Choosing art

I had the interesting experience of selecting paintings for an exhibition the other day.  I work for a Great Big Company and the local council contacted various Groups in the Community to ask for volunteers to pick paintings for a Peoples’ Choice exhibition.  (It’s Blairite, but is it Art?)  So I said “that’ll be me then” and volunteered.

There were seven or so of us, and we were given an enormous catalogue of the paintings in public ownership in the county, and told to pick three each and state our reasons.  (The catalogue turned out to be fascinating and desirable in its own right and, since it’s available from Amazon, I’ve just bought myself a copy.  Damn.) The chap was a curator at one of the local museums or art galleries and he encouraged us to be simple and direct in our reasons, giving examples of things that other groups such as school children had said.



It would have been easy to consult with others and pick a whole exhibition of social history, or local faces, or even specifically non-local work, but it was much, much harder to pick just three.

I resisted choosing damaged pictures just because they were damaged which gives them an added layer of meaning in my pretentious world.  I resisted picking the local views because that was all a bit too obvious.  I resisted two enormous and gloomy portraits of a grimly smug victorian couple which I wanted to pick on the ground that – hey look, these people are so freaking different from people today.

I discovered that when push came to shove I preferred portraits, which was rather depressing.  My brow is higher than that, surely?   I did steer myself away from just picking portraits and resisted the option to show off by going entirely for abstracts.

It was an interesting insight into the world of the curator and the choices involved in putting together an exhibition.  I’ve bought myself a copy of the catalogue of the county’s art collection, and I’m looking forward to the exhibition.  I should love it.  What better way could there be to arrive at an eclectic mix?

4 responses to “Choosing art

  1. I suspect that exhibition could well end up defining ‘eclectic’. I’m not entirely sure where my preference would lie (of course, it would depend what sort of paintings Kent has stored in its various cupboards). When I visit the National Potrait Gallery, my favourites are by Hogarth, but that’s probably because I find the eighteenth century world so darned fascinating. I’m definitely not much of a pure landscape chap, nor abstracts.

  2. I dread to think what would happen were I given such a task. You’d probably end up with something terribly obscure and hideously complicated, like Dadd’s “The Fairy Feller’s Master Stroke” or something similar (if there IS anything similar), something worthy and educational, like something by Escher or something illustrating something clever about perspective, and then a big Gilbert and George or something similarly provocative about which I could claim that bigger boys did it and ran away.

  3. One of the things that is interesting about the collection is that it isn’t first rank stuff, and I was intrigued that I wasn’t particularly drawn to the stuff I like to go to Art Galleries for. I’d rather spend a couple of hours at the Tate than the National Portrait gallery, for example. But is that me being pretentious? There was in fact a lot of social history – Chartists meeting at Such-a-Place – that sort of thing. I found the whole thing intriguing.

    SoRB, I might just show you the catalogue and ask you to pick your three to see what happens.

    Thanks both, for reading and commenting.


  4. The interface between medicine and art has always fascinated me. I have, on my training scheme, done a presentation of the interaction between the two: the presentation falls into several parts:

    Art to show the anatomy of form (Leonardo, Durer, Rafael)
    Art as demonstration of the patients’ journey (Robert Pope)
    Art as a window into the soul (Bosch. Goya, Van Gogh, Dali, Dadd)

    They keep asking me to do it so it must work.

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