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Aug / Sep 2012
The Big Picture

Writer: Kevin Hackett

When I was in my final year of secondary school in the UK, the general opinion held by my peers was that anyone who was thinking of going to art college was nothing more than a dropout who wanted to while away their days drinking cheap wine and smoking illicit substances. Like any generalisation, there would always be somebody to fit the stereotype but I wasn’t that person. Nor was I to go to art college. Seems I wasn’t intelligent enough for any type of college, art or otherwise, so I ended up working as a journalist instead.

Is journalism art? I reckon so. Not mine, I admit, but some writers can paint the most vivid pictures without ever reaching for a brush. They wield superbly worded sentences and carefully constructed paragraphs, so vivid we can picture what it is they’re writing about. Me? I still have a lot to learn from these wizards of words. I read with envy the finely honed prose of certain writers and hope that some of the magic will eventually rub off, constantly striving to be better at what I do.

The problem these days - at least for anyone like me who’s rather precious about their work - is that it seems everyone with a laptop thinks they can write. Mostly, they can’t. They type. And there’s a world of difference between writing and typing. And the same goes for photography. Just because you can thrust a Canon D1 into someone’s face or point one at a sunset while you’re walking the dog, it doesn’t necessarily make you a photographer.

The key point is that technological tools are becoming better, cheaper and more accessible, permitting more and more amateurs, however half-baked, to pass themselves off as artists. I’ll be honest. It’s hacking me off.

True, Art is not easily defined. Writers, painters and photographers fit the bill, as do musicians, singers, actors, film directors, clothes designers and even perfumers. These are people with talent who willingly put themselves and their creations out there for everyone to judge (and criticise) and I admire them immensely. But are these people better at what they do because of technology? The 15-minute wonders, possibly, but those who go on to lasting acclaim? Probably not.

Art cannot be learned by searching Google or by downloading pdf’s. YouTube certainly helps when I want to see how a chef poaches an egg without it becoming a sprawling, overcooked mess but if I want to learn how to paint a masterpiece, it’s the online equivalent of painting-by-numbers. Technology, however dazzling, has its limits and I like that because I’m a self-confessed dinosaur. The internet is a staggeringly useful tool for good (and bad) but, unless you’ve already been blessed with that indefinable gift that makes you an artist, sitting in front of a computer isn’t going to be much help.

Take my wife, for example. She’s a skilled painter. She can play the guitar and write heart-wrenchingly beautiful poetry. Not that I knew any of this when I took her to the National Gallery on our first date. But as we stood in front of ‘The Hay Wain’ – a painting we’d both seen a hundred times before in books, on chocolate boxes and 1,000-piece jigsaws – her eyes welled up and a tear rolled down her face. We were both entranced, moved by a painting that had been produced 191 years ago. How likely is it that in 191 years time, people will be similarly moved, say, by the output of Tracey Emin (although I’ll admit her work also moves me to tears, if for very different reasons) or Farhad Moshiri?

The best artists all possess the power to move us, regardless of subject, discipline or era. So while I will admit that technology is both enriching and enabling and can make each of us a little more creative, remember that it’s not the iPad or the Instagram that makes a Constable, a Mozart or a Scorsese.

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