I go to a certain number of Museums and Art Galleries, but while I find them interesting, I’m never really terribly sure what to do with anything I see. I don’t really have much experience with art. The sum total of my art history education was watching Kenneth Clarke’s Civilisation and a semester of Aegean Art and Archaeology, almost all of which I slept through. That puts me in the position of basically uncritical enjoyment – not terrible, but not useful to share.
Recently the Ashmolean has been hosting an exhibition called “Great British Drawings” or something along those lines. I was anticipating some beautiful hand-drawings and sketches, as for example, the Bodelian’s new exhibition “Genius” contains in plentiful numbers. Instead, there were a number of what I’d describe as drawings and a larger number of water-colours. Most were beautiful in their way, but few “spoke” to me. It seemed like an exhibition of works executed as studies for oil paintings, rather than intended as works of art in their own right. A few were even crudely grided in preparation for transfer, with one mournful comment revealing that only the template actually existed – the implication being, what a shame!
I’ve recently seen this in the Metropolitan Museum’s Benton exhibition, where the small sketch studies leading to the mural are on display. I personally enjoyed the sketches more than the mural. It’s a trade-off between distraction and juxtaposition that I hope some artistic boffin somewhere is doing something useful with.
The picture I liked best in this exhibition was John Ruskin’s “Exterior of the Ducal Palace” drawn of a Venetian palace around the mid 19th century. It’s not easy to articulate why this drawing impressed me, but I think basically it reminded me of the wonderful sense of fantasy that is invoked by, say, the Arabian Nights or The Bridge of Birds, though obviously there is no cultural connection to either of those works. I really love the attention to detail, but that this detail is not all-consuming. The fact that only part of the picture is “finished” and yet it is a complete image is pleasing to me.