This is definitely not a book review, it’s just me getting an annoyance out of my brain that has been bugging me since I read a pair of books about art and I’m hoping that after writing it down I can forget about it.
Early last year I read A Short Book about Drawing by Andrew Marr. It’s about his experiences with drawing and about drawing as an art form, and it was quite an interesting read. Along the way, it discussed what drawing is, not just pencil and paper, but an inclusive view that includes pastels and charcoal and colour and washes and numerous other practices.
So, later in the year, I read the companion book: A Short Book about Painting. Flicking through it again, I see lots of interesting topics, but reading it left me dissatisfied. Compared to the openness and inclusivity of the first book, where anyone could draw, from rough sketches by amateurs to works by old masters, this felt somehow mean-spirited. Now that he was talking about painting, suddenly the end result had to be “good”, it had to be special and have meaning and be clever. Cliches and simple representation were definitely “not good”, no matter how technically adept they were.
And quite honestly, that annoyed the hell out of me. And, a year later, it still annoys the hell out of me. I know that a lot of people hold that view, that to qualify as art something has to be exceptional. But I was hugely disappointed to find that attitude here, especially compared to the friendly acceptance of all practices in the book about drawing. It’s that attitude that stops people from trying; the bar is set so high that it can barely be seen by someone just starting out with their first set of paints. That sneering declaration that something isn’t “good” or isn’t “art”.
I don’t know what the “right” definition of art is, never mind what constitutes “good art”. I’m sure critics and “knowledgeable people” would look at what I do and refuse to call it art.
But, if it’s not art, then what is it?
I am putting pen, pencil, ink, paint, paper or even fabric to paper and board and creating images both abstract and representational.
If that’s not art, what is?