I’m not sure if this is entirely done yet or not but it is substantially finished. It can be a bit ‘finger in the wind’ about when a painting or drawing is finished and there’s always the risk of fiddling on and on and ultimately ruining what you had. On the other hand greatness might just be waiting in those final brushstrokes. Apparently Arshile Gorky spent years working on a painting of himself and his mother, never completing it to his satisfaction.
I doubt that’s going to happen with this painting, so here it is in its current (probably final) state.
And here’s how I got there…
I was at an event earlier today about public sector commissioning of culture sector activities. The general view appeared to be there wasn’t enough of it and that commissioners of health and social care services have some way to go to appreciate and understand the value of the arts and culture sector. Conversely arts practitioners could do with gaining a better understanding of the priorities of local authorities and health services.
However one practitioner at the table I was sat at argued – with some force -that when artists worked with communities their aim was to achieve benefits for the whole person. Providing an activity just meet some anonymous commissioner’s poorly defined service outcomes was selling short both the artist and art. The discussion ebbed and flowed from there on but it made me think afterwards about the place the culture sector and the arts has in Britain.
Essentially from primary school onwards art is a distraction, an entertainment, a break from more serious pursuits. The arts are what you do at the weekend, on an evening or whilst on holiday when you might visit a famous gallery. This might be why abstract or conceptual art receives short shrift. Because such work makes demands on the viewer it is rejected. But there’s the popularity of the YBA’s as proof that Britain is at ease with such difficult work. Fair enough unless you accept the argument put forward by Julian Stallabrass that the YBA’s represent a populist, easily accessible version of contemporary art. The real stuff meanwhile remains obtuse and largely ignored.
The idea that art can be a challenge to establishment thinking or received wisdom is simply not considered. When the arts do feature in the speeches or reports by politicians, economists or policy makers it often seems to be only in terms of its contribution to GDP. Rarely are the aesthetics or possible meaning of a piece given much or any thought outside the realm of specialist art writing. Even a well known sculpture like Gormley’s Angel of the North has become largely a sign or symbol for the north east joining other symbols like the Tyne Bridge and black and white or red and white football strips. The same might be said of trafalgar square’s fourth plinth or even the Turner Prize. Both are on one level at least no more than popular media events.
Until art achieves some sort of parity in the public consciousness with the seriousness accorded such things as banking or business or science et al then I fear commissioners will continue to struggle to get it.