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Art or Playtime?

This week, I’ve managed to visit a few local Artweeks venues at lunchtime. Yesterday I saw Robin Danley’s paintings at Headington Library, a mixture of bold portraits and a few abstracts. Definitely worth a look although, in the time I had to spend there, I found myself more drawn to the portraits despite most of my recent output being abstract. Today Jane and I enjoyed Gilly Whittington’s ceramics. Overall though, we were less impressed with the Hoi Polloi Fine Arts degree show at Oxford Brookes.

Some of the pieces were fascinating – I was particularly struck by the large photographs of hands, rendered on a surface so that they appeared painted, and the digital self portraits that morphed between stereotypical characteristics of different oriental nations. However, quite a few of the pieces I saw wouldn’t have been remarkable in a school art room or looked like discarded rubbish. Is it art or is it students seeing what they can get away with, either to shock or because they suddenly realised they had a deadline looming and needed to produce something?

I’m probably doing them a disservice but there was an almost complete lack of explanation with the pieces on display. Only a few that I spotted showed more than the name of the artist and the media they had used (in most cases very obvious) and some of the explanations seemed that they could have been constructed by a ‘pretentious gobbledygook’ generator. By contrast, the self portrait had enough explanation to get me thinking. Even in a gallery, I think art is helped by some background reading, even if you don’t necessarily place that right beside the pieces themselves. For an educational establishment, I would prefer that the students had also provided at least a small board showing some of the developmental work that fed into their final results; I presume those who aware the degrees get something like that to support their decisions?

Playtime is immensely valuable, of course but I’d rather have the option of seeing the experiments that led to the finished piece, or at least a resolved stage, than just see a work that looks like the creator may have been aiming merely for weird or indulging in sloppiness without discipline.

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