Friday, May 17, 2013

Interesting .... really?

Various online dictionaries define the word 'interesting' as 'arousing curiosity or interesting, capturing and holding the attention'. The Merriam-Webster online dictionary lists a whole rake of 'related' words, which include 'breathtaking', 'enchanting', 'provocative', 'tantalising', 'thrilling' and 'spellbinding'; as well as a dozen or so synonyms which include 'absorbing', 'engaging', 'engrossing' and 'enthralling'.

An art piece can be all those things. I personally find Van Gogh's works to be 'captivating' - but not everyone I know feels the same. And I could stand for hours in front of Botticelli's Birth of Venus and never tire of it, ever - and I mean the original work, which is enormous. I think it's wonderful, and I love the symbolism in Greek mythology and the significance of the shell ... but that is for another blog. And I enjoy the playfulness of works by Joan MirĂ³. Then there are own artists from Ireland - the great works of Jack Butler Yeats, whose skill at drawing horses with paint is unmatched, and whose works developed a wonderful psychic resonance as he aged. Another Irish artist who seems to tap into some kind of unseen but very much sensed otherworld is John Shinnors, whose abstracted series of The Scarecrow and The Estuary both tap into the various epistemological layers, as well as being technically interesting - oops, sorry, and you'll why I'm apologising for using that word by the time you finish reading this blog - for any artist who aspires to work in oil paint. 

I recently read an article in the Irish Times that discusses abstraction and how it has lost its shock value and has become rather mundane and slightly embarrassing. I'm just going to quote the last paragraph, because that is what triggered this blog: 

"Here, though, may be the irony of abstraction. It was too successful to retain its power to disturb and, in many cases, to delight. A slight air of disappointment hangs over the MoMA show: for all its wonders, too many of the once-astounding works can now be damned with that most terrible term of approbation: interesting. In the end, even the most abstract work does need what Picasso called “something” – some reference to a real or imagined, physical or spiritual world beyond itself." 
- by Fintan O'Toole, for The Irish Times

I couldn't help but notice his use of the word 'interesting' ... and couldn't help grinning wryly to myself. 

See, I don't think that Fintan O'Toole means 'tantalising', 'enthralling' or 'spellbinding'. He is using the word as every person who goes to opening nights of exhibitions has used it one time or another. It's a cop-out word. It's a form of politeness. It basically means 'I appreciate that the artist put a lot of time and effort into these works, and a lot of thought, did a lot of research, etc., but frankly the finished product doesn't do a whole lot for me. But well done. It's nicely presented. And thanks for the wine.' Well, this is what is means when spoken by someone who isn't actually an artist themselves. An artist can say an exhibition is 'interesting' and mean anything from 'spellbinding', 'enthralling', etc., through 'spiritually uplifting and ethereal' through 'very nice, I love the composition/textures/concept/process/product/colours/hues/drawing/line/wine' through 'I love the composition etc. and wish I had thought of doing it that way, kudos' through 'I wish I had thought of that first, now that cunt is going to get the glory for being the first to do it and I can't be seen to be copying him/her' through 'whatever. I want more wine. I wonder if they'll notice if I nick a bottle?' and so on. But I think generally that when an artist says an exhibition is 'interesting', like the non-artist, they are being polite - with the added consideration that as artists, they appreciate much better the industry that has gone into making the art and putting together the exhibition. 

I've made work that has been called 'interesting'. But I suppose that, given that even the greatest of the abstractionists, whose work was once considered 'ground-breaking', and 'innovative', are now considered 'interesting' in the pantheon of art history in general, I suppose I'm in good company. Or I'm damned.

Whatever. Where's the wine?

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