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Is it art? / 6 June 2014

Looking back at May weekends' sky colours, I'm a little dismayed by how grey the 24hr Salisbury weekend sky has turned out. Fascinating cloud formations, but still grey.

Inspired by Dai Fujiwara, I was drawn to doing my own colour hunting of Salisbury sky. I haven't figured out if it's a distraction or seeds for a new direction.

My little camera tends to interpret the onset of evening with quite a decent illusion of blue, so it looks like things are improving around eight in the evening. Again before dawn there is a bright spot, but then most days do start out reasonably well and I'm getting quite fond of early morning.

Looking back through this small archive of sky images, I can't help thinking about the photography being exhibited at Salisbury Arts Centre as part of SIAF (Salisbury International Arts Festival). These stunning photographs of Icelandic sky, complete with volcanic ash clouds, are probably taken with a state of the art camera. Certainly they have been captured by a proper photographer. Yet here I am with some amazing images - all thanks to technology. 

My camera is nothing special, but even so it is packed with enough techy stuff to produce images that to my amateur-photographer mind, are surprisingly, fascinatingly full of detail.

I like the in-focus flying bird and a wonderful sparkly night sky, thanks to the flash illuminating raindrops in a sleepy midnight experiment (actual stars are beyond my camera's scope).

And it's the surprise element that draws my attention; I've heard myself complain that art these days has evolved to be not much more than surprise. It's all about doing something new, unexpected and shocking and I have railed that this is often apparently at the expense of any sort of quality or craftsmanship.  I struggle (sometimes in these blogs) with any definition of what art is.

When I came to England I was shocked by the apparent chasm between notions of what was art and what was 'merely' craft; and the shockingly narrow concept of 'fine art'.

Things have changed, but with galloping technology, where is the place of craftsmanship in England, now or in the future? 

At the Hay Festival someone made a remark about handwriting - the need to brush-up on this rare craft activity - and thinking about my own deteriorating scrawl, I finally had that eureka moment. Craftsmanship is actually too important to be tucked away inside any of my struggling definitions of art.

It needs it's own Very Important Status. I shouldn't be seeking to experience it propping up rubbish and mediocre arts; craftsmanship, the real thing, is way too magnificent.

And suddenly I felt a whole load happier about Duchamp's Fountain, Tracy Emin's Bed, Sarah Lucas' Self Portraits - maybe.

I still can't embrace Damian Hurst's Dots, but they are a whole other story... 

And I haven't figured, to my own satisfaction, where disability arts sits in all this, except I refer myself back to Tolstoy who wrote words about art that I think I can identify with (stuff can get mangled in translation). He did say art was about surprise, but I don't imagine he was talking about the kind of surprise that triggers self-protective denial, thus rendering itself inaccessible. He said that 'a real work of art destroys, in the consciousness of the receiver, the separation between (the receiver) and the artist'.

So... I don't withdraw my mutterings about art that is nothing more than contrived shock. Work that is purely for its shocking effect needs some other definition, some other category within the art umbrella, to shelter under.

I don't intend to advocate censorship, but feel the art world needs some more joined-up self-regulatory awareness. Rather like the tabloid journals, galleries and promoters, curators, collectors and dealers could take a more holistic perspective on their activities. Maybe that way some of the good stuff might not get buried under the momentarily sensational.

And work that is surprising, breaking down separations only by virtue of technology? Now that's another story too...

Twenty four, a day and
a night's worth of hours
something so ordinary
the taken for granted
repetition of waking
eating, working, sleeping.
Yet each hour unique and
open to be filled with
passion, conviction, quest;
with the words, the deeds, the touch
that will stop your heart from
breaking: your senses from
shattering in the dismay
of realisation, the
aching regret of time
misused, misunderstood.
When you look back, twenty four
hours, days, years from now
will you feel regret, feel
hunger for time ignored?