Putting LowestLox on t'Map?


I always slightly felt that if there was an A4 printed sheet put up beside an artwork, it generally meant the artwork wasn’t doing its job.


Those who can, do.
Those who can’t do, teach.
Those who can’t teach, teach gym!

…and then there’s Mr. Jones…



Exactly! Unless, of course, it’s

(a) Part of the piece, or
(b) The price (though A4 is a tad unsubtle)

As regards the former:



Yeah, but what d’you bet there’s nobody among the scripties who thinks of recent art as anything except “modern rubbish”?

Now, I often feel that way myself, but I don’t go writing scripts about it, and I have some vague inkling of how some of it works. (But I also know that Damien Hirst was a nobody until the Saatchis decided to use him to make lots more money than they already had. And I bet he does too.)


So they’ve decided that there are two R4 evening audiences, distinguished by whether they turn off or on when TA finishes? And ne’er the twain…

Though he does (unlike some, I suspect*) have the basic skills an artist should have, as can be seen from this bit of juvenilia:


*I know for a fact that there are some self-styled “composers” who couldn’t produce a four-part harmonisation of London’s Burning. I doubt that level of charlatanry is unique to music.


Art has other functions than raising questions, joe. For a start-off it can soothe, or make bellicose, or make happy, or make sad – and that’s just music, and a very small segment of the spectrum of it at that. Poetry (which is art) can provide insights into puzzling things, or simply draw them to the reader’s attention, or show how another person can be feeling; painting can capture the exact way that a cat sits, or the shade in a waterfall, or a clever optical illusion, or melancholy, or joy. And so on. And any one of them can cause one to think about anything whatever, without any questions involved either way.


It also covers a stain on my wall.


This one doesn’t.


Forgot to say, it can also be a cause of mirth.

Sometimes not deliberately: I once took refuge from the rain in a Modern Art Gallery called The Arnolfini, where one of the exhibits was a piece of rough wood about two foot by two foot, with some chicken wire roughly nailed to it over a pigeon feather. It was called “canary in a cage”. I started laughing and found it hard to stop, while the curator of the exhibition came over to see what was going on and then told me severely that this was “not a valid artistic response.” Since the price-tag said it was for sale at £250, I pointed to it and told her that on the contrary, I was responding appropriately to an excellent jest.

Well, I didn’t know it was her work, did I.


Fair enough - I was specifically referring to the simplistic way Russ was explaining what it “meant”. (Once a schoolteacher…?). As we’ve both said, if you can say that in words, the art is redundant—or a failure.


To be fair, an explanation of the allegories in a Botticelli can be helpful if you want to know what he was talking about rather than just admiring his painting skill or enjoying the picture. The Primavera, say.


I think this is just a semantic difference; if by experiencing a piece of art (in any medium) your thinking is changed, have you not effectively been asked to consider a different viewpoint? I would consider that a “question”; after all, if it can “show how another person can be feeling” you have to ask yourself how you think they were feeling. That’s why I said it raises questions; you look / hear / read then ask yourself the questions. For that reason, the idea of an “invalid response” is nonsense; interpretation is subjective. Any reading that can be supported by the “text” (not limited of course to actual text) is, ipso facto, valid—and that includes recognising that some of it is shite.


That’s a different issue, though—and one I meant to mention earlier! I’d imagine very few of those who claim to appreciate, say, Renaissance art really “understand” it. There are all sorts of “hidden” symbols of which the connoisseur (using the term in the strict sense) is aware, but which are lost on the casual viewer, because they don’t have the cultural reference points. It’s possible to enjoy the work on the superficial level, of course, but the artist would assume that his intended audience would be aware of them.

It’s the same in music of course—the notes on the page are frequently only a starting point; composers in the baroque period, for example, expected performers to vary and embellish what was written; the idea of simply playing it “straight” would be anathema. Knowing the appropriate style is as important—indeed more important—as knowing the notes, just as it is with jazz or most folk music.

The idea of the score being 'holy writ" was a C19 aberration, a result of the ever larger forces being used; it was simply not possible to co-ordinate a Wagnerian-sized orchestra without everyone being absolutely in step. This of course led to all sorts of misinterpretations of earlier work—including the myth that Beethoven’s metronome was miscalibrated, so that all his given tempi are too fast. However, play Beethoven with a classical-sized orchestra, and the tempi are perfectly possible—and revelatory. (Incidentally, those who think certain online discussions are “robust” should try a spat between HIP and modern advocates; it is without doubt the subject on which I’ve received the most personal abuse online.)

The rot set in early, incidentally. Berlioz bemoaned the tendency to play Beethoven too slow in his Étude critique des symphonies de Beethoven:

The seventh symphony is famous for its allegretto*

*Which is always referred to as the adagio or andante.


Or, of course, you can simply grok it without asking questions about it: the moment of revelation: “Oh, that’s what that-which-had-puzzled-me is about/means/feels like!” Sometimes art simply wants to evoke. That isn’t a question: it is an answer. Take Sibelius…

I get this more with poetry than with pictures/sculpture, to be honest, and I can safely say that I have never had it happen with anything by Hurst or Emin. Or come to that Pollock. I tend to go along with Rosemary Sutcliff’s description to me of the illustrations of her books by Charles Keeping: “They’re very clever, but so ugly.”

As a Mediaevalist I am very much aware how little we are able to understand the symbolism, and the mindset, of the Middle Ages; what would have been straightforward to Chaucer when he wrote a pseud showing off about all the herbal remedies he knew would have been obvious as pseudery to the contemporary audience, who knew diuretic and mildly poisonous herbs when they heard their names, but is lost on the modern audience, who don’t. And almost no attempts to “read” men of the period comprehend at all that God was real, God really meant it, being excommunicated meant that you really were in truly terrible trouble, and trying to understand what He wanted of His Children was of paramount importance – it is beyond comprehension to most people now.


Which I would see as moving the “question” into the subconscious. The answer–that “moment of revelation”—comes from a person’s response to the art, not the art per se; it’s a two-way process. I don’t think our views are incompatible, or indeed that different; as I said, it seems more a matter of semantics than substance.


I am asserting that something can be an answer; you are asserting that the same thing is (or should only be) a question. I am unsure how they are the same, truly.

What you said was "Art, if it has any function, is supposed to raise questions, not answer them. " I reckon that some art does neither, but simply IS; and that some art gives answers when there was no question asked.

A lot of modern art, otoh, does indeed raise questions, mostly “why?” or even “why on earth would anyone bother?”


Well that in itself begs the question, “the answers to what”?

OK, we’re getting into pretty murky philosophical waters here; can there be an “answer” without a “question”? More generally, an answer by definition must be a response, if not to an explicit question, then certainly an implicit one. Perhaps “challenge” and “response” might be better terms than “question” and “answer”?

Either way, I don’t think either of us would support Russ’s simplistic reading.


You’re certainly right there!


He has, however, reconnected me wiv me inner Traditionalist when it comes to the deployment of tape - gaffer or duct.


Which brings us back to my initial complaint, that no one in Ambridge is allowed to have any intellectual life without being made the object of ridicule. People do read books, go to concerts, plays, galleries. People even listen to In Our Time. I believe there are some brave souls who even produce art and listen to R4—TA included…