Philobiblon: Drawing the line

Saturday, October 16, 2004

Drawing the line

I spent this afternoon working at the British Museum's Big Draw event. It's a day when the Great Court really comes into its own, as a great hive of buzzing, excited people. It is surprising how keen people of all ages are to express themselves with a crayon when given the chance.

Then I stewarded a talk by the artist Professor Michael Craig Martin. (I'll confess I hadn't heard of him; while I enjoy modern art I've not developed the interest as much as I would like.) Some samples here.

He made some interesting observations, obviously from an artist/philosopher's eye.

* Objects are becoming more and more alike, and their functions less and less obvious, e.g. telephones. In the Seventies it was obvious how you held a handset, where you talked and where you listened, but that is not true of mobiles today.

* Asked about the apparent lack of emotion in his work, he questioned why we assume a violent squiggled line is more "expressive" or "emotional" than a straight line.

* He argued a true personal expression is something that the artist cannot help; that's what tells you what the artist is.

* Asked about the YBA movement (many of whose members he taught) he said that while many might lack traditional skills, this was not a handicap, indeed it could be an advantage, because they had to discover an individual way to express themselves, a way to dominate what they did. "When you are talking about a skill it is something we recognise; it already exists."

The talk was supposed to be mainly about the "Drawing the Line" exhibition, which he curated. It matched, or paired, drawings from all ages, and it was interesting how some of the most modernist sat beautifully beside a Raphael or a Michelangelo, each telling you something about the other.


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