Boundaries of Art

In the Hold c.1913-4 by David Bomberg 1890-1957Never let the fact that you know nothing about a subject prevent you from expatiating on it. So I thought, if that Duncan Campbell film had no soundtrack at all, I would never have doubted its fitness for an art gallery. Masks brightly lit against a black background- repeated shots of what looks like a half-finished imitation mask- no problem. The words, making an argument, made the difference for me.

Entering a “how many hairs make a beard” argument, I note that Tris Vonna-Mitchell’s film also has words; but I did not object there because they did not make sense. I mean, that words were repeated, phrases seemed disconnected, I had an emotional reaction to the voice, sounds and phrases which was different to being told a story. Stories are literature, not Art.

While I have no objection to installations, or found objects, in an art gallery, I drew the line at a documentary film, which I might see in an art cinema or on the telly. I expect different experiences in a cinema and a gallery.

But- how wide is the gulf between, or is there one? In an art gallery I wish to be moved. As I wander through, I don’t expect that I should see the video installation from start to finish. So any way an artist in an art gallery chooses to move me, is art. Or outside: I heard of an artist, paid by the Arts Council to kick a can down the road.

I am playing with the idea now. Something wilfully opaque, or using a language the viewer simply does not understand, which produces irritation or anger is- not an interaction with an art work which I find constructive or valuable. The moment when I think “That’s not art” then see it really is- I have my appreciation enlarged- is valuable, but personal: any art work might do that for someone, none can presume to do it for anyone.

My conscious mind understands things with words. Unconsciously, I understand more, but it is shadowy, like grasping at mist. I want art, and music, to talk directly to that visceral understanding. Rational sentences making an argument get in the way. Or, I pay attention to the argument, intellectually,

and am still moved, unconsciously, by particular emotive words, or by the images.

Of course I can walk past it. I need not engage. I cannot demand that everything should speak to me, though missed communication always distresses and perturbs me.