My attention was drawn to the following by a work colleague.

How to appreciate art
Guy Browning
(An article from The Guardian, early 2002)

Appreciating art is very easy once you understand art history. Art started with two-dimensional cave paintings. Then came two-dimensional church paintings. In the Renaissance, artists got perspective and started painting jugs. The Enlightenment brought us well-lit jugs with a side order of fruit. Romantic art depicted the landscape cave dwellers would have seen if they'd looked out, had perspective and understood lighting.

Art then became what artists saw inside them, rather than outside. Impressionism was the world seen through a couple of glasses of vin rouge. Expressionism was impressionism after the whole bottle. Vorticism was when the room started spinning, and modern conceptual art is the throwing-up stage.

Conceptual artists are the purest form of capitalists in that they have no artistic merit until they have sold something. The more they sell, the more talented they become. This kind of art doesn't have to mean anything because there is a body of people whose job is to interpret it. The artists install the art, the critics give it meaning and the collectors give it value. It's a great system for everyone concerned, except the general public. But then art is none of their concern.

Figurative art continues to be painted and bought by the vast majority of the population who can't afford artistic good taste. This style has four main themes: young boy and girl kissing in meadow; horse ploughing field followed by gulls; small harbour with gaily coloured fishing smacks; deer on misty mountain.

There are three important rooms in any gallery that you shouldn't miss. First, there are the washrooms. If galleries hung great masters above the urinals, they would have more chance of being looked at properly than anywhere else. Second, you must visit the cafe. When you've failed to be moved by any of the great masters in the galleries, a nice cup of tea and a slice of cake will give you that missing sense of spiritual uplift.

Finally, there is the gift shop. This is where you can buy postcards of the great masters, so you can actually have a good look at them without being jostled by tourists. You can also buy posters of the great masters to hang up at home. It's the modern version of cave painting.

(End of article.)

Speaking of rooms in an art gallery; it happened some years ago, before the Tate was split into the Tate Britain and the Tate Midden, that I walked into a room of drear sullen Rothko tat, wherein a seated young woman eyed with a dull bovine gaze the ghastly negations.

It took but a moment to realise that I had stumbled upon a scene and circumstance worthy of the Classics - for this room could be nothing other than the Suicides' Antechamber.

That place where those despairing of life come for final confirmation of the pointlessness and worthlessness of existence. Where being made to suffer the lassitude of spirit, and the awful vacuity of mind that are the inevitable enfeebling concomitants of viewing dullness made actual, serves to encourage the hesitater to take the fateful step.

I immediately felt that Common Humanity required me to offer this desperate young woman what help I could.

However I was entirely unprepared for the situation; I did not have a packet of sharp razors upon me, nor a bus timetable for the busy road outside, nor an address for a rope makers, or a chemists willing to sell more than a fatal dose, and no, not even a table of high tides for the nearby river.

I could have led her outside and given her directions to the nearest tube station with its electrified rails, or pointed out the numerous nearby tall buildings from which she could throw herself, but sadly I did neither of these things.

For in the event British Reserve prevailed, and I quietly withdrew from that solemn byre, leaving her to her blank-eyed bromidic stasis.

Post script to the above.

After posting the above few paragraphs about the young woman and the Rothkos at the Tate (which is, by the way, a true story) it was brought to my attention that Rothko was a suicide, a fact of which I had previously been unaware.

I have never been a fan of the 'Artist-as-soap-opera-character' school of justification. My opinion of the works of, for example, Beethoven or Tchaikovsky were not in any way altered by learning that the latter was a fairy and that the former suffered deafness for a significant portion of his life.

Their works are excellent without benefit of soap opera sympathy vote.

Irrespective of his fate Rothko's 'work' is drear sullen tat.

[Back to 'FAQs']