3 Reasons why we should determine the Value of Art by Community Voting. (La lengua en la mejilla)

(As with the recent Saatchi Community Vote, see below):

1. To discover what’s going on:
In a non-threatening survey environment, we will learn about what motivates respondents and what’s important to them.

2. To Prioritize our actions based on objective data:
Rather than relying on subjective “gut” feelings, as to the value of art, we can gather objective information to make sound data-driven decisions. Therefore, we can immediately address issues that are important, rather than wasting resources on arty things that no one cares about.

3. To provide a benchmark:
Voting for the best work of art provides a “snapshot” of Saatchi’s (for example) target population and attitudes about art. This helps establish a baseline from which we can compare whether target population attitudes and perceptions change over time.

“The first round of Showdown consists of two parts: the community vote and the curated vote. All valid entries will be randomly displayed an equal number of times during the community vote and each work will be voted on a scale of 1 (lowest) to 5 (highest). A total of 300 submissions will progress to the next round including:
50 works with the highest average community votes
250 submissions selected by our professional Saatchi Art team
For more information about Showdown, please visit our In Glorious Colour dedicated page.”


Dinosaurio! Raaaaah!

I probably shouldn’t post this picture yet. Because its nowhere near finished, but I’m impulsive, I want to write this, and I’ll post the finished version in a few weeks, so you’ll see the difference/development.

I show this painting to a couple of friends, and my daughter, to see what they think.
First, Dave, a friend from work for years, a 40-something Scot who sees the piper and thinks the painting may have something to do with Scottish independence, possibly? He thinks my paintings are a bit weird but he’s seen a few of them, so he’s not too surprised. But he likes the way the dinosaur looks, and the Frankenstein windup toy, and he remembers enjoying doing art at school.

Next to comment is an art tutor and lecturer that I’ve known for a long time, very hard working and serious about her artwork, and the significance of her work at subconscious, personal, social, and art historic levels. She works with text, performance art, Photoshoped collaged images evoking ideas of memory, perhaps lost notions of community, and she says, ‘are you still stuck doing this stuff….’

I’m looking at the painting thinking the piper needs a lot more tightening up, and the background, actually I like the colours mostly, I’m enjoying the glazing thing I’m working on just now, and are people getting the theme? If they do, does it matter? Its meaningful to me anyhow…and I just love painting anyway, and on and on and on

Last to comment is my daughter Lilia, who looks at the painting and shouts “Dinosaurio! Raaaaah!’

Painting for kids

My daughter has been colouring in dinosaur drawings in a small dinosaur colouring book. Very colourful, reds, blues, oranges. Purples, yellows. Scribbley blocks of colour. And intelligent too, for a three and a half year old, i imagine. Blue for sky, brown for ground, there seems to be a logic to the colour choice.
Then it occurred to me that she has started drawing basic faces. Sooo, i thought, ask her to draw a face, then ask her to colour it in.
Here are the results. It amazed me, and her too I think.

I don’t lie when I say nothing

Art is mysterious and impossible to know. This statement that we assume to be true doesn’t want us to peek behind the curtain of obfuscation and see where the magician is hiding the bunny. If there is a bunny at all… Art for art’s sake evokes this idea. Art is a necessarily esoteric rite of society. We could never know what are its mysteries, so why even try thinking about it.

Or the antithesis: popular art reaches the public directly. Public taste is a healthy natural and unquestionable phenomenon. Everyone knows what good art is, so don’t bother questioning it.
The fallacy common to both assumptions is that there is an immutable relationship between the value of art and audience.

I’m paraphrasing art critic Northrop Frye from Anatomy of Criticism here, but what I mean to say is.. art is sayable.

For example….

Ahy-den-ti-tee: What are artists like ?

(Talking of difficult communication), if we start with something unquestionably true and beyond the realms of doubtfullness: what an artist says about themself lets us know something about the work of art, and vice versa. Surely?

The artist’s autobiography is probably the bedrock of a great deal of what is written about works of art. By journalists, writers, bloggers and what-you have it.

What we understand of the work of art is inseparably bound to who the artist is. And who they say they are.

So..lets have a look at the origins of the term identity it might throw up something interesting about artistic identity:

identity (n.) “sameness, oneness,” from Middle French identité (14c.), from Late Latin (5c.) identitatem (nominative identitas) “sameness,” from ident-, comb. form of Latin idem (neuter) “the same” (see identical); abstracted from identidem “over and over,” from phrase idem et idem.

Ah…so, identity refers to, not uniqueness, but sameness. What the artist or artwork are like. (Everything is like something). That confuses things a bit. So artistic identity may be do with what the artwork is like, rather than how unique it is. The artwork disappears in a puff of … Sameness.

An artist’s life story coexists with the artwork, each supporting the other. But another thought, an artist’s story tends be a linear narrative. Usually something along the lines of how the artist translates their life experiences into the work of art.
The artist presents us with a life story that supports, explains and justifies the work of art. Providing a covenant for the meaning and value of the work of art. For example, reduced to the ridiculous, the  ‘X Factor’ mini biographies…I’m singing because my  dog died on the rail tracks…etc

However identity is not confined to a simple social or mental linear narrative.
Identity involves all manner of irregular bits and bobs: physique, bodiliness, friends and relatives, children, persons, what we do or don’t do on a day to day basis, what we eat and drink, our drugs of choice: caffeine, chocolate, nicotine, alcohol. Our practices, mistakes, foibles. The dead ends and failings of life.

