October 24 2014 Latest news:
Friday, August 8, 2014
Artist Jake Chapman wants children out of art galleries. Arts Editor Andrew Clarke vehemently disagrees.
So controversial artist Jake Chapman doesn’t think that children should be admitted to art galleries. What rot! In a widely quoted interview he says that children are unable to appreciate the work of Mark Rothko or Jackson Pollock and so should be barred from walking through the door.
In another interview with another paper he maintains that “art has to be protected from popularity” and yet is quite happy to get the public to crowdfund their exhibitions. It’s clear that Chapman’s opinions will not have me leaping up and down singing his praises – I am very much of the belief that all art is for everyone. It has to be accessible otherwise who is it for? Art is a reflection of ourselves and therefore is for everyone.
Clearly Jake Chapman doesn’t agree but I fear his views are more cynical than that. I suspect that he knows that the best way to get publicity for the latest exhibition is to say something outrageous knowing that us media-types will howl and put his name in the headlines. Sad to say it has worked.
The question of whether he believes what he says or is just saying it for effect is rather immaterial. The fact that he is voicing this opinion is enough to start the debate.
Although a child may not be able to articulate their reactions to a piece of art in the same way that an adult can or may not experience the same emotions or thoughts while looking at work does not invalidate their exposure to the world of art. Art is extremely personal. Everybody’s reaction is different. There is no correct way of viewing art – whatever Jake Chapman may say.
Art allows the artist to have a conversation with the viewer. The majority of art pieces are static but the dialogue they can trigger with the viewer can last a lifetime and will probably change over the years. People bring their own life experiences to art so their reactions and engagement with a work will be very personal.
The best works of art entrance and beguile. They draw people back to them time and again. It’s a wonderful thought to have a child discover a work and then return to it throughout their life. It’s rather akin to having a favourite film which you return to time and time again.
I have a number of films which I happily rewatch – Some Like It Hot, The Philadelphia Story and North By Northwest – and, although the thrill of watching them has subtly changed, they remain just as compelling and even more layered. Time adds to their richness rather than diminishing them. The same is true of fine art.
But, Jake Chapman needs to clarify when childhood ends and when artistic enlightenment begins. At what age do you suddenly get the gift of artistic insight? The photographer David Bailey discovered the work of Pablo Picasso as a teenager. The artist made such an impression on him that a picture of Bailey, taken in his barrack room during his national service, reveals a magazine reproduction of a Picasso painting pinned over his bunk.
Surely, this is proof enough that art, even so-called difficult art, can speak to people of all ages.
Also, there is no one form of art. Art covers all sorts of different media. It’s much like jazz. I’ve had people say to me: “Oh I don’t like jazz” and then later during the same conversation I found out that they loved Ella Fitzgerald and Frank Sinatra’s collaborations with Nelson Riddle – jazz by any other name. What they should have said was that they didn’t like Dixieland or Be-Bop or Free Jazz as typified by the later works of Miles Davis.
Art covers similarly expansive landscape. It’s always been a broad church covering everything from pencil drawing to water colours, oil painting to collage and stone and metal sculpture. These are now augmented by installation art, concept art, performance art and the endless possibilities of digital audio/visual presentations.
But, what most people forget is that you are not expected to like everything. It’s okay to turn your nose up at half the things you encounter but the important thing is to have experienced it and given it a go. Also our tastes change over time and the art world offers something for all seven ages of man.
Also Jake Chapman may like to consider that perhaps a child’s reaction is probably the most direct and the most honest. Sir Anthony Gormley was asked for his reaction to Chapman’s assertion that children can’t relate to art. He said: “Art is not to be decoded. It is to be felt. Feeling comes before understanding.” Can’t say fairer than that.