When someone asked me to give an opinion on a piece of modern art I realised that she had made a huge incorrect assumption about me just because I can paint a picture.
I declined but it reminded me of my days at college when four of us, having nothing to fill the long lunch hour, would go to the local art gallery.
It started out very innocently when we did drop in on a modern art exhibition just for curiosity's sake.
We were all artists in the commercial sense meaning that the pictures we painted had to look as much like a photograph as possible. We did understand colour, tone, form etc. but had trouble grasping why anyone would want to deliberately make something look like a jigsaw puzzle gone wrong and call it art.
We had all viewed the works of Picasso and thought him a charlatan until we saw his earlier work where he showed great talent as a 'regular' artist. Recognising his talent still didn't help us understand what on earth he was trying to achieve with his later, more famous, stuff.
So it was that we walked in on this exhibition filled with pictures of cubes and poorly painted faces with eyes in the wrong place, etc. etc.
After being shushed a couple of times by the curator for giggling John walked over to the ugliest of the paintings and began explaining to us, tongue in cheek, what the artist was trying to convey. He had no idea but was making a very convincing story remarking on colour, texture, brush strokes and anything else he could come up with.
We joined in his charade by acting like we knew what he was talking about and slowly a crowd gathered. Some began to give knowing nods as he continued and I realised that we were not the only ones who didn't have a clue what the art was all about. I wondered how he was going to get out of the situation if someone here was actually an expert and began questioning his knowledge but I needn't have worried because nobody spoke up.
After that day we went back to other exhibitions and took turns being the “Know it all”.
Who knows maybe we even stumbled upon what an artist had in mind because no one ever came forward to challenge our knowledge.
Months later we were in class and the subject of modern art came up. The teacher put up a print of a painting and asked if we had any comments. The class was silent, a very uncommon thing with this group of people.
Instead of lapsing into a long rigmarole and boring us all to death as was his normal procedure he called my friends and me to the front of the class and announced that since he had four leading experts in the field right here he would allow us to continue.
John, never backwards about coming forward, stepped up and delivered a very convincing monologue which turned out to be completely off track although I thought it more believable than the correct one which followed.
It turned out that our illustrious teacher was a friend of the curator of the art gallery who had been amused by our lunchtime antics and passed along the good news.
In that lesson we learned that we should always be honest about the art we like or dislike.
Understanding often leads to more appreciation but pretending you like a piece merely because the artist is famous is simply pretentious.

Since those days I have seen many pieces of modern art which I liked although the cubism style still leaves me cold.
After our art gallery high jinks, I wonder how much art appreciation is like the “Emperor's new clothes” by Hans Christian Anderson



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