When I started here I had no sense of needing to “be good”, because I had no concept of what “good” would look like. Six years in, it’s become harder. It’s easier to feel like I’m falling short when I feel/ know my words are the best & most original take of them all.
I’ve been scared to take on practice. But writing is an art, and can be scary, but nevertheless takes practice. Without practice the fear grows, as does the detachment from how much I enjoy being here.
This is an experiment in claiming back what I love.
When I was in London a couple of weekends ago, I went to see Helen Frankenthaler: Radical Beauty at Dulwich Picture Gallery.
Her work was so rich yet also delicately, perfectly balanced. I’ve never seen woodcut prints turn out with so much freedom, and I adored that she’d kept the imprint of the wood grain visible too – it felt so honest with us.
The word “delicious” kept popping into my mind. Abundant and healthful because of (rather than despite) their simplicity and the way they drew you into a contemplative mindset. Yes, there’s undoubtedly something nourishing about art like this.
Making art demands that we believe our voice has value.
To put your art out into the world for public consumption is to put a piece of yourself out there. A little bit of how you see the world, a bit of your talent, and probably a lot of your passion.
It’s quite the thrill, the sense of vulnerability which comes with sending something out into the big wide world with no control over what happens next. Fucking terrifying. But there’s also a satisfaction in the self-validation – irrespective of reception, it’s the process of creation and release which really matters.
I wonder if I’m in danger of taking art for granted.
Through years of this site, and the enormous fortune to have been able to make art the centre of my professional life, I’ve become extremely familiar with collections, organisations and individual works. There’s a danger in such closeness: that it all becomes part of the furniture, rather than the powerful statements they were intended to be.
I reckon this is what goes wrong in certain institutions – art’s fundamental meaning getting lost to the demands of everything else. At least I recognise its creep – hopefully in time to stop it.
But familiarity has also helped me learn to look at things properly. I’m not ashamed to admit that this isn’t something I was particularly good at until recently. I’ve always held that art is emotional first and foremost, and look for raw expression in favourite works.
But I’ve learned to actually stop and ask what’s going on in an image to make me feel what I feel. Now I understand how analysis is a useful skill to complement feelings. It’s just a shame that it’s often taught as the essential skill, without which you can’t actually understand art. So off-putting.
This morning I’ve put something out into the world which I’ve been making notes on for over a year. Hope you enjoy it.
One of the hardest things about any sort of creative activity is knowing when to call something finished. There’s a fine line between the little bit more which makes something complete, and the tinkering which tips it into overdone. Everyone’s line is different, so it’s hard to learn – and easy to forget- where it is. Just try to trust yourself. Knowing where to hold back on a creative concept, saving it for later, is a great strength.
People who think badly of Art History are wrong.
Admittedly, there’s loads to take the piss out of. It’s still (IME) largely studied by fairly posh white people, too many of whom still believe in the precedence of “The Canon”. But the things which sometimes get put across as the entirety of the subject are precisely those which have never interested me about it. Dates, compositions, country – things I only see of value for what they say about how people think. If art can be a window into human psyche, Art History helps push that window a bit wider open.
Ah, “the canon”. It’s 2022 and I still have an absurd number of conversations outside “the art world” for whom canon is, essentially “what art is”.
The problem isn’t with calling artists good or innovative (some were), but with the absurd level to which they’re lauded. I come for Picasso not for the sake of it, but because he’s over-revered (and tediously over-exhibited) in a discourse which is yet to properly admit that his source material was also rather good. Telling the same stories for centuries, even as we retell other histories with new social considerations, is just…boring.
Probably time to share about something I like, right?
Summer 2021 Chris & I got to Malta and one day I insisted we go to visit St John’s Co-Cathedral. The interior was the expected brash Catholic over-opulence, but the real attraction is that they have two paintings by Caravaggio. They’re off in a side-wing by themselves, intended to be the climax of your visit. And…they’re stunning. If you’ve paid attention on the rest of the tour you immediately recognise how they are miles above anything else here. The chiaroscuro yes, but also the humanity & emotion. Honestly, just thrilling stuff.
(well, there was always going to be one day which was too busy…)
I’m so intimidated by the sheer amount of art which is out there in the world. I try to keep up with art history/ the art world, but just feel constantly inadequate with how little I’m aware of.
And that’s, on the whole, just in the British/Anglophone world. There’ll be incredible artists in Chile, or Bosnia, or Ghana, who I’ll never even hear of.
I try to accept that all I can do is keep trying to make discoveries, whilst appreciating the arts I do have access to. Being a small corner of the world doesn’t make them less great.
I bought a painting today. Something I’d seen on the walls of a gallery several months ago and kept thinking about, and now lucky me can have it on my walls!
I’ve been actively trying to fill more walls of my home recently. Some things I’d bought when I was a younger & very different person no longer resonated, leaving conspicuously large blank spaces. Those spaces have now been there a while, but I’ve become more comfortable with being fussy about how they’re filled. Art shouldn’t just be “it’ll do”, but something you properly like & are genuinely happy to own.
Just a reminder that the only person who’s taste in art you should believe is your own.
