I received my Art degree already in my thirties, during the dark, testing times of postnatal depression. Batshit insane and in an inescapable haze, I was still conscious enough to pat myself on the back with the long-awaited, now institution-qualified realisation that, finally, though free of actual talents, I’ll be able to “get” visual art. Almost 5 years on, nope, I can still stand lost and kind of nowhere, staring at a piece of work I can’t articulate anything about.
However, my confusing relationship with art has led me to self-investigate and here’s what the Fraud in me has discovered: replacing emotion with research is possible, putting learning before feeling has totally become my way of exercising control, and I’m not that into first impressions. You guys, why did I think it was compulsory to have my feelings match those poured onto the canvases? There cannot be one way to consume visual art, for that would defy its whole purpose. I enjoy prioritising knowledge over visual impression, sometimes I strive to replace emotion with it. I relish the power of sharing the knowledge. Most undeniably, I stand for the knowledge of gossip. Deep-diving into an artist’s archives, spending hours on a virtual pleasure-to-meet-you, absorbing their life choices like it’s freshly-squeezed juice – easily digestible due to its simplicity: these are the best parts of any exhibition I attend. It is a thrill to see a painting and rush home to surf through its creator’s documented life.
This approach, as I now realise, has pointed me towards the necessity of developing a critical eye. If you struggle to separate an artist from their art, the gossip from their brush strokes, which I now definitely do, then you will have to be ready to let go of a few heroes. Luckily, I live in the world where my feelings are fickle and where new heroes still march in. Though isn’t it unfortunate that even heroes have to fuck up in order to be able to express a story? I shouldn’t be angry at people who make mistakes. And yet, privately, I am. In a time when opinions are so heated and actually matter, I battle with accepting works by shady assholes. Critical eye is not for everybody – it takes time, forgiveness, distance from the ideal, where the ideal is consuming art wholeheartedly, almost climbing inside it, trusting the artist. Freedom is loving something for no other reason than loving it – right now I am not there. Ironically, I think it’s a good thing.
Speaking of good things. It is an incredible alignment of stars and other outer-space theories you choose to believe in (and I believe in the karma one), to be living at a time when Jean-Michel Basquiat’s retrospective will soon take place in a venue I can actually access. My best friend is coming to London and on her Birthday I know exactly what we will be doing. We’ve spent rainy years looking forward to it. And oh boy, have I spent rainy months in a tunnel of Basquiat anecdotes. I promise you, just knowing that he was a heroin addict does not suffice if you want to unpack the strokes of those striking, never-more-relevant canvases. “He was a fragile person”, he was abused by his father, he was so young, he wanted to make statements – he compulsively painted rawness and pain and stupidity and intelligence and fun and inability to stop. Talk about someone who’s made mistakes. In my classy approach to art, encouraged by Basquiat’s good looks, I’ve even pondered whether I would tap that, had our paths ever crossed. He was obsessive about his work and he spoke three languages – how are these NOT the sexiest qualities in the world? He was also a narcissistic, hillbilly-mannered asshole – a quality that should stop being perceived as attractive soon after high school. So… I guess I wouldn’t?
I’m sorry, did I digress? When art meets gossip, imagination can’t be contained.
The point is, my perception of art without squirts of research is unpleasantly blurred and uncertain. Possession of an Art degree has not secured me the comfort of feeling the correct feelings – it has made me want to work on finding them. I have developed permission for myself to form opinions on what I actually learn, as opposed to what I see, despite “visual” being the stressed word. I have cultivated the desire to form a more complete world view by seeing as much art as possible – by artists that disagree with each other, as well as artists that disagree with me. I have come to see the importance of letting myself grow through EVERYTHING that I consume.
Full disclosure: this is also my way of ensuring that I don’t end up FaceBook-posting to friends of friends a confused status stroke opinion on Basquiat’s Untitled having been auctioned off for an unbelievable 110 mil dollars. “Why would anyone want to buy this shit”??? Right. Take a sit… and do your research.