Beliefs are strange things. They are things that you think are true without sufficient evidence. Even the things that you think are true and don’t require faith actually do. If you read Descartes’ Meditations he points out that nothing at all is rock solid certain. He settles on “I think there fore I am.” almost in desperation, though nowadays that is in doubt as well. The current view seems to be that we aren’t but basic physical processes give the illusion that we are. Nevertheless our systematic probing of our supposed reality has brought a high probability of many things being true. We have today far more and better founded certainty than any of our forebears. Unfortunately many of the enhanced certainties are less than welcome. All the honeyed promises by religions of a better life or a rise to transcendence look distinctly thin.
Nonetheless we cling to magic. We believe in homeopathy and astrology, souls and spirits and money and art. All of these things require belief without evidence. The numbers that stand for our wealth in some financial institution’s computer require everyone’s faith that they are of worth, as do the objects in our galleries. If that belief is challenged and fails then they will no longer be exchangeable for things of tangible value. You only have to look at the Tulip bubble where the value of tulip bulbs reached dizzy heights before belief failed and the perceived value plummeted. Surely money could not do that? Well yes it can and has many times. Not art I hear you say, well yes there was an art bubble in the Low countries in generic scenes, portraits and still lives which crashed and left many artists including Rembrandt broke.
At the moment we have an “Art Bubble” objects such as Tracy Emin’s bed (how I love that bed!) are given an arbitrary value unrelated to the object itself. The object is made to have value by the same process that makes the Turin shroud holy. IE unsubstantiated belief and faith. Both of these items are demonstrably worthless, but they also both have institutions working hard to keep up the illusion. I might add to efficiently hold up the value or holiness of such objects requires said institutions not to believe in the fantasy themselves. So I doubt anyone senior in the Catholic Church believes that the shroud is genuine, but they will believe that it is important that the laity believes. So to art galleries, if one of the sainted Emin’s works looks likely to tank in an auction they will step in and buy it back at a thumping loss, because if the belief sets in that Tracy’s works are of low worth then all the ones they have in the cupboard back at the office will also be devalued. Also all the rich and often powerful clients they have advised will find that they bought a pig in a poke and start to question the worth of any other works they may have acquired.
You might argue: all these people say these things are iconic and valuable so how could they be wrong? Well a wee peek at history gives a clue here. At some point in history people at the top thought that sacrificing people might improve the crops or stop a drought. The Egyptians elite though that building vast piles of stone and filling them with goodies would help an individual be comfy after they were dead. Also absurdly there was an age where people thought taking an unmade bed and putting it in a public space made it meaningful and hugely valuable… whoops that’s us!
So is art actually worthless? Well no. The tulips eventually settled down to a sensible level of value and spawned a healthy industry that survives there until today. The Flemish still lives painted by the acre are still bought and sold. The difference is in the cynicism of the current art world. They know that the values they espouse are imaginary and work hard to prevent anything to threaten the dream. There is no criticism allowed only reverent analysis and reportage. If you have a negative view of contemporary art it will not find any place in any paper whatever its political leaning. If I wrote a book deriding it, it would not be printed by a mainstream publisher. Even quotes such as this get dismissed “I think it is humbug myself. That is my own private opinion… I just don’t believe in Joseph Kosuth’s slogan ‘art as idea as idea’—if it is an idea it has never entered the world.” Who could have said such a thing… well Carl Andre (he of the bricks) is the man.
Will the bubble burst? Well my guess is yes and like all catastrophes of these kinds many of the undeserving will be taken down with the frauds and the simple minded believers. Can it be predicted? Well probably not, but the edifice is looking shaky to my eyes. What will be left? I think things made by someone who has devoted their lives to getting good at some skill will always end up being valuable because they are rare as well as covetable in themselves. Well made things enhance out lives in almost invisible increments. A beautifully shaped back to a chair will reward us a little as we slide out hands across the wood. A subtle passage in a painting that we hadn’t noticed hereto will halt our gaze for a fraction and give us a moment’s pause. Things that shout to be noticed tend to pall quickly and have only that dimension. Much contemporary art I find fun, but only in the way that a comic postcard might be. I will look and chuckle, but not put it on the wall to be part of the fabric of my every day.
Everything is contriving to prevent me painting at present, exhibitions, cars dying, social engagements all conspire to eat up my time. Still some bits and bobs have been done so here they are.
Going into Dorchester one day the light was fantastic. I sketched this in pencil and then inked it afterwards at home. These slightly larger A4 drawings are too big to finish on site. Besides I rather enjoy partially imagining the light. I resisted the temptation to peek at the photos of the scene until the very end. This meant I couldn’t put much detail in and in the end it didn’t need it. I only adjusted a few of the tonal relationships and added the figure in the end.
More drawing. This one I really did take to a finish on site. It took 3hrs though. Since my car is hors de combat I had to walk there too so this took all day! Still the light was fantastic so well worth it. A4 pen and ink.
Here is something I have never drawn before. A Gypsy Moth at Compton Abbas airfield. Very quick A5 scribble but fun to do.
I decided to do a few watercolours as I have rather neglected the medium for a month or so. This is what I call a backward water colour of Child Okeford where I lay in all the darks first whilst bearing in mind how the big washes that will go over them will soften and alter the hue. It is important to use non stainers for the lay in as you want them to partially dissolve when the next layers go over.
Here It is with the washes laid over. See how the shadow areas have softened and gained texture. Once the washes are in you can “tickle” areas with a small bristle brush to soften. Also colours can be dropped in to add variety. You have to be careful not to stir too much or it will all go to mud! 9in by 7in Watercolour.
This is near Ibberton, I was taken by the chimneys. I find Dorset’s somewhat over pretty villages a bit of a challenge so I tried to make this one less chocolate box by constraining the palette and retaining the cars and wires. Though I am coming to think you just have to accept the prettiness however unfashionable it is in painting today. The village are pretty for heaven’s sake so to unpretty them or just paint the skips round the back seems perverse. 1/4 sheet watercolour.
This is a view of Hod hill the other hill fort nearby. My car had briefly come back to life so I decided to tackle a 1/2 sheet en plein air. The weather wasn’t in the mood to cooperate though as once I had got the sky and the field in the heavens opened and I had to run for it with the board over my head.
I am off to Wales next so I hope to do a few paintings even though it is a social trip rather than a painting one.