A Regular Marvel about tastes in art

66498_weeding-the-onionsDid you fall for drama in your first primary school play or learn to samba in your sixties?  Do you hate what they’ve done to Blandings or just prefer Borgen? Do you have a passion for country music or the novels of Jane Austen? Or perhaps you like both…

In 35 years working in the arts, I have met many people who’ve told me they don’t understand art, or that they have no interest in it, or that it’s not for them. Generally, as we got to know each other better, I saw that what they meant by art was some version of the oil paintings/orchestras/unmade beds idea of art.

It is not surprising if many people feel disconnected from that stereotype. After all, as John Carey argued (in The Intellectuals and the Masses) some artists have gone out of their way to separate themselves and their work from most people. And from the other side, various ideologues and their cheerleaders in the press have tried hard to stifle artists who might be different or just difficult.

If Jesse don’t like it then it’s prob’ly not art
Jesse knows what’s good Ol’ Jesse is smart
And if you don’t like that don’t feel sad
‘Cause the art that you like is probably bad

Jesse Don’t Like It’, Loudon Wainwright III

But in 35 years in the arts I have never met anybody who had no artistic tastes, or interests or sensitivity. What is interesting is not whether people like art but what values and ideas different art works offer. What’s interesting isn’t what is called art and what is not: it’s which art is better, why and whether we can explain why we think so to each other.

'Jimmy', Rosie Redzia
‘Jimmy’, Rosie Redzia

A Wider Horizon, which begins later this month, aims to understand better how we form our artistic likes and dislikes, how we find, choose and change our tastes. I’ve been thinking about these things for many years, but this is the first chance I’ve had to really test some of my ideas and assumptions.

The project is linked to a touring programme run by Creative Arts East in the English Fens and Breckland, and area that is seen as having little access to the arts. With funding from Arts Council England through the National Lottery, CAE will be putting on theatre and literature events in pubs, libraries and community halls between this winter and 2015.

One of the things A Wider Horizon will try to understand is what world this touring work is entering and what the people who live there make of it. It will do so through a series of conversations and meetings with people, happening slowly over the next couple of years: there’s no rush. In fact, it’s the slow pace of things that might be most helpful in allowing us to see how things might change over time.

I’m very happy that Rosie Redzia, a wonderful artists who lives and works in the area, will work with me on the project. The image above, taken from her series about Woodlands organic farm, near Boston, gives a sense of how the art work in this project might develop.

There’s more information on the project page, or you can download an information sheet.

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