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 of their cave, 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.
A conceptual artist is the purest form of capitalist 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 professional 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 for the general public. But then, art is none of their concern.
Figurative art continues to be painted, bought, hung and enjoyed by the vast majority of the population who can’t afford artistic good taste. This style of art 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.
In a traditional gallery, it is very impolite to actually look at a painting directly. You wouldn’t stare at someone in real life, so why start with a painting. Instead, you must give it the briefest of glances and then move on to the label, which tells you what it is and who painted it.
There are three important rooms in any gallery that you shouldn’t miss. Firstly, there are the bathrooms. If galleries hung great masters above the urinals, they would have more chance of being looked at properly than anywhere else.
Secondly, you must visit the café. 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 banana 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 a busload of foreign tourists. You can also buy posters of the great masters to hang up at home, which is the modern equivalent of cave painting.
© GUY BROWNING IS THE AUTHOR OF ‘NEVER PUSH WHEN IT SAYS PULL’ AND CREATOR OF ‘TORTOISE IN LOVE’ (DVD) – USED BY PERMISSION.