillars, etc. Prior to that, you were allowed to use horrible - and extremely cheap - concrete blocks that nodded to Bath stone, to build entire box-like shopping centres.

      Last year, Bath came extremely close to losing it's World Heritage status as a result of town council 'decisions', and it is still teetering on the brink.

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