On Saturday I went to a private view at the wonderful Goldmark Gallery in Uppingham, Rutland. The Exhibition was John Piper and an incredibly charismatic man called Orde Levinson gave an inspired and informed talk about Piper and his work and then took Q&As from the floor.
I’m not a huge fan of Piper, although there are some pictures that are wonderful, but I often find that I can appreciate art, and indeed music, much better when I know something about the creator’s life and motivations, and so it was with this collection.
I spoke to a several people about their personal collections and I took the opportunity to brainstorm about an idea that was discussed on Radio 4 a few weeks ago. There are these art clubs springing up comprised of people who want the joy of original artworks in their houses but can’t afford to buy them. The form a club into which they put a set amount of money each month and then elect a small group of people to be the buyers. Obviously, they discuss in advance what sort of paintings, sculptures etc they wish to acquire for the group, and then they take it in turns to display the pieces at home.
I think this is a fantastic idea and many of these clubs become stalwart supporters of new and developing artists and, if the buyers are canny, they often buy early works of artists who later become very desirable indeed. Works are then sold on, often at a profit, which then goes back into the pot to buy more art.
This idea has also been taken up with considerable enthusiasm by some schools, who share the works on rotation so that children, who might not normally have access to original works, can experience them and draw inspiration from them in their own classes. My school had a central, classroom corridor, an eighth of a mile long, lined with well-framed, reproduction paintings from virtually every period of history. I often used to walks slowly along that corridor, really taking time to look at individual pictures and trying to memorize who painted them and why I did or didn’t like them.
The appreciation of art is something that should be intrinsic and accessible to all of us. Not necessarily just staring at paintings or pots or piles of ceramic seeds, but having the understanding that the things around us should have an element of beauty. Victorian engineers understood this and even a simple beam engine, operated by simple men, would be painted in red and gold and green and embellished with acanthus leaves and scrolls.
William Morris said “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful”. If people grow up with no beauty in their lives I truly believe that it will be harder for them to be beautiful. I can’t afford to buy original paintings or prints but sometimes I scan pictures from books or magazines and frame them in order to have that picture where I can see it. I once, very naughtily, photographed a painting at someone’s house using the digital macro feature on my camera. Admittedly, I do have a really good printer, but the print which emerged was so sharp, you could almost feel the brush strokes and several people have commented on what a lovely print it is!
I do have lots of small items which I have collected over the years from antique markets and general sales. These things are of no significant monetary value, but they give me an enormous amount of pleasure and, on the (increasingly rare) occasions when I entertain, the silver and cut glass come out and gleam and sparkle on the table in such a joyful way that it adds an extra dimension to the meal.
It would be very easy to lead a utilitarian life and it would certainly make house moves a lot less arduous, but where’s the fun in that? Whenever I see something I would like to buy at the antique market at Harborough, I ask the boys what they think. Do they like it and do they think it would fit in with the things we already have. Boy the Elder has often advised me, very sensibly about pieces and Boy the Younger is starting to develop his own taste.
Enjoying art and artefacts has far wider impact on our lives than simply liking a pretty picture. Stand with a child in front of a painting and ask him what he sees and how he feels; not only does this encourage a different use of language and descriptive ability, it also encourages children to explore their emotions and responses to their visual environment. Have you ever looked at a picture and wondered why it makes you feel angry or calm or unsettled? – what a wonderful opportunity to think about our feelings and perceptions. Art therapy is a recognised and longstanding technique for allowing troubled people to express themselves in a structured and non-threatening environment and it’s easy to see why.
Go out into the streets, dear friends. Find things you like and put them in your houses. Pick up your needles and embroider something, put some beeswax on that neglected table and watch the wood glow into life. Off you go.