Friday, 13 January 2012

Ideas and meanings

Inspiration and ideas are some of the rarest things in art. They don't come often or easily. Staring at a blank canvas and wondering what comes next is difficult and brings with it too many questions of self. Waiting for a cosmic inspiration ray to connect with the correct synapse is fruitless. Ideas and inspiration take work, thinking and planning.

When I returned in November from my visit to Fayetteville, I had an idea and I was very pleased to have it. It was vague but I had the edge of it and I was sure that, if I could find a corner piece as well, I'd be able to make something of it. Last week I made something out of that edge, which I was also very pleased with. I have not, however, managed to grasp that elusive corner piece as well and, instead, that very edge seems to be dissipating back into the mist, from where it came.

All of this is a whole mess of metaphors, that only serve to say I had an idea but it didn't work out as I had hoped. Luckily, I was distracted from this by the arrival in Edinburgh of Fayetteville's own Megan Chapman. In the first few days of Megan's stay, we visited two of Scotland's national galleries.

The Scottish National Gallery was our first stop. Featuring a broad selection of works from the Renaissance period up to the early 20th century, there is quite a wealth of art history on show. Many world-famous artists are represented, from a mostly Euro-centric view of art. For all of the jewels in the collection, it was the lower gallery, which is given over to exclusively Scottish art, that Megan and I found most engaging. Here we found life and beauty in pieces by artists whose names are unlikely ever to be mentioned outside of Scotland.

A few days later we visited the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, which seems to have suffered an unfortunate re-branding accident. Inside 'Modern One' we visited The Sculpture Show. Stuffed with a who's who from around the last 150 years of sculpture, with a particular emphasis on contemporary conceptual art, there was a lot to see. Sadly, there was not a lot to feel. My long-standing antipathy towards conceptual art can't have helped, nonetheless I really felt a lack of connection to most of the art on show. I'm at a loss as to exactly why that was, or indeed why I was left with a lingering feeling of having encroached on an elitist area that I have no right to be in. In many instances I felt myself wondering if there was simply something I was not getting.

In all, there were only two pieces that spoke to me, both deceptively simple works by Barbara Hepworth. With their clean lines and stark white paint on wood, the pieces were elegant and inordinately pleasing to view. There was a strong temptation to touch them, however the gallery's own piece Wave, had been stuffed into a glass case.

The exhibition left me with a lingering impression that I mostly don't like sculpture, that "I don't know much about art, but I know what I like". I can't stand that feeling. I was also very disappointed to note that the entire gallery had been given over to this exhibition for six months. I am not going to be able to show the collection that I have long admired.

Across the street in Modern Two (or the Dean Gallery as was), we found some Samuel Peploe paintings, which mostly made up for the earlier disappointment. I've enjoyed Peploe's work for many years and seeing them in the flesh is always a treat. This time it was doubly so because I was seeing them with Megan, to whom I first (digitally) introduced Peploe almost two years ago.

As enjoyable as seeing Peploe was, the earlier exhibition became the dominant topic of conversation on the walk home. Our discussion was lively and I often found myself attempting to defend my ongoing dislike of conceptual art to Megan, as ever a great devil's advocate. Ultimately, I questioned whether an idea that has been created by a brand and produced by employees should be called art.

As I sit here now and ponder the nature of my own inspiration and ideas, the discussion resurfaces. I have few positive feelings about The Sculpture Show and so it is probably not helping me wrestle with my own art in any meaningful way. It leads me then to this conclusion: that no matter what the art is, it can provide inspiration, even if only to not make art like it. It also reinforces my belief that the best art is that which means something personal to the artist and that they have made it with their own hands. Maybe this makes me old fashioned, an anachronism. If so, I really don't mind.

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