At the Gallery with Alexander Wainwright
and Mary E. Martin, your author and guide.
We’re in an art gallery with my friend, Alexander Wainwright, Britain’s finest landscape painter. He’s a man open to many points of view and certainly is eager for your opinion. He does not like to be reminded that he is a fictional character, the protagonist of The Trilogy of Remembrance, because he feels as real as any human being—perhaps even more so!
Alexander points out this painting by the nineteenth century painter, John Constable. He asks, “Do you think this painting is beautiful?”
Like me, you have an immediate reaction—yes or no based on your own personal taste. You think of all the tried and true aesthetic principles. Has harmony of line and form been achieved to create a great composition? Is colour theory applied to the best effect? You answer—yes!
“Does it move you?” Alex asks us.
Those are two different questions. The first suggests that there is an objective ideal of beauty and the second asks about its complete emotional effect upon you.
As soon as you try to answer either of them, you’re caught. What is beautiful or moving to me may be cloying, trite or even ugly to you. What you find rapturous, I find overdone. Personal preferences play a huge role. But how huge? Does that negate the idea of a uniform aesthetics creed applying everywhere to everything? Even with these aesthetic ideals, personal taste still comes in. Also there may be something missing in this painting when we talk of beauty.
Next to that painting, Alex points out one by J. M.W. Turner another painter of the same period as Constable. He says “Don’t you think Turner’s painting has something very special in it which is lacking in Constable’s work? What could it be?
“Perhaps it’s the light,” you say.
“Hmmmh…” says Alexander. “I think you’re right. The light seems to glow suggesting other worlds beyond the one we see every day. Does it somehow move you?”
Alexander is, of course, right. Turner’s painting has that something special—perhaps a spiritual quality expressed by this individual artist, which is not found in Constable’s painting—or in many others.
Alex continues, “There’s painting that has interesting subject matter harmoniously composed. And then there is painting in which the artist adds something of himself so spectacular that we can always say—yes, that’s a Turner.”
Then Alexander guides us into the next gallery where he happens to see Rinaldo, the conceptual artist. He’s a rather stooped little man who reminds me of a forest sprite.
With his eyes dancing about, Rinaldo grins up and says, “I want to show you an entirely different sort of art—one to challenge your intellect! Constable, Turner or dear Alexander’s lovely paintings of hills and dales. They epitomize bourgeois prettiness, but my art is not confined to gallery walls or outmoded ideas of what art is. We conceptual artists even strive for ugliness to arrest your attention and make you think.”
Rinaldo ushers us to a far corner. “Here! My latest work! Bowl with Rotting Orange. I collected some fruit and let it rot in a bowl. I sold it at a very handsome price because the purchaser loved having to replace the rotting fruit with fresh fruit of his own choosing.” Alexander rolls his eyes. “Then for an entire month he has to email me a record of his replacements and why he chose them. The owner is delighted for now he is committing creative acts he would not otherwise have performed.” Rinaldo grins. “Lucky man! Co-creating with me!”
We do our best to stifle laughter. No one can think of an appropriate response.
Rinaldo gives one of his famous cackles. “My dear friends! You look so bereft as if lost in a sea of misery and confusion!”
At last you ask, “But Rinaldo, what was the concept? Is it an illustration of the passage of time and the second law of thermodynamics which says that everything eventually rots? Surely everyone knows that.”
Alexander shrugs and steps in, “Some people think that the conceptual artist is just playing tricks or practical jokes on the viewer. Surely, if conceptual art is to be considered art, it must be judged on the clarity and significance of its concept. Rinaldo you really should explain more about the concept. Why rotting fruit? After all, when you see a Constable or better still a painting by Turner or even me, the statement is clear. You know what you’re seeing.”
“Really Alex! I had great hopes for you once—that you would grasp the fundamentals of conceptual art. My work provokes. It causes everyone to question.”
The artists glare at each other. We are feeling rather uncomfortable stuck in the middle of a debate between two famous artists, each one arguing for the superiority his art. But never mind. No one will ever settle this debate and perhaps that’s where the beauty of it lies!
Rinaldo continues heatedly, “Let me tell you about the artist, Marcel Duchamp, who displayed as art his “found objects.” He was raising this very question—what is art. He presented commonplace objects, such as a bicycle wheel or urinal as art.”
Rinaldo grins his annoying grin. “He moved the urinal out of the men’s room and into an art studio. He changed its context.” Taking a deep breath, he puffed out his chest. “And—he wrote on it and said it was art! Those are very brave creative acts!
Alex is almost ashen with fury. “That is absurd! Once again Rinaldo, you are up to your silly tricks! Conceptual art may be amusing but that doesn’t make it art! Just what of yourself did Duchamp contribute to this so-called work of art?”
It is certainly time to leave the gallery.
I say to you. “The question—what is and is not art intrigues me so much so that I wrote The Trilogy of Remembrance [The Drawing Lesson, The Fate of Pryde and Night Crossing] to explore these questions raised by these very different forms of art as well as other BIG questions.”
“What kinds of BIG questions?” you ask.
“What kind of universe do we live in—random or a mysteriously ordered? How can the very best and worst of humankind thrive in one man’s breast. And—can love be so strong that it transcends life and death?”
“I’m very intrigued!” you say.
As we pass another room in the gallery, I point out the tent, “By the way,” I ask, “Is that a piece of conceptual art—OR is it just a tent?
From the author Mary E. Martin
Alexander Wainwright is a visionary artist. He regards Rinaldo, the conceptual artist as not much more than the trickster of childish pranks. You may wonder whether Rinaldo is a friend or Alex’s nemesis. Regardless, Rinaldo seems to have some mysterious and improbable influence upon Alex. If you like these kinds of questions then you might join Alex in The Drawing Lesson, The Fate of Pryde and Night Crossing.
It’d be great if you’d leave Alex and Rinaldo a comment voicing your opinion. When it comes to art, is it all just personal opinion? They argue back and forth endlessly about art and so, it would be good to have your opinion. But be careful! They are both rather sensitive in nature.
Mary E. Martin is the author of two trilogies: The Osgoode Trilogy, inspired by her many years of law practice; and The Trilogy of Remembrance, set in the glitter and shadows of the art world. Both Trilogies will elevate the reader from the rush and hectic world of today and spin them into realms of yet unimagined intrigue. Be inspired by the newly released and final installment of The Trilogy of Remembrance, Night Crossing. Presently, The Drawing Lesson is a Wattpad Featured novel which you can read in its entirety right here Wattpad.com