Tuesday, November 22, 2011

When is art not art?

Possibly when it's a poem.

On Saturday we visited Abbott Hall art gallery in Kendal for the first time. We'd heard it was rather good and sure enough, although the collection on display is quite small, it's full of big names. These include George Romney, who studied art in the town before moving to London; Constable; Turner; and a collection of watercolours of local scenes showing the development of the 'picturesque' movement in the Lake District - paintings that are over dramatised to the point of wild innacuracy, but always romantic.

Upstairs the display changes to more modern art, currently including an exhibition by world-renowned artist Richard Long, who specialises in works that involve landscape. I tend to be rather undecided about Modern Art at the best of times; some of this was, to my mind, brilliant (especially his stunning landscape photography), but some left me cold. In particular, there were a series of artworks where words had been printed onto a sheet of paper and then framed and hung. One of these had me scratching my head, because it was a long list of sounds he'd heard while on a long walk. I assume you were meant to read the list, sound by sound, and hear each one in your own mind to re-create the artist's walk yourself.

The language Long used was very evocative and quickly brought the various noises to mind. It's an intriguing idea, but is it really art? To my mind, written words on a page with their own style and internal rhythm, which evoke a particular image (or in this case, sound) are poetry, not art. If so, then Long is as good a poet as he is an artist.

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