Normally, at this point in January I would be writing about the previous year’s documentaries. However this year I find I have nothing to say about them. It’s not that I didn’t see any great documentaries this year – Free Solo, Three Identical Strangers, Honeyland, Scheme Birds and Ghost Fleet were all worthy of note – rather that no wider themes emerged this year, if they existed as part of a larger conversation within documentary making then I have no idea what it was saying. Perhaps I’m just looking for meaning where there is none, or perhaps I need to look in other directions for a while. To that end I’m going to focus my attention elsewhere on the blog this year.
A few years ago – nearly a decade ago now, and isn’t that a scary thought – I set myself the challenge of writing about ten art exhibitions here on the blog. It was a really fun challenge and made me see a lot more art than I would have otherwise. Then, as now, the biggest challenge was that I can’t write about every art exhibition I see, because it’s only when I really love or really dislike art that I feel moved to write about it. (For example, I saw some art – ‘Proximities’ by Rod Purcell – yesterday at Upstairs that made me smile and that I really quite enjoyed – more than enjoyed, if I’d had enough disposal cash in my budget I’d have been tempted to buy a print – but it wasn’t art that left me with lots to say for good or ill.) Perhaps that’s actually the correct term for it, moved, did it move me or not, if I’m going to write about art it’s less about personal preference or taste more that the work changed my perspective on something either positively or negatively. I can’t force the response, as a dozen half-written abandoned reviews of perfectly decent art exhibitions ruefully remind me, the best I can hope for in those circumstances is that the mediocrity might annoy me into verbosity.
(The art I hang on my own walls is mostly canvas prints of photos I’ve taken on my travels, collages of art postcards that friends and relatives have sent me, and in an odd exception, a favourite web comic creator’s take on an art deco classic. I’ve seen some amazing, inspiring art over the last decade that has moved and engaged me, changed my perspective and challenged my unconscious prejudices but most of it I wouldn’t give house space to, even if I could afford it.)
I’m generally of the opinion of that very few ‘artistic’ experiences are ever wasted. Beyond my love of ‘bad movies’ and how much I’ve learned from things that provoked the reaction of ‘that was brilliant and I never want to watch it again’, there’s something about the accretion of ideas over time that build up in your brain and provide context for the other art you consume. An exhibition that on it’s own I had nothing to say about, may prove later to contribute ideas or stand in contrast to something else I see later. Sometimes art exists in conversation with another piece of art – whether as explicitly as the Monarch exhibition a couple of years ago or more subtly/abstractly – or as part of a wider movement. I suppose that’s why I like to try to see art wherever I go, whether the grubby immediacy of street art and murals, the colloquial pleasures of an unexpected exhibition of watercolours or landscape photography in a rural library stairwell, or an attention grabbing installation by a big name artist.
All this is a long way round to say that I’ve set myself a target this month to do something ‘arty’ each month this year – whether seeing an art exhibition, some theatre, attending a concert or a dance performance – and writing about them, getting some perspective on, and hopefully finding some inspiration from, taking the long view on the arts here in the Highlands and beyond.