I don’t write reviews to make you think what I think, but to hopefully perhaps make you interested enough in something to see it and decide for yourself.
Art is an expression of opinion on the world, and you don’t have to agree or like how it’s put across, not matter how “significant” or influential it is. There are some very self-confident voices in the art world who would encourage you to believe otherwise. Don’t.
I don’t really have anything to say today.
The concept of this post was for ‘practice’ and I’m sure that’s meant to be about pushing through these days, but also I’ve been pleased with my effort so far. I reckon a rest of my thoughts is fine. I’m no girlboss – days a bit off it are fine.
Which mediums hit you hardest?
For me: painting, always. There’s just something about what brushstrokes can do. With a brush you can be as calm, or angry, or joyful, in your own way.
I like photography – but very often I find, it only tells me somebody else’s story. The gap between reality and painting (even realism) leave more blanks for me to fill in myself. I feel for it, but not always with it.
Then the other week a neon made me cry. Broke me into bits. So maybe in its moment & with good curation, anything can shine.
(Another miss, I’m afraid. I’m enjoying this but getting time to fit it in every day is hard.)
Something I’m enjoying about this project is keeping myself to within the 100-word limit. It demands concentration to make sure I’m getting the key messages I intend for each day across effectively.
When I was drawing regularly during lockdown, I really learned how to consider the point at which a piece would suddenly feel overdone. I’d done that with words in some places, but never on this site – an unnecessary word or phrase didn’t matter. But from drawing I learned a lot about how to be more considerate of the balance between what is necessary and what is effective.
Bit blowy out there today.
This has an art-based impact on my weekend plans. I had in mind to write a longer piece about the new Bruce Asbestos works outside the Bluecoat, but they’ve been deflated to keep them safe. Which seems fair!
Galleries have their issues but one thing you can say for them (well, most): they keep the audience dry. I find viewing outdoor work a big ask when conditions are crap. I can’t separate my feelings about the art from those about the weather, so just hate everything. Best save the bulgy eyes for a better day.
I asked my mum for some art books for Christmas. Books of essays, but also a couple of artist monographs.
I’ve never actually owned any monographs (books covering the work of one single artist) before. They’re expensive – last year’s ambition to write more art history posts was thwarted because I just couldn’t afford the resources while libraries were closed. Although I sometimes feel that they’re a confined way of studying work (give me the real thing any day), when they collect together more works than you even knew existed, they’re an invaluable resource for both knowledge & inspiration.
Let’s talk about genre today. I usually prefer to be positive about art, but there’s one genre I really can’t get behind: landscapes.
My problem with landscapes is that the vast majority of them are so unambitious. I adore the power of nature, and totally get the desire to try and capture it – but it’s incredibly difficult. More often than not the approach of just copying what you see ends up being more pretty than sublime. And “pretty” is such an injustice.
Today I’ve been veering between tumult over Russia and Ukraine, and looking forward to quizzing later. The world is weird like that sometimes isn’t it. Little space for art between those two over-polarised concerns.
Italian or Northern European Renaissance? Of course it doesn’t have to be an either/or, but comparison is very much the way it was consistently spoken about during Art History studies (tbf restricted to stylistic development, which makes sense).
It’s the Northerners who win my heart. Maybe because they don’t have to stick to religious subjects it allows more space for humanity, not just form. Italian religious art gets the passionate extremes of emotions. But it doesn’t do so well with the everyday feelings which the subject of, say, a Frans Hals painting is clearly feeling.
A genre I’ve come to really adore is Dutch Golden Age flower paintings. Though well out of my usual wheelhouse, the more I learn about them the more I find to like.
They look so dramatic – vibrantly bright blooms popping against typically dark backgrounds. They’re compositions, not still-life’s, you know – artists picked flowers imported from around the world, which would never all bloom at the same time, to represent abundance brought by trade dominance. But then you look closer and see those which are wilting. Memento mori done pretty – as obvious as a skull really, but more aesthetic.
It’s often said that the darkest times are those when art is most needed. While I understand the principle, I’ve found it impossible to agree this week.
It’s felt trite to sit down and write about how I feel about an artist, or movement, when I’m watching the cities my friends have called home – which I’ve visited with them as their homes get bombs rained down on them. When I think of all the people who have been so overwhelming generous to me on my visits to Ukraine with no idea of whether they’re OK.
Or when others of my friends in Russia are messaging me about their hate for this action, and their fears for their futures under the rule of an evil, evil man.
This weekend I went to Wembley and watched Liverpool win the League Cup. I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t great, but it was also weird. Weird to have a day of normal feeling in what has immediately returned to being a dark and sad place. Don’t accuse me of selective empathy: of course things feel closer when you’re close to those it affects. When your friend has been telling you all year about the renovations she’s getting done on her apartment and now that apartment might not fucking exist.
Especially while it’s been the early days of a conflict, where the shock of the new is still reverberating, I’ve felt totally disengaged from the idea that art can help. I know it will, eventually, no matter what happens next. It will be there to act as a mirror for anger and sorrow and everything else. There will be a time and a place for its purpose. But that time has not been this week.