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U3A Writing: Beauty In The Eye Of The Beholder?

Ray Harman brings a report on a discussion on art by a Maldon University of the Third Age group.

`The Arts And Their Importance To Our Lives Today` was the focus of the March discussion. It was generally agreed that though we appreciated art in its various forms we are not always aware we are seeing art when going about our daily lives.

From where do we derive our appreciation of art? None of us were budding art students in classrooms, colleges, yet we all seem to iation.None of us confessed to have been budding art students in our classrooms,colleges or universities, but we seem to possess an inbuilt sense of what is beautiful and what is not beautiful, whether it be in music, sculpture, painting or writing.

This is not to say that education and the exposure to art at a young age is irrelevant. Quite the contrary. An eleven year study of youths in low-income areas found that those who participated in arts programmes were much more likely to be higher academic achievers, and also be elected to class office and win academic awards. Younger children involved in the programmes showed a decrease in negative behaviour, an increased attention span, and greater commitment and tollerance.

The arts then are central to a civilised society and kids who create do not destroy.

However, speaking as a simple leisure painter with little natural artistic ability who takes care over his pictures, I still find it difficult to face a large abstract painting consisting of odd geometric coloured shapes. Such a painting does not convince me that I am looking at a work of art. Likewise, after gazing at the exquisite figurative sculptures of Michael Angelo in Florence, an odd mishapen block of marble with a hole in it does not do much for me.

Contemporary artists such as Tracy Emin and Damien Hirst are a complete mystery to me. Who would have thought that when I leapt out of bed in a morning I would leave behind me a work of art, or that in answering a call of nature I would be seated on a work of art.

I wonder if the bricklayer who completed a small wall outside my house, leaving surplus bricks behind in a tidy fashion realised that he had become an artist overnight. or if the elephant which supplied its droppings to be displayed at the Tate was aware of his contribution to modern art.

Winston Churchill once remarked when presented with his full-standing portrait of himself which he disliked immensely "This surely is a good example of modern art," then at a later date put it to the torch. I too feel that temptation when gazing at some monstrosities that go under the name of art.

Perhaps we will pass through this silly phase and have a `Modern Renaissance`, returning once again to recognisable pictures and sculptures that we can all admire and value. However, we are all different and perhaps beauty is in the eye of the beholder after all.


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