I’ve fallen in love with works of art in my time. The kind of all-consuming ‘at first sight’ love that has to possess – at whatever cost – the object of beauty. I’ve bought paintings that made me stop still in my tracks, that reached out and tickled my spine and twisted the valves of my heart. Oh, and maxed out my credit card. But for me, they are priceless because I remain in awe of the way the art speaks to me on a level of colour and soul that black-and-white words can never quite reach.
Once I’ve fallen in love with a piece of art, there’s no going back. And I don’t care whether the artwork is considered ‘good’ or ‘bad’ by critics or experts. I love it, and that’s all there is to it. (Even these cute pieces by my daughter, above).
Which is why I was fascinated to read about an experiment carried out by the University of Leeds, which asked if increased exposure to a piece of art will make us like it more. The experiment pulls on the theory of ‘mere exposure‘, which says that we’ll start liking something if we keep seeing it often enough.
Except that we don’t. The 100 students who took part in the study still hated the ‘bad’ art even when exposed to it, and the researchers concluded that “quality, and not just familiarity, remains in the picture”.
The full findings appear in a paper, Mere Exposure to Bad Art, published in the British Journal of Aesthetics. But I think the key point they make is this: “At issue is the role that artistic quality plays in determining our aesthetic tastes.”
Quite. I think they’ve proved my point.
My heart goes out to the artist who painted the first ever portrait of the Duchess of Cambridge. Paul Emsley’s work of art, on display in London’s National Portrait Gallery, has been slated by the media and the critics. One even called the painting ‘rotten’. And that criticism cut him deeply to the point of making him doubt the value of his work.
An article in London’s Evening Standard, Mr Emsley says the reaction to his portrait of Kate has been like a ‘witch hunt’. He is quoted as saying that some of the words said about the painting were vicious and personal, and “I’d be inhuman if I said it didn’t affect me”. He added that there came a point when he “doubted that the portrait of the duchess was any good”. But he has coped with it by going back into his studio and “getting on with it”.
All artists, whether they use a paintbrush, a pen or even a pair of ballet shoes, express themselves through their creativity. And that creativity can get crushed when some people believe they’re in a position to tut with superiority or wag their finger with self-righteousness. The act of creating can be fragile. And the door to the creative unconscious can be slammed shut by unthinking, unfeeling criticism.
Mr Emsley just got on with it. Not everyone can just ‘get on with it’ when they’ve had the kind of criticism that cuts to the core. But it’s the act of continuing to do what you believe in that encourages creativity to come out of hiding. Plus, Mr Emsley I’m sure can take some comfort from knowing that the postcard of Kate’s portrait is reportedly one of the fastest selling ones in the gallery.