Tuesday 19 May 2015

"Remnants" by Kristi McDonald at NAC

I am puzzled to know what to say about "Remnants." Judging by her Artist's Statement, Kristi McDonald has really thought about her show and worked on it, and yet it does not speak to me. Furthermore, there must be other people to whom it speaks, or her work would not be hanging in NAC and she would not have won awards, but even so, I still don't see it.

In an earlier era of art criticism, I would have set myself up as an arbiter of taste and listed my reasons for condemning it, like Ruskin accursing Whistler of "flinging a pot of paint in the public's face." But as things are, I feel all I can do is try to state the limitations of my own mind which prevent me from responding to it.

There there is a h ierarchy of the arts is a long since exploded theory. Years ago a former colleague of mine invited me to his home and pointed to a reproduction hanging on his wall of "Aristotle Contemplating the Bust of Homer." I forget which Great Master painted it. It could have been Rubens in a quite unusually sentimental mood. As he pointed to it, my colleague said, "This is the greatest painting in the world." I said nothing, but I was dumbfounded by the idea that this academic should think a) that there is such a thing as the greatest painting in the world, and b) that it is possible to identify it. Of course from there, it is only a step to thinking you can identify the worst painting, on a sliding scale of values.

André Malraux famously claimed that the 20th century was the first era in which every possible kind of art of every time and place could be appreciated as being of equal value. Even so, although Malraux did not say so, some artists such as Pablo Picasso can be seen as outranking everyone else as demonstrated by the prices people are willing to pay for their paintings.

I have discussed art with my brother, Malcolm Bucknall, more than anytone else and he was outraged to hear me say that I can paint as well as Picasso. He got me to admit that I could never have pained "Guernica" but that doesn't mean I want to live with it. To take another famous painting by Picasso as an example, I would not like to have "Les Demoiselles d"Avignon" hanging on my wall. But I do love and admire Picasso's drawings, particularly those of his old age.

Even though my brother does have a scale of art values, he repudiates what he calls Dogma and disliked being given art lessons. He is all in favour of risking sailing off the edge of the world, like Christopher Columbus. I am much more academically inclined than he is, and although I can be quite eccentric in my judgments I do bring a certain amount of cultural bagage to my appreciation of an art work.

I looked at Kristi McDonald's show and thought, "Ink blots! They must be Rorschach ink blots! But what are they doing combined with what look like fashion magazine illustrations? They don't go together at all." As a result, I was out of sympathy with her work. But that was a case of being limited by my own cultural preconceptions, which I am sure do not apply to her.

She may not even that that Rorschach ink blots exist as a means of psychological testing, since they were popular before she was born and she probably has no reason to consider fashion magazine illustration inferior. Consequently, she must have approached her ink blots and her graphite drawings with a degree of unprejudiced innocence, which I cannot hope to emulate. I am simply not the right person to be looking at her show. I throw the field open to those who are.

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