There was a time I quite liked modern art. I actively sought it out.
Many a weekend was wasted interpreting the uninterpretable, hours spent looking for meaning in the meaningless.
With the Guardian’s ‘what’s on’ guide as my bible, I considered myself cultured. A patron of the most pretentious ‘art spaces’ Manchester had to offer. A devoted disciple of the deluded.
Then I had kids.
You see, a funny thing happened when I became a parent. Through sleep deprived, cynically depressed eyes came a clarity of vision that cut right through the densest of bullsh#t. I no longer have time for it. I see things for what they are. The murkiness that is modern art doesn’t stand a chance.
A couple of weeks ago Janet and I found ourselves in an art exhibition. It wasn’t planned. We’d gone into town for a meal but what with all the giddiness that accompanies the rarity of a child-free afternoon we’d arrived an hour early.
It didn’t start well. I was given an audio guide that had a volume control but nothing with which to turn down the egotistical drivel. It was quickly cast aside.
The main exhibition space involved a few tables, upon which leant chairs at seemingly random angles. On each table sat a sculpture that looked remarkably like the lumps of clay Luca used to bring home from nursery.
The house husband in me wanted to tidy up. The stay-at-home dad in me wanted to throw the sculptures in the recycling bin whilst the kids were at school.
Next came a video on a big screen. Naked people stared back at me. Motionless. For ten minutes.
I’m not sure what emotion the artist intended to invoke in me? If it was discomfort, they should try waking up at 3am to a ghostly child inches from their face. If it was disgust, I already walk past the mirror every morning on the way to the bathroom. If it was an awkwardness when confronted with partial nudity they should have a word with my postman after he’s knocked on our door at an unreasonable hour.
Finally came another video. This one had an estate agent walking round a house, interspersed with her lay on the sofa, choking. I tried to understand it. No, really I did. But all I saw was art students encouraging art students to push the boundaries of pointlessness in exchange for a grant.
“So, what did you think?”, asked the curator as I stomped past like a five-year old who’d been told to go and brush their teeth.
Now, the pre-kids me would have humoured her with polite conversation. The post-kids me, less so.
“I don’t get it. I don’t get it because there was nothing to get. What did I think of it? Honestly, bullsh!t is what I thought of it!”
I’m not proud of my outburst. Not least because in hindsight I’m not sure if she was a member of staff or one of the actual artists, but in my defence, I was angry.
“That’s OK. I don’t think the artists had any preconceived ideas about what you should take from their work. I think they’ve deliberately left it open for you to find the art within.”
Really? Is that how it works? Let me try something, here’s a poem I’ve written…
“ Duck, window, despair and jalfrezi.“
What, you don’t get it? Well you see, I wanted you the reader to find the poem within. Now where’s that book deal?
But if I thought having kids had helped me rise above the arrogance of art in all its forms, I’d be wrong. Very wrong.
Because last night we sat down to watch a film. A film that had received rave reviews from many of the higher brow newspapers and film critics alike.
On watching it I could see why it scored so highly. I could see the underlying message that Janet was clearly missing. The intelligent way in which it subtly parodied the media’s representation of modern culture.
Janet on the other hand thought it was awful. One of the worst films she’d ever seen. But then I’d expect no better, what with her being such a philistine of world cinema.
It was only when the end credits rolled that I realised we were watching the wrong film.
What we were actually watching was a film so panned by the critics it received only a limited theatrical release; in Australia. A film so poor that even its own producer later admitted it was made for, and I quote, “an undemanding international audience”.
I’m ashamed of myself. Ashamed and embarrassed.
Turns out you can take the boy out of the pretentious art gallery, but you can never take the pretentiousness out of the boy.