I am not sure of the protocol, if any, regarding the posting of a comment to another’s blog on one’s own blog site. If there is one, and I have offended, then apologies in advance. The thoughts below were prompted by Alison Croggon’s insightful response ( http://ow.ly/2ngcV ) to Jonathan Mills State of the Arts 2010 lecture.
‘All anyone needs to understand art is to look, to listen, to feel: all else follows.’ (Alison Croggon)
How true. But we are bombarded with words that seem designed to makes us feel lesser beings. The reviewers and catalogue writers, the program notes contributors have (with regrettably few exceptions) a tendency to confuse and obfuscate. Those in the visual arts world are the worst. The exhibition catalogue is designed to leave you scratching your head, saying 'duh. I don' unnerstand'. (Acknowledgement due to, I think, Paul Jennings). And don’t smile when looking at that Rubens in the Old Masters gallery. Someone might get the wrong idea.
To step back in the continuum, replace the word 'understand' above with 'enjoy'. If we do not enjoy, there is no motivation to move to appreciation and understanding. And enjoyment unquestionably comes from allowing the feelings to flow. (This is the fear of the guardians of our morals, who think feelings are dangerous things. In their view understanding must be the precursor to confining feelings to what are perceived to be safe. Raw, emotional response is the devil’s work.)
The education system is blamed for much nowadays, and is often challenged for being too touchy/feely and insufficiently rigorous and pedagogical. But why not start with the focus on feeling at an early age? Who can argue with the power and excitement of together banging drums, or feeling wonderment at Alice in Wonderland? A little rigour later on can then lead to deeper feelings listening to, say, Taikoz, which may well, with careful nurturing, lead to an interest in the Shakuhachi, or even Haiku. The young may even grow up to understand those fine arts catalogues. Introducing a variety of influences is also important. Gamelan music, Chinese instruments, Middle Eastern visual art and dance as well as our own Aboriginal and Islander music, art and dance forms. Otherwise there is a risk that the young grow up steeped in a western only tradition, which can be a straightjacket in the context of feelings other than puzzlement when confronted by foreign or contemporary art forms.
There is an important circular relationship in ensuring ‘all else follows’: a sort of feedback loop. Unquestionably, knowledge and hence understanding can enhance both feeling and enjoyment. Peter Greenaway's deconstruction of The Last Supper is a great example. To observe his work is to open up new ways of looking at visual art in general. And it certainly enhances the enjoyment of, say, Bach preludes and fugues to have someone point out the multiple voices and their interplay. But these kinds of knowledge are not, initially, necessary in order to feel something in the Old Masters gallery or while listening to a classical radio station.
There is, however, a slight problem with the distinction, real or imaginary, between entertainment and art. This distinction was stressed by Simone Young in her recent Peggy Glanville Hicks address, and also alluded to by Jonathan Mills in his State of the Arts address. I believe there is a spectrum. To me, a Three Tenors arena spectacular or an Andre Rieu Strauss homage are both cultural events. They both build on a bedrock of the arts. They both engender feelings, in an atmosphere of pure entertainment, that are much the same as those we might feel listening to an Opera Australia performance or the Berlin Philharmonic playing Brahms. Listen, feel and indeed all else may follow, including, in some, a desire to learn more about the arias heard or composers with the name Strauss. Is romantic literature solely entertainment and not art? Having, against my better judgement, attended a Wheeler Centre event on the topic (the Mills and Boone variety) and listened to three highly intelligent and articulate women writers of the genre, I came away with a clear view that it is truly an art form (although not perhaps one where much understanding is necessary for enjoyment). Feelings are certainly evoked: even the inimitable moderator, comedian Alan Brough, admitted to having blushed at some passages. Feelings indeed!)
Perhaps we should demand of our politicians that they stop from time to time, to view or listen to some art form or other, and feel some joy, fear, discomfort, distaste or other pure emotion. Maybe then all else would follow, including perhaps a modicum of understanding and maybe even a desire for overarching cultural policy development.