Art For Art's Sake? Show Me The Money!

Children's Express reporter Ruth Magennis despairs at the state of modern art.

Having studied and enjoyed art for nearly six years, I naturally never pass up the opportunity to visit any gallery that I come across, especially while I am on holiday.

Among the galleries that I have had the pleasure to have visited are the prestigious Tate Modern in London and the Uffizi Gallery in Florence. Of the world's great works, I have seen David, Da Vinci's The Annunciation and The Birth of Venus by Botticelli.

However, it is an unending source of frustration when I cannot find others who appreciate and enjoy fine and inspirational works of art – some members of my family being my primary complaint.

For example, after emerging from the Tate Modern, home to some genuine works by Andy Warhol, I found that both my sister and father had sneaked out and were fast asleep on sofas in the foyer.

Now, many might consider my attitude to be somewhat snobbish, but I would be one of the first to admit that modern art can become an intellectual farce.

I recently visited a modern art exhibition in Spain, thinking that it would be quite enjoyable and educational.

However, after looking at what seemed to be thousands of sculptures consisting of nothing but nails randomly hammered into driftwood, I began to suspect that the entire exhibition was a massive practical joke.

Huge white rooms filled with random groups of television sets displaying nothing but static, do not, in my opinion, represent art as I know it and love it.

Returning home, I hoped that Belfast would reveal some outstanding talent that would bring prestige to our city in the vast, and often stigmatised, world of ‘modern art’.

Like many things in Belfast, the arts scene is blossoming and this was nowhere more apparent than at this year's Belfast Festival at Queen's.

There were varied events to suit diverse tastes, although, I am sorry to say, the few modern art exhibitions I managed to attend weren’t particularly promising, or challenging.

Probably the most memorable of these was the ‘Through Our Eyes’ exchange initiative with a group of New York artists.

This was set up after the events of September 11, 2001, to determine whether artists could act as ‘witnesses to the key events of their times’.

Artists from Belfast went to New York to showcase their work and New York artists, presumably, came here to do the same.

Of course the exhibition focused on the events of 9/11, but I can remember the precise moment when I wondered whether the organisers of the Festival had actually lost their minds.

It was watching a film called ‘Suite’ by an artist called Bill Brand. His film incorporated various images of a small child which were then projected onto the hairy belly of a man.

Nothing strange in that, you might think as the man slowly scratched his beer gut. Perhaps it was the artist's. After all, it is modern art. Sorry to say it, but I was completely lost. I didn’t get it at all. It was pretentious in the extreme.

However it set me to thinking what it might have been like for the New Yorkers, who may have been as baffled as I was by the Northern Irish art work that they saw.

When is art not really art at all? There are many websites devoted to ‘elephant art’, and there are even academies like Lampang Elephant Art Academy where they teach elephants how to paint.

Unsurprisingly, most of the elephant's efforts resemble the brash finger paintings of a human baby. Maybe that is the point. I don’t know. What I do know is that they are then sold for thousands of pounds. It’s money for old rope, if you ask me.

Many will find this a completely ridiculous situation, one that ultimately proves that the only thing that art expresses is the intense vanity of those who maintain that such follies have any intellectual value.

However, if everyone held that attitude, it would be to disregard the rich heritage of art, dating back to the Renaissance masters and before.

As a young artist, Pablo Picasso was considered a child prodigy, with potential, yet it wasn’t until later in his career that he was fully appreciated. Even then his work frequently courted controversy.

Perhaps Picasso's greatest contributions were his many paintings in protest against war. Works such as ‘Guernica’ and ‘Massacre in Korea’ are still considered some of the most powerful images which depict the futility and horror of war.

Pop art, such as the ironic comic book images of Roy Lichtenstein and the iconic prints of Andy Warhol are irretrievably embedded into the subconscious of modern culture.

The influence of art is undeniable and the drive to create art, whether in architecture, crafts or traditional painting, has been with us from the very beginning of civilisation. Art is undoubtedly one of the byproducts of a civilised society. So I suppose, like it or lump it, modern art is here to stay.