Monday, 18 June 2007

talk talk

I feel bad for not posting more pictures. It's difficult when I don't have relevant ones – I didn't take my camera away with me. Nor my sketchbook. I decided not to as I was travelling light. But... here is the invitation to the Batik Transitions exhibition at the Museum of East Asian Art in Bath – bit crumpled after being in my pocket for the day. Great exhibition - stunning traditional and contemporary batik.

Where I had an interesting conversation too. A lady whose passion in life was doves had found my postcard "Tradition of February 14th" (see Robin, another opportunity for a pic) and, after hearing I was in the museum, found me and asked why it didn't include doves. Apparently her late husband, another fanatic, had written books about them. She continued his work through involvement with a newsletter for a society devoted to doves (memory bit hazy). She was always on the lookout for pictures to include, so if I ever did make one...

Had I been driving (=rushing), I'd have left the museum already and we wouldn't have met. Or if we had I would have felt rushed and not able to linger over such a conversation.

Which leads nicely in to the second conversation referred to in my previous post. Wandering around Bath choosing where to have breakfast I settled for a coffee shop chain selling fairtrade coffee with tables outside. The coffee was welcome but the croissant cold. A man sat at the next table and began talking. The manner of conversation sticks in mind as much as our conversation itself.... it was straight out of a Graham Greene novel. He was a journalist. I imagined him stopping there each morning with a cuppa, watching the world going by, greeting and sometimes chatting with passing locals. Waiting for a lead into the next story. And I was a new face, so worth enquiring about. I wondered if I'd pinched 'his' table.

What did we talk about? The media's influence over people (he had recently not-renewed-contract with the local paper because of its increasing reliance on headlining negative non-news to increase sales), merits of museum trends towards interpretation over simple display and label of many more items, positive life without television and childhoods outdoors mucking around in nature, similarities between all political parties these days and equivalent lack of democratic respect, and the local council's disregard for its residents and their much-loved public building it was demolishing. It is always encouraging to find similar thinking elsewhere in person and not just 'anonymously' through the internet or campaign groups. It may not be a revolution that's coming, but change in the next few decades surely will be revolutionary, and it is comforting to know others are stepping outside 'the system' to seek positive change... especially someone with the influential skills of a journo!

It surprised me to hear a businessman acknowledge the changes we are facing over the next twenty years will be greater than any he has seen in his lifetime (of 50+ years, at a guess). This was on the train back to Plymouth, a Saltash businessman absorbed in his laptop with mouse at arms length across the table. We began chatting at Exeter. You know how sometimes conversations lead to you saying something that makes you jump aside and look amazedly at your statement wondering where it came from, whilst also recognising it's what you knew all along. I proclaimed:

"the only thing that matters from now on is knowing how to live off the land".

I think those without this knowledge and the ways of nature won't survive. I'm not in the survivors camp... yet.

Our statements emerged during discussions of the nature of art, its role in the future uncertain world – with some unexpected parallels to our earlier London Olympics logo conversation.

While considering the merits or not of the logo, the media's influence again popped up – how it will have shaped many people's opinions even before seeing the logo. Our conclusion was to have more faith in Wolff Olins (a highly respected design group even when I was a minnow design student), that over five years the logo might well evolve into something (in my opinion) more appropriate. But I didn't and don't believe that just an intellectual approach (ie rationalisation of what, why, when, who, where etc) is enough - if it doesn't feel right. Feelings and instinct should have more respect and be listened to.

As I see it, art's intrinsic value is lost today because of the disconnection most people have with art. The oblivion to it. Yet music on the radio is accessible to everyone despite different tastes (sometimes too accessible, thinking about thumpity thump car stereos). But which came first, the loss of purpose or the disconnectedness?

The Saltash businessman feels it is partly because other media have taken art's place (eg television) but it's also about education, that young people these days don't learn to retain knowledge or facts because they are otherwise so easily accessible eg through the internet. At a simple level, you could compare learning times tables with use of a calculator, and certainly I was one of the last generations to learn maths without calculators.

But I feel the cause of disconnectedness from art is deeper-rooted and longer-lived, not just a young person thing but a whole society thing. In traditional societies designs had meaning and spiritual significance, and were respected as part of everyday life and culture. Perhaps they were the media of the day, influencing people in the way modern media does now. But traditional art wasn't and isn't about sensationalism, fashion and sales but about customs, values and knowledge, how society should be, how the natural world is, and spiritual interaction with the natural world. Knowledge gleaned through generations and handed down in art form. Yet traditional art has evolved over time without losing its meaning. So what happened to ours?

Has the written and read word replaced this former visual language? Much more information can be given and taken through reading than could be incorporated into a design (I think!). But is knowledge understood and retained in the same way as it might with a familiar design or pattern? Can the read and written word initiate physical, emotional responses like art can?* In the same way calculator use has obscured mental arithmetic, has reading and writing obscured visual ability? If this is true, the Saltash businessman would be right in blaming education – whether the traditional 3r's (reading writing 'rithmetic) or current literacy and numeracy policy initiatives.

Art has a societal role... it is community art. But community art in Britain is close to commodified. Sometimes government policies are being delivered or targets met – varying from year to year and government to government. Sometimes community art is just a means for artists to earn a living through projects instigated and funded by agencies outside the very communities. Sometimes community art is brilliant but it still doesn't have the reach of traditional art. Art for the community surely is more attitude than career...

I still haven't found the answers, but both conversations opened up new ways of looking at the dilemma. And reminded me of the value of slow travel, slow life – the value of having time for other people and other places, of time to contemplate. Does slow art have these same values, is slow art akin to traditional art?

*Not confusing the read/written word with the spoken/sung word, or wanting to upset poets!


Stephie said...

Hey Robin! glad to see your comments are working - not that I've got one yet!!! Except to say I love reading the blog! Stephie

Robin Paris said...

Hi Steph, thanks... glad you're enjoying it and it's not just mindless ramblings!