Wednesday, 26 March 2014

On Art, Standards, and Where they Fit in my Future

In my one and a half years of blogging, I still have no idea who my audience consists of, if anyone: Who's out there? How old are they? Where are they from? Why (on earth) are they reading my content? I have no idea. The only thing I know is that they (or you) have, along with every other human on this planet, is the experience of being on the outside, for various reasons. Knowing too little, knowing too much, being too old, not old enough, the 'wrong' gender, religion, race, nationality, sexuality, personality, disability... The list continues for miles. We've all been excluded from something for some reason, and whilst marriage equality and cliques are in no way alike in scale, they're still both forms of exclusion. They're both obstacles, and they both make the concerned party (bless them) unable to act/express/live as they wish.

Now, I'm afraid after using such using such heavy-handed examples of prejudice and segregation that the main direction of this post is going to seem very melodramatic and petty in comparison: I was intending on talking about art. Said stigmas, segregation and elitism - in art. Art? But how so? 

Art -galleries and critiquing, in particular- is considered to be quite reserved and, well frankly, a little snobbish: It's for the intellectuals; The 'regulars'; The old geysers with monacles who sip red wine and know who painted what piece where and how much it sold for; The people who 'understand' what the artist was going for or trying to say; Basically, not everyone. How many of you, or your friends, family members, identify with the judgement that art is for 'arty' people? I identified with it myself, at one point; To an extent, I still do. But do you know why? It's because the people 'in' art are arty. But is it a requirement? The answer would be a resounding 'no'. Not knowing 'enough' or not understanding what on earth is going on does not deny you access to your local gallery or exhibition. Art discussion is based on opinions, never fact - hence, you can't go wrong!

The same goes for writing, about anything - but for the sake of this post, we're going to keep it strictly to writing about art. Recently, I attended a talk by Gemma Tipton, art critic and writer for the Irish Times at Waterford Writers' Weekend concerning this topic. I thoroughly enjoyed the talk, and what Gemma had to say: She made the point that art critics, critics in general, and perhaps writers in general like to make their content sound as complicated as possible. The ultimate question being asked at the talk was, 'Why is this something we all accept? Why do we accept this as the standard for writing and art critiquing?' I, for one, had never thought about that before: By making all availible information on art seem complicated and untouchable, we're making the art itself seem complicated and untouchable. Alas, the ideal 'art crowd' never changes - and if it does, no one knows: Maybe none of us have a clue what we're on about, but no one's going to admit it!

The most interesting part of the talk, however, was watching how the audience reacted to what Gemma had to say and how they carried along having heard what she had to say. The event was advertised as a 'Waterford Young Arts Critics' event, generally aimed at younger people interested in figuring out what the hell these art-heads were talking about (from what I could gather, anyway). However, the majority of attendees were adults, aside from a few of us 'young wans' - understandable, considering how influential and well known Gemma Tipton is. I can't blame them. But having listened to Gemma talk about the pedestal that art has been put on because of the fluffy language and jargon used, and the resounding agreement that came with it, I still found it incredibly hard to get my head around what people were trying to say when it came to Questions and Answers time. It was still art language and art people and the values discussed in the talk prior to Q&A seemed to suddenly vanish. Hadn't anyone been listening? Hadn't anyone read the programme?!

... Nah, I'm kidding. It's no one's fault. It's a free country. Say what you want, how you want, and go where you want: I just couldn't believe how instant people's reflexes were to revert back into art mode. Again, it's not their fault: It's what they've been taught all along. It's what we've all been 'taught': Art observation and art discussion = big words and complicated syntax, and it will until someone challenges it.

Gemma also challenged the thought that although writing is wonderful, it can be difficult to get someone to pay you for it. I'm not saying she said there is a miracle cure for the jobs crisis, but she affirmed my before-fading belief that where there's a will, there's a way - which in many ways, was exactly what I had been needing.

Some background: I'm currently at a phase in school where I'm faced with the decision of what the hell I want to do with my life. I still believe that if money wasn't a problem, I could spend 20 years in college learning about all the things I would love to do and still have several courses to explore. But recently, I've narrowed my consideration down to something in design/multimedia and/or journalism (both creative, but still structured-ish)  as course/career options. Friends and family are fully aware that I've got some big decisions to make, so the 'What would you like to do?' question runs quite rampant. I answer truthfully, only to be told, 'Right... but isn't writing a little hard to get into?' or 'Are you sure you're good enough at art for that? (- as I don't do art in school)' These reactions have definitely made me a little shaken, doubtful, if not angry at their - and my - lack of faith. I won't lie, I've had teachers who have never even read or seen any of my work in these fields tell me that I'm not doing/aiming for what I should be!

Gemma's words of guidance and wisdom really helped me get back on track, and it certainly helped that she is living proof of a successful writer who made it happen for herself - without having to fit the cookie-cutter art critic mold either!

In summary, things are never as they seem: Art is for everyone, regardless of how much you know, how old you are, and how abstract your vocabulary is - the same goes for writing. Well, the same goes for pretty much anything. Nothing is out of reach - I would like to thank Gemma and my fellow Waterford Young Arts Critics for making me realise that. Life Affirmation Spiel over.


  1. Definitely don't let other people put you off what you want to do. I desperately wanted to work in film and one 'friend' made a snide comment saying how I was basically going to be a slacker and go nowhere and I went home that day and changed my CAO form. I ended up in Journalism and although it was pretty fun, it wasn't what I wanted.

    I love reading your posts and you seem so confident in your opinion, but still very considered which is essential for being a writer. Honestly, go for it :-)

    1. Hey, thanks so much for your support and sharing your story! It means a lot :) x