Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Gallery Talk

Gallery Talk

It is always interesting to listen to comments people make about paintings. At the Ludlow Art Society Summer Exhibition this year I found myself stewarding with a man who was the husband of one of our members and not himself a painter.  His low opinion of one of our member’s abstract paintings led to a dialogue which went something like this:
Steward: “What on earth does that represent?”
Me:  “Well it has a title – what does it say?”
Steward: ‘Gone in 3 seconds.’ How was I supposed to know that just from those splashes of paint.” Then reading the title of the next one:  “‘Caves – Dan yr Ogof’  That doesn’t look like a picture of caves to me.”
Me: “Do you listen to music on Classic FM?”
Steward: “Yes – I enjoy classical music.”
Me: “Well when they play the theme from ‘The Armed Man’ you just sit back and enjoy the sounds you don’t think of a soldier kitted up with military hardware. So why not just enjoy the paintings’ subtle colours, marks, and textures because all those qualities are there when you look at a good figurative painting.”
Steward: “Well I expect pictures to look like something recognisable.”

So I left him unappreciative and unconvinced.

This little dialogue confirms the notion that for most people the pleasure they get from looking at pictures derives from recognition. If they do not immediately recognise the familiar world of experience with the marks on the canvas they are puzzled. This is a problem for artists because we are trained to be selective and to exploit artistic qualities of line, colour, and texture to communicate with the viewer. You have a better chance of engaging the viewer if you start from something observed in the world of everyday experience. Working from the more esoteric domain of pure imagination is likely to leave most people confused.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Organising Exhibitio

Organising Exhibitions: Tedious Repetition or Challenging Opportunity

The Chairman’s appeal for someone to organise the Summer Exhibition at the Ludlow Art Society’s Society’s AGM was greeted by an ominous silence. Members’ reluctance to grasp such an opportunity is odd because the Exhibitions are the sole reason which motivates most of our members to join. Slowly it dawned that it would have to be me or there might be no exhibition.

The preparation of the entry forms with my name featuring as the recipient aroused a feeling of déja vu – been there done that some fifteen years ago. In those relatively far off days things were much more leisurely. We invited external selectors to judge the entries and advise on hanging. There was no shortage of volunteers and we were all fortified with a glass of wine which made hanging a convivial occasion.  This all helped establish the Society’s reputation for mounting exhibitions of high quality that were well presented and tastefully hung. Nowadays constrained by a high rental we are forced to do things in a hurry.

So would a job I once tackled with relatively youthful enthusiasm be a tedious repetition of all the old chores or a creative challenge? Surprisingly it had elements of both. For many years we benefited from the computing expertise of a retired Anglican priest and I owe great deal to him through our association in the production of the Society’s Newsletter. He taught me about correct typographic conventions used in printed documents – when to use an en-dash and when to use a hyphen. The first creative task was to set up the software procedures to produce exhibition stationery to the standard which Ernest had established. This took about four weeks and was tested with the data we had stored from the Spring Exhibition.

  I was also helped by the exhibition organisers who succeeded me – I was delighted to find amongst a bag of papers passed to me a file of very detailed records which had been compiled by one of my succcessors. There are the routine chores of course, telephone calls have to be made, preview mailings, press releases, and posters distributed. All too often these tasks fall to the hard-pressed few and yet they could be undertaken by anyone willing to attend two or three exhibition planning meetings where a check-list of jobs is drawn up and allocated.

The August 2005 issue of ‘The Artist’ carried a very sad editorial called ‘Please Don’t Say No!’  It was written by Jan Milsom about her Art Society that finally had to disband after 23 years. The Society had been kept going by a dwindling band of ageing volunteers but inevitably it collapsed when the Chairman had to undergo major surgery  and a successor could not be found. It’s the same the whole world over. I correspond with a friend who is a member of the Thames Art Society in New Zealand. They had to call an extraordinary general meeting to appoint volunteers to enable the Society to carry on. The Ludlow Society has been close to that situation.

What then of the future? I have to be hopefully optimistic for two reasons. First, the Society has rightly earned a widely respected reputation for almost 60 years – yes that is an anniversary  we must plan to celebrate in style next year. Like many others I drifted into a Summer Exhibition when I was planning to move to Ludlow and was given an encouraging and friendly welcome by the Secretary who handed me a membership form. I’ve never forgotten that welcome or being told that there was no waiting list or that I didn’t have to present a portfolio of work and be voted in by members. The subsequent years of active involvement confirmed that I had been fortunate to join a very friendly society. If that experience is common to other newer members there must be sufficient motivation to continue the Society’s good work if it could be harnessed.

Jan Milsum’s plea in her editorial ‘…if you are asked to help out in some small capacity at your art society, please, please, please, think very carefully before you say no!’  was very apt. Better still, don’t wait to be asked just volunteer!