Mistakes make people, as the great Dave Lee Roth said.

So there maybe a uniqueness to artistic identity. Its just a bit messy.
The life story story requires a little unpacking. And expanding. Its necessarily difficult and confusing and contradictory.
If  I’m explaining my paintings to a gallery owner, or writing an artists statement, or a manifesto perhaps, my story does need to be reduced to an A4 page of text. But what is excluded are the revealing inconsistencies and conflicts between levels of self-interpretation, various incongruent narratives of identity. We often surprise and dissapoint ourselves.

Ignoramus et ignorabimus, nice bit of latin to finish with – meaning “we do not know and will not know”.
There’s a lot of that in painting. The practice of, the explanation of, and the interpretation of. There are just some things about the work of art that we could never possibly know.

So what. A useful question. I suppose that if I begin an anaysis of a work of art based upon what the artist says about their life, (or what a book or critic or gallery says about the artist’s life), we now have a little wriggle room to tease the story apart, examine the inards and therefore get to a better understanding about what the artwork is more likely to be about. Moderating that which we are spoon fed so to speak.


Solaris, continued….
…for example, Soderbergh’s effort glosses over Lems themes of alien oddness, and the wierdness of genuine incommunicability Consequently Soderburgh’s film becomes a messy pseudo metaphysical space romance.
On the space station in Lem’s novel , communication with the living sea of Solaris is frustratingly impossible. The otherness of the Solaris other is absolutely absolute.
For example, the protagonist, Dr. Kris Kelvin is motivated to launch his wife/phantom into space on seeing and hearing something other than his wife. Memories of his wife projected onto the alien Solaris construct. There is a clash between the familiar and the strange contained within one indestructible form.
For Cluneys Dr. Kris Kelvin character however, there is little genuine otherness. When Cluney evacuates his wife into space, he is doing just that, evacuating his wife, with the merest suggestion she might not be. Which Provides us with the whole new narrative of Cluney rejecting wifeyness, rather than rejecting either alien strangeness, or his own memories. There is a thoughtful strangeness to Lems original, lacking in the Hollywood remake. Not horror, not the stuff of Harryhausen creature features, but the authentic oddness and truth in concepts of projection dramatised…I think.


Solaris is a fantastic read (Stanislaw Lem) and so much more than the Cluny remake movie would suggest (reduced to romantic encounters). Or even than Tarkovsky’s 1972 movie can pack in (key sections of the book missing). There is an oddness to the experience of reading it. An emptiness and familiarity. Solaris is one of Lem’s philosophic explorations of the limitations of mans (person’s) knowledge, so understandably anxty. Rich and strange.


Change: to make (something) other than what it was” ; from late 13c. as “to become different”.
Recently I’ve overheard people saying they don’t like change.
Change itself, I don’t mind. I love good change: a wage increase; a sunny day; any expected or unexpected improvement to my situation.
I don’t like bad change, which I think is an authentic response.

Is that what it is?

Ask: ” do you mean what you are saying?”.
Do artists mean what they say when they say what their works of art mean?
There seems to be a particularly reductive singularity to self interpretation. I suppose that’s fairly obvious.
However, feelings are nuanced and difficult. If an artist has a sore toe when interpreting his or her own feelings towards their work, what are they really feeling? Glib perhaps, but self interpretation is necessarily difficult.
I suppose we should really ask of an artist: do you really ‘mean’ that? Do you mean what you are meaning? And they might say, “I was only half joking…”

On the outside looking in

Painting emotion.

“I measure a painting in terms of evoking and communicating emotion. This is the elusive and difficult thing to strive for.” Not my words but recent BP portrait award nominee Suzanne du Toit talking about her works of art. Evoking and communicating emotion. Im curious. It seems like such an obvious, transparent and truthful thing to say: measuring a painting in terms of evoking and communicating emotion.
I want to know more though. Whose emotion is the painting evoking and communicating? Take her BP portrait, Suzanne du Toit’s portrait of her eldest son Pieter, aged 35. Is Suzanne’s painting evoking and communicating Suzannes emotion to Pieter? If so, when? Presumably the painting took a while to do, so does it represent how she felt about him at a particular time? Because presumably, again, Suzanne has an emotionally rich and varied relationship with her son. Or is it Pieter’s emotion? If so, how did Suzanne identify how he was feeling? Not an easy thing to do, even with those closest to us I think I understand, from a creative point of view, in a sense, what she is saying. Paintings themselves evoke and communicate emotional responses, of themselves. The colour, the composition, the subject, the clothes…the expressions of the subjects…the advertising industry spends millions upon millions trusting that such visual cues elicit emotional responses amongst consumers. And yet there is a clear fracture between  personal inner events, and a painting. How can we possibly translate emotion…one thing…into paint…another…and then hope that this communicates to an audience. Its like trying to paint a sound, or hear a colour, isn’t it? Suzannes straightforward statement is a deceptively unremarkable doorway to the potentially immeasurable, rich and woolly personal and social thing that is art. Fascinating. As Spock might say.

One last question though, as Columbo used to say (not that Columbo was in Star Trek), I remember dropping into the BP portrait exhibition a few years ago, and I thought Id accidentally stumbled into a photography exhibition. Do the paintings have to look so photographic? I mean what’s the point of doing a painting if the photograph looks ok? Does the camera make a better job of capturing emotion than the artists eye.