Friday, July 18, 2008

On Looking at Things

It is a mistake to suppose that the pleasure of art can only be had inside museums. Until we begin to look, we have no idea of the extent to which we are surrounded by art - or, perhaps I should say, by objects deriving their form from the artistic impulse. Since prehistoric times human beings have seldom been content to make things without giving them some shape and colour which they think will please the eye. Until quite recently purely utilitarian objects were rare: now, with the twin blessings of functionalism and austerity, they have become commoner, but this phase of mean-spirited puritanism will pass.

If we look round our room, or walk down the street, or into a railway station, we are surprised to see how much was once designed in hopes of pleasing the eye. In most cases, I am afraid, these hopes are not fulfilled, the design of (shall we say?) the mental brackets in a station roof has long since ceased to please, and, in its present form, perhaps, never did please anyone, though it is probably made up of bits copied from other designs which once gave pleasure. But now, in its fallen state, no one ever looks at it, and I do not suppose the designer or the manufacturer ever thought they would. But if art is to be a living thing we must look attentively and critically at everything which surrounds us.

How many of us cold describe the decoration details in our railway station where we have waited so many boring hours; or, for that matter, the lamps in your street? But, until we can, they will not be any better designed, because that sort of art does not depend on artists, but on us, the consumers, keeping our eyes open. As a matter of fact, there is one thing that half of us do look at attentively, and that is each other's frocks; and in consequence, dress materials are much better designed than (shall we say?) carpets.

(by Sr Kenneth Clark)


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