A philistine talking about art

You can call me a philistine if you like, but I like art I can feel.

I like it to talk to me, and tell me things that might not have been in the artist’s mind and hands as he or she made it. But then again, might have been. I like art to stimulate me and make me think thoughts I would not have felt had I not experienced it.

I like art that I can understand. No, not necessarily with my mind, but with some part of my being or my field of experience. It needs to touch me with a subtle, rough or explosive tactility that leaves an effect. And I need it to please me. Or not, come to think of it. It can disturb me, too, like a Francis Bacon or a Edward Munch. It does not have to be a Degas, with its delicious pastels to get under my skin. It can be a towering smoothness by Henry Moore, or a brilliantly emotional Rodin.

What worries me is Conceptual Art. So, yes, call me a philistine. The Concept seems to have taken over. Our modern art museums are full of it and very little else; our galleries, if they want to be reviewed, need to be full to brimming with art that nobody understands, but nods knowledgably at and looks sombre in front of and is able to make intelligent sounding noises of assent as some person with an art degree describes the intricate qualities of what makes that art what it is.

And by “our” I do not mean just Maltese. I am living in Sweden at the moment, a country that loves art, that buys art, that has whole sections of newspapers dedicated to art, that often has companies allocating part of their budget to buy art … to generalise, a country whose people are not philistines, to say the least. But here too, the Concept seems to get the formal nod from those critics who refuse to even look at something that has a popular aesthetic. They need to be able to EXPLAIN the art to me, so I can say how bright they are that they can see things in the concept that I cannot even begin to think about, and how important it is that they (knowledgably, with nods and sombre looks) ignore every single other artistic expression to chase conceptual art alone. Because that is what the academies teach. That is how students get in, and, on the other hand, how students who do not push a Concept, but are good with their hands and their hearts, are left out. How you can only be a GOOD art teacher in higher education if you tout the Concept to the detriment of all else.

I am not saying no to concepts. Heaven forbid. They are at the heart of art and the artist must have them to exploit. But NOT when they take over and push everything else out. It’s like stripping the soul out of the body, or, inversely, just floating the invisible soul for all the world like the Emperor’s new clothes.

This was brought about by an article in the Swedish daily Sydsvenskan this morning, that spoke in a language I could understand and share about a Banksy exhibition here, and went on to talk about street art. The wonderful, free, expression of people who want to say something, rather than conceptualise it, obfuscate it, then call it art that people nod and look sombre at. And it made me realise how much I miss solid, communicable articles about art – ones that show the knowledge of the writer in ways that do not include wordplay and the defined hocus-pocus jargon of the critic who struggles to signify without bothering to feel.

So call me a philistine, if you like. You have a right to.

But I have a right to my art, because I cannot live without it.