We watch a bit of Antiques Roadshow. I know that drops us firmly in a ‘certain demographic’ but it seems that it’s the best of the options whenever we’re looking.
The history, manufacture, design, social context and value of the items presented is, of course, what the show is all about. It’s always exciting to see something appraised at an enormous figure but just as intriguing is the range of items that people love and treasure. As they say, ‘there’s no accounting for taste!’ Beauty is certainly rooted firmly in the eye of the beholder.
There is no doubt that, these days, we live in a battle zone between minimalism and ornamentation. Visually and artistically, this can manifest in clean lines versus busy shapes, single or analogous colours versus varied decoration, or simplicity versus elaboration. Judgement about which of these is more desirable will, of course, vary across the population which is why the collection of extant objects is so rich. I think, even individually, we all have a mixture of preferences depending on the age and purpose of the item. I may place a beautiful antique carriage clock on the mantlepiece but would choose a very different-looking product if I were purchasing for a renovated kitchen. Perhaps we do have a leaning in a certain direction but make departures for sentimental or aesthetic reasons.
Many questions and dichotomies exist in art. Where on the scale of abstract to realistic does your preference lie? Is the work of the great masters more pleasing than modern pieces? Is art meant to be beautiful or functional? Is the role of art to entertain or to make social comment? Is Picasso more innovative than Renoir? It is possibly true to say that our answers to all these questions may differ from day to day depending on what’s in front of us at that moment? In addition, we can deeply appreciate the skill and workmanship in a piece while not necessarily wanting to hang it on our wall. We can agree with a political sentiment without finding the work attractive.
Not all art will inspire us or fall within the parameters of our individual taste. Emotional connection is what drives people to love a work and, even on an individual basis, those connections may seem disparate at times. Choices become an expression of preference for that instant and that piece alone and the art collection that results could seem wildly inconsistent in terms of style, age, subject, medium, colour or meaning.
Clearly, we are drawn to different things. What speaks to me may not say a word to you. We could meet at some points and depart dramatically at others. At the place we do meet there will be a bonding – some sort of recognition of a similarity of mind. When this doesn’t happen, though, it’s not a problem. Artists throughout the world and across time have depended, and still depend, on the enormous breadth of opinion, appreciation and value placed on pieces.
Whether you love paintings or ceramic bowls, militaria or jewellery, furniture or oriental objet d’art, within those genres will exist the full gamut of design from minimalism to ornamentation. The battle will continue but it is a battle that we can only win – there are no losers when connection happens. When you fall in love with a piece it won’t matter where it sits on the continuum. What matters is where it sits in your home or in your heart.