Writing about music is like dancing about architecture. – Martin Mull
What follows was intended as a short form answer to a twitter question on ask.fm. As with most things Matilda my answer seemed to roll on for ages, and next thing I knew ask.fm told me there was no more space. Egos being what they are, I promptly packed up my words and posted them here, where I knew they could layabout like the greedy idlers they were meant to be, without the limitations of paltry things like space and number of characters.
What do I know about art? Let me begin by saying I feel there is no such thing as “bad art”, there is only creative endeavour, but personal opinion will call a piece good or great. So I’m glad you added “to you?” I leave the technical / proper critiques to the people who actually know what they are talking about. They can call a thing good or bad. I wont. I know what moves me and I know what makes me weep. That’s about as much as I need to know,
What is art? Art is, well to me, It’s words strung together for both clarity and illusion. It’s squiggly lines and ox blood red swept across a canvas. It’s Baryshnikov’s leaps and Gustav Klimt’s Kiss. To be sure, it can be an intellectual exercise, sparing with the artist, writer, creator. Why did she whisper “I love you” instead of scream it from the roof top? Why such rapid brush strokes, was he struggling with the light? Are the faceless shadows and blurry foreground meant to be allegorical? As an intellectual pursuit it can be fun. Good art in my opinion is fun, even in its darkest most solemn places; it will push the boundaries of the mind. But great art, the best art, doesn’t exist on a continuum. It speaks the language of the soul. It’s my Godson’s first attempt at painting. It’s Pollock’s “One” It’s anything that astounds and stupefies you, that draws you into the world and imaginings of its creator.
When I was thirteen, while running errands (with, for the sake of this post, an irrelevant parent at an irrelevant gallery) I saw a piece by Alexander Cooper. It was the face of a Rastafarian man. Now, I had grown up with some pieces from Cooper in our house, so it wasn’t odd that we were there. To be perfectly honest, I’m not a fan of his work, but this was different, it was like nothing I had seen from him before or, since. This piece was extraordinary, this, this was art. It was a man’s face, that’s all it was, painted with thick, rapid, almost clumsy, yet completely deliberate strokes. There was a fire and intensity in the speed and movement of colour on canvas. All told it was maybe the size of a fullscap sheet (legal paper if you aren’t Jamaican) greens and blues and ebony swirling across the smallest expanse. His eyes, unlike the rest of his face which, was so alive and vibrant -his eyes were dead. They looked like ackee seeds against a velvet face.
I remember stopping. There is memory of adult gibberish about values, and investments. These are the sorts of things one talks about when, oblivious to real passion, dancing like live wire in front of you. On my part there was no breathing, instead the painting did that for me. It sustained me, made my blood pump and told my body to carry on without me. My person was erect, but my soul was darting in and out of its shell. There I was, seemingly in front of a frame, utterly transfixed. Subject and painter morphed as one for me, I could smell his sweat. I could taste its salt in my mouth. Its blues were blueberries, its greens the grass stains I never had from summer play. The sickly sweet smell of river soaked earth was calling me, for this man had to have been painted in the thickest bush – somewhere near a river.
There is nothing about this exchange that i do not remember, because it was an exchange. Part of that man – subject/artist is imprinted on my soul. And part of the girl that I was went into that frame. She wondered off, stumbling behind his locks into what I imagine to be a jungle of Bamboo, red gingers and a jaunty river moving towards the mouth of the sea. She is forever thirteen. I imagine her often; she spends her days skipping rocks, feasting on mangoes, and peeking through the bamboo at the Rasta man with dead eyes. If I close mine, I can see clearly the first moment of introduction between a girl and a frame. Open them, and I am transported to the present, leaving her there as she happily wanders through the wild thickets of our commingled past.
Note: May have taken a turn into something else. Not so sure whether I’m answering the question or sorting something out for my self. Feels like a work in progress.