Have you ever felt like a complete ignoramus around those super-artsy folks that frequent the art scene? Those quasi-intellectuals dressed all in black or in psychedelic corduroy suits, with crazy hair and perhaps even an almost-foreign accent. They usually hover about, looking less confused than those of us who have no idea why that blob in the corner has such a hefty price-tag or how ‘Squiggle & splat-on-canvas’ is labelled high art. If so, remain calm, because most of those people are knocking back that vino so enthusiastically because they are equally perturbed by their own struggle to appear suave and clever.
The art world can be daunting, but because visual arts, artists and audiences can be highly complex themselves, art enthusiasts can take their pick of the various interpretive approaches to art appreciation and critique. The history of art began with the dawn of man and it has been evolving ever since as people express their creativity, reflect the nature of their society or simply enjoy art for art’s sake. Even though its conventions, movements and terminology have been extensively analysed through various philosophical and methodological approaches, the definition of ‘art’ is ultimately subjective and dependent on individual interpretation. In other words, you do not have to like an artwork because it is on display in a museum or because some theorist wrote a 5000 page analysis of it. Lala Danielle Crafford, fourth-year BA Fine Arts student and so-called Audio-Visual Queen, defines art as; “The expression of a certain point of obsession.” According to Crafford, art is experienced through the artist’s expression of an obsession and the effect thereof on the senses.
No particular method is superior and the experience of viewing art remains a highly personal and sensual experience, which is perceived uniquely by each individual – no matter how much attention they paid during art history lectures. Simply put, art appreciation is the experience of looking at art and being able to form and express your own opinion about it, whether you possess a posh artsy vocabulary or not. Thanks to the internet and such, art can now be studied, understood and enjoyed by virtually anyone, yet a recent survey revealed that the majority of Tuks students enjoy the arts, despite being unsure of how to interpret artworks. Perdeby put together a guide to art appreciation that could come in handy at exhibitions or during conversations with super-artsy folks. The basic visual vocabulary includes terms like; composition, plane, line, shape, space, colour and light. It is the particular arrangement of these elements that constitute an artist’s style. Once you grasp the basics of these elements, the art world will soon become your oyster. Your mates will also be wildly impressed when you flaunt your higher understanding and intellectual maturity the next time you decide to pop into an art show to take advantage of the free booze. However, you can only pretend to be knowledgeable for so long. You also have to know a bit about some up and coming artists in South Africa, not to mention what’s going on in the art world on campus. Thus, Perdeby being generous and perfect will give you some information you may or may not remember after reading this article.
It is amazing what fresh talent is emerging from the tertiary educational institutions such as the University of Pretoria, UNISA and the Tshwane University of Technology (TUT), and from private art schools such as Open Window. Among the young talent that emerged are Linda Antelme, Meredith Baker, Nathane Luneburg and Fabian Wargau. They have been selected for national art competitions such as the ABSA L’Atelier Art Competition, the SASOL New Signatures Art Competition and the PCC Cement Young Concrete Sculpture Awards Competition.
Many young artists come from schools that specialises in art or have very good education in art such as Pro Arte School and Pretoria Boys High. Boys High has a vast collection of the work of a famous artist Walter Battiss, who was art master at the school from 1935 to 1963. Battiss, incidentally, has art worth looking at. You can call it many things but boring is not one of them. Sadly the collection is not open to the public, but if you have a burning desire to see it you might be able to arrange it.
Much of the art on campus is managed by UP arts curator Gerard de Kamper and researcher Chris de Klerk. There are two noteworthy collections of art on the Up campus. One is the van Tilberg collection that consists mainly of ceramics numbering at 10 000 at present and all dating from 2000BC. A rare turquoise Japanese Chun Yao stoneware vase and a Rembrandt (another noteworthy artist, you just have to mention the name, because art freaks will know about him) portrait from the Dutch collection are two of the most prised artefacts in the collection.
The other art collection on campus and also housed in the Old Arts Building is the Mapungupwe collection. The most famous object in the collection is the gold rhinoceros. Another collection that cannot go unmentioned is the Eduardo Villa collection (to date 184 pieces). Villa’s sculptures can be seen dotted throughout campus. These works of art might have you looking at them for more than a minute scratching your head trying to figure out what they actually are, but they are a pride of the university and you should know about them.
That concludes your art education in a rather large nutshell. You will no longer have to look like an ignorant idiot in the company of artists. Perdeby lives to serve. And remember if you cannot remember any of this the next time you are in an art gallery there is always the free booze.
Illustration: Ezelle van der Heever