Thursday, August 23, 2012

Paintings, jugs and an aversion to art bollocks

I have stopped collecting paintings - not so much for austerity as boredom at what I see in galleries. What's more, I'm not much interested in those I acquired when I was enthused. We moved to a new house two years ago - in that time I've put about four on the walls; the majority in the loft, relegated to the piles of 'stuff' we accumulate over our lifetimes. The other day, I realised it's ten years since I bought a picture of any significance.

I can't wholly explain this aversion -  after all, I still 'think' in visual terms and believe passionately in the importance of art. Part of me feels that paintings have become too 'middle class'. On the face of it a somewhat hypocritical view, as I'm solidly in that social bracket. Nonetheless, I've always recoiled from overt status symbols: big cars, designer suits, aviator watches... At best they are a wanton waste; at worst they make the owner look like a prick.

In truth, owning art (especially original pieces) has always been a status symbol - a sign you're beyond worrying about the everyday essentials. Indeed, it's an oddity that many galleries will tell you they do better in recessions than they do in times of economic plenty.

But my sense is that it's getting out of hand. Recently, in a small Pembrokeshire gallery (one that still sells some of my paintings)  I noticed many of the exhibits were labelled 'POA'. When a customer sheepishly asked the price of a watercolour, the owner replied, Fourteen - and after a pause, Thousand! I wouldn't have paid a hundred.

I'd estimate prices in Pembrokeshire have doubled in five years - which makes me wonder if those canvases in the loft would sell on eBay - almost anything decent is beyond the reach of ordinary folk. What's more, the cost bears little relation to quality - but then money and good taste are seldom bedfellows. And don't get me started on 'limited edition prints', one of the cleverest marketing rip-offs of all time.

I should say there are exceptions. Really good contemporary art can still be found - and the open studio schemes are an excellent way to meet artists and understand what's behind their work. Dorset Art Week is a long-standing and shining example of good practice. I treasure personal items too - pictures by friends and family, objects with a true connection - my shelves are peppered with models made by my children; I have drawers full of their sketchbooks.

And I haven't stopped collecting 'stuff' - I've merely adjusted my sights. I have a growing collection of cheap kitsch which we call the 'ugly shelf' that I'll write about soon. Over the last few years I've also become interested in jugs and jars, especially old ones - the more utilitarian the better. You can buy these anywhere from posh antique dealers to car boot sales - or in the case of France, the excellent brocante stalls which seem to be everywhere.

The flagon pictured at the head of this post is an Alsace cider jar - it is beautiful, and it cost me twenty euros. The jug below was three euros from a brocante warehouse that verges on the surreal (see pictures further below). I like them because they are intrinsically lovely objects - because they delight and inspire me and I had fun discovering them. But also, they remind me that good art is about precisely that - and not the status driven, art bollocks which ultimately ends up littering the loft.


  1. It sounds like you're swerving across to Arts and Crafts - everyday objects which are in themselves beautiful because they're well crafted, but still intrinsically useful.

    I have a small collection of Poole pottery - partly because NAH's family is from there and have connections with it, but also because I like their designs and style.

    As for the art on our walls? I've just run around the house and realised a lot of it isn't art at all, they're my photos.

    I do like looking at the pictures you have chosen to put on display though :)

  2. I wonder if you are particularly drawn to the ceramics because they are so tactile and have a deep relationship with the hands that made them. Both pieces are beautiful.

    My school of thinking does not put art and craft in a different category.Whether one uses clay and fire, or canvas and paint, the finished piece is one's own true expression of art.

  3. Love jugs, specially small ones and have a nice collection of handmade individual ones, some old ones, some mass-produced that just appealed. I love holding them and feeling the roundness of them, like piglet's bums. Art on the walls? Well I went into the Range last week for some art materials (ooh, get you missus!) and saw a print called 'Doris wants to take the bus' and fell for it. Heaven knows why... simple landscape with a red bus and a woman and her dog in the foreground. It reminded me of the Lakes with the hilly landscape and the red bus reminded me of watching the little red post bus as it appeared then disappeared going into dips and behind hedges etc. Very simple and naive, but it just appealed. I have a friend exhibiting in a small exhibition this week... she went to hang her paintings and felt decidedly out of place amongst the 'acrylic jumpers and plain skirts' set with their beautifully executed paintings. Lot of snobbishness attached to art isn't there? YOu like what you like, I don't need someone who talks with a plum in his mouth, or several, what's wrong or right with a painting. If I like it, I like it. End of....

  4. Good to see you back again- I can't complain that you're attracted to pots!|!

    I'm in the process of moving by the way- yo-yoing between Ayrshire and Cwmcarn at present before hopefully a few months in NZ before moving to Scotland permanently.

  5. We hadn't bought any pics for years...but have now found an artist whose work we like and have bought one, with the intent to buy a couple more when we have the house in San Jose fit to live in.

    There are a number of galleries to visit, and while most of the work on show is the of the 'look at arty me' nature I have seen a couple of pics I would like to follow up....

  6. I'm completely with you on preferring pottery and ceramics to paintings, with a particular love of jugs and the occasional very special bowl. I enjoy browsing the brocantes and depots-vente here in Normandy, as the prices are still so reasonable.

  7. I know where you are coming from - and is any contemporary painting worth £14000 - I suppose if they only sell one a year then maybe it has to be.

    I paint for my own pleasure and I sell them to buy more paint and canvas, no thats not quite right, I sell them and then the money goes into the bank and then my wife spends it and when I need more paint and canvas she bollacks me for using the current account, this is my life.

    But you can sell anything and there's no accounting for taste, I sold three paintings last month that I was going to de-list because I thought they were rubbish, I've also realised in the past that I've already painted over some works that are still up for sale (thats usually after the wife has spent all the painting money) so you should get your canvasses out of the loft, they WILL sell.

  8. Interesting piece, and I agree with what you say. One wonders if visual arts will follow in the footsteps of music and literature where changes in delivery technology (digital media) have totally changed the market. Artists would thus sell downloads of their pictures which could be printed on demand.

  9. God look at those crass people leaving comments like "Nice Jugs!"
    Dammit, what can I say now?.
    Sadly (or not) I confess to not knowing 'good' art if it were even to jump up and bite me. I think you should sell your stashed paintings on eBay and don't collect anything else otherwise it will detract from the pieces you love already. Keep it simple I say.

  10. Sorry I have not been around during August - I have taken a summer 'break' from blogging. I will make sure the library get copies of your book.

  11. Love the jug in the lower picture, it just says "hey, I'm a jug". I bought a table once for the same reason. Except it said "hey, I'm a table".

  12. Love that pic of the brocante warehouse - where is it? Looks fascinatingly jumbled and irresistible.

    Very excited to pre-order your book, Counting Steps.

    Well done, Mark.