What I know about art

For much of my life, up till about a year ago, I didn’t have much respect for art. Drawing came so easily to me that it was a cheap skill in my eyes. It was an ubiquitous ability in my household: my dad was an architect, and all six of my sisters and brothers could draw. My mum would often say, “yes, you’re good at art but so are lots of people”. This was a hard point to dispute. This environment shaped how little I grew to value my own art skill and even (rather insolently) the skill of other artists.

Until entering Sixth Form, what I knew of art history I knew only by hearsay. I had heard of Raphael and Michelangelo. I knew of Van Gogh and Picasso and Monet. In my house, art never hung on the walls, we never went to art galleries, and we never travelled other than to Ireland once a year to see family. My mother, a ruthlessly practical Irishwoman, had some regard for the old masters and she sometimes spoke of Michelangelo’s Pieta with great reverence, but she never took pains to teach us the same. Instead, she spent her energy drilling Catholicism into us. It was in Sixth Form during my art A level studies that I learnt pickings from the usual palette of contemporary artists: Jenny Saville, Damien Hirst, David Hockney etc. None of which I found especially inspiring or riveting.

Recently, Artsy.com ran an article series titled ‘This Artwork Changed My Life’. I read a few entries by the various contributors, but rather than being inspired, I felt irked at how dramatic it was and by my own failure to relate. No artwork has ever made a lasting impression on me: I am still an ignorant youth with a confident pencil-line, waiting on my epiphany. Realistically, thinking about other artists and their work takes up only 5% of the brain power I spend thinking on art. Thinking of my art, my compositions and my vision takes up the other 95%. On-top of this, most of the energy I use thinking about other artists is spent categorising them according to how I understand their vision, instincts, and style. I am only 22 years old, so it is likely my lack of life experience which ill-fits me as an art admirer.

I am still struggling to pin-point what value I see in art. When looking at great works of art today, I try to imagine if there was a fire in the building, would I run to save this piece? I try to imagine would my understanding of art be any different if my eyes had never rested on this artwork? Answering ‘no’ to these questions leaves me feeling vaguely like a philistine. My relationship with art is something I have been scrutinising a lot these days, but I am no closer to answering the questions I pose myself again and again about why I value art. I have not looked into art theory and I don’t plan on doing so because studying literary theory taught me that theory is a waste of time. I can only assert that if I was born on this planet with no access to humanity’s artistic or cultural inheritance, I would still pick up a pencil and begin to draw.

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