Art in whatever form – painting, theatre, a child’s potato stamp – is the means by which we express externally an almost infinite range of internal emotions, goals, aspirations, complaints.
When it gets it right, it is sublime, and touches many people in varying ways on so many levels; but most importantly it opens their eyes. But when it gets it wrong – as in, really wrong – boy do we love to point and laugh: just like a bad movie review, we revel in the savage vivisection, the irresistible schadenfreude of the man falling on his face/pencil. The two extremes are on opposite ends of an axis of two factors: vision, or idea; and technical skill, the ability to convey it successfully into visual form. We look at childrens’ scribbles uncritically, but when MOBA publishes adults’ work where quite simply the technical skill hasn’t developed, suddenly we’re over critical. It’s not like the enjoyment of ‘spectacular baking fails’: we bake to eat, and if it’s a sagging splurge of pink icing, who cares. Lol. But art ‘fails’ are someone’s innermost feelings laid out like sad, unrisen dough. See also, laughing at terrible poetry.
Which is why Damien Hirst steers well clear of painting after the disastrous exhibition at the Wallace Collection: failing both on technical skill and visual ideas and originality (lemons+ cages + skulls = not quite Francis Bacon, sorry.) Interestingly enough, Peter Doig admitted his draughtsmanship is not so good, so his painting style is deliberately calculated to make up for it. See also, a whole host of artists with Achilles heels: Manet’s hands, Turner’s incapability of painting figures that don’t look like sad, unrisen cake dough. Arguably, Jack Vettriano is so popular because both his visual ideas and technical skill are just bland – yet competent – enough to appeal to the widest range of people. Yet his ideas don’t reach the levels of genius valued by art critics. Conversely, people like Picasso and Hockney were so technically gifted that with such consistency, the art is in danger of becoming fatigued as the ideas struggle to keep up with the volume of output.
Which brings me on to naïve art, and (shudder) Rose Wylie. Compare Wylie with the weird daubs by George Bush, and you’ll see that naïve art is only a pop culture reference or two away from similarly representing only the innermost thoughts of a chid brain executed with all the panache of a potato stamp. I’m often seen as boring for constantly harping on about the importance of good old rigorous technical skill. (A friend was once called a drawing Nazi by staff at Goldsmiths in the 70s, when hippie-dom drawing tuition was solidly un-technical and un-square). But the point above, I think, is alarmingly persuasive in the case for technical ability.
Photo: © P C Robinson Artlyst 2015