Friday, 9 October 2009

Yep, another art critic who knows nothing about art!

Last week I had the pleasure of adding the word ‘art’ to the growing CV of things I have had the chance to judge over the years.

As I said in this column a few weeks ago, my position as editor has led me to judge everything from rock competitions to beauty competitions (and practically everything in between) but until last Thursday, I had not had the pleasure of having a say in who should win prizes (totalling £5,000 no less) for the quality of their art.

I was invited – and I like to think as a representative of you all – to be one of the judges for The Bath Prize, a splendid new competition which encourages artists from this country and beyond to “celebrate the glory of our World Heritage city” with a painting depicting an inspiring view.

The competition attracted more than 150 high-quality entries from 100 different artists and the results of their endeavours are now on view for all to see at a superb free exhibition in the stunning venue of The Octagon in Milsom Place.
I think it is fair to say straight away, however, that if it takes an artist to know an artist then I should have been in big trouble.

To quote possibly the world’s oldest cliche, “I don’t know much about art but I know what I like” and I like to think I have a good eye for a striking image. But my own ‘talents’ with a pencil or paintbrush are so limited as to be laughable.

Indeed, one of my abiding memories of my school days was when we had to draw a self-portrait in our art class. The bushily-bearded and often incoherent art teacher who, frankly, was never my biggest ‘fan’, sat at the front of the class with all the completed images, lifted them up one by one and, without looking at the name on the front, was able to identify all of the names of the people who had drawn them because they were so accurate. And then he came to my picture in the last book he had. I was obviously the only person who had not received my book back and yet he still uttered the crushing words:

“Looking at this, I have absolutely no idea who this person is.”

My days as an artist were over. Before they had actually begun.

So, I took great delight thinking about “Mr Bushy Beard” as I became an art critic for the day along with several other judges who thankfully knew far more about how to use a paintbrush than I ever could. Indeed I was almost as impressed by the way my fellow judges (David Lee, Laura Gascoigne and two of Bath’s indisputedly nicest men –- the mayor Colin Barrett and Richard Hall from Future Bath Plus) explained the qualities of the work we were reviewing, as I was by the actual pictures themselves.

Between us our judging mixture of punters and experts (and guess which one I was)? produced a winning selection of which I hope the city can be proud.
It was not an easy choice because we ended up with dozens of images in the supposed ‘short’ list, such was the quality, variety and diversity of some of wonderful work.

I know art and paintings aren’t everybody’s first choice of cultural entertainment but I really believe that The Bath Prize is something which the whole city can enjoy and so I hope thousands of people will go into the Octagon (pictured right to view the images of some of the best-known parts of our city and some which will leave you scratching your head thinking “now where the heck is that place...”

The best thing of all for me was seeing the different way in which different people viewed our city and its attractions. Some images were straightforward representations of famous scenes, others were romanticised, some were surreal but nearly all were utterly compelling. So, yes, I don’t know much about art – but I do know what I like. And in this case, what I like (and very much) is this fantastic exhibition which I would urge as many people as possible to try to view over the next week or so. Our winning pic is here......

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