Is It Art?

Published by: Barny on 10th Apr 2018 | View all blogs by Barny

Clebs and I moved recently, from Surrey to Devon, with the aim of getting a slightly different lifestyle, and we’ve rented a house close to the centre of a small-but-not-too-small town, chosen specifically so we can easily walk to its facilities. That has worked rather well: it’s rather pleasant, Clebs and I have found, to be able to walk for five minutes to get necessities or to indulge ourselves, without having to drive. The town has enough shops to meet most needs, including an impressive hardware store that sells nails by weight :-)

Last night was my first watercolour class at the local Arts Centre, which is a three minute walk away. Not quite so big as the arts centre I used to go to life drawing classes at in Bracknell - like maybe two rooms and a kettle instead of twenty including a bar and delightful small cinema - but ten miles closer to our home.

I’ve dabbled in watercolour a little before and just like writing what I’ve discovered is that going to a class forces me to do some art that I otherwise would find some excuse not to do.

Picture this: Barny meanders out of the pouring rain (the weather options this year seem to be rain or snow, don’t they?) into the classroom five minutes early and everyone else is already there and obviously knows each other well, and our tutor Richard (a cyclist, which seems very optimistic considering the weather options this year) then points at an arrangement of a vase of daffodils and a red metal coffee pot and optimistically asks/tells us to paint a still life without perspective! And using solid blocks of colour! This was a shock, because for me the challenges of painting have been mainly about getting better at drawing in perspective to be able to then paint a realistic scene in perspective, and using colour mixing, wet-in-wet and other techniques to build form (as they say on the Great British Painting Challenge). This abrupt pulling away of the rug of 3-dimensional representation was a bit like telling an author to write with only words of six letters or less, or using sentences of no more than eight words. That sounds a bit over-dramatic, doesn’t it. Yes it wasn’t that dramatic really, but still it was a surprise to me.

I won’t share the resulting painting with you. It wasn’t so bad, but also not that good, despite Richard’s optimistic encouragement. What I’m really hoping is that by practising I’ll get better, because I do believe strongly that the whitespace ‘unknown unknowns’ territory beyond what we can already do automatically/easily is a place that can only be explored by taking a step into that unknown: sometimes you’ll stub your toe and promise yourself never to put your foot in that particular spot again, but sometimes you’ll step into a whole new world and discover something new and interesting with scope for further discovery.

And that’s the point of this blog: what have you discovered by trying something different that you’ve never tried before, by taking a bit of a risk? And how much has failing contributed to your learning?




  • Jill
    by Jill 3 months ago
    Enjoyable and interesting blog, Barny. I wish you and Clebs many happy years (and some sunshine) in beautiful, mellow Devon. (Mellow is a favourite word and concept with me at the moment!). I have always enjoyed viewing your works of art in the pictures you have shared with us here and I am sure that you are going to go from strength to strength or wherever you wish to go for your own satisfaction.

    As to your final question, I am going to have to mull that one over for a wee while. I know there must be plenty such discoveries in my *several* decades of living!

    Meanwhile, 'paint on' ~ the equivalent of Tony's 'write on' and I hope you will be doing that also!
    by 3 months ago
    Good blog, Barny. I would love to see those pictures some time but of course, you have to feel comfortable sharing them. Your new lifestyle sounds exciting.

    As for your question back at us, I suppose my something different was jive dancing. I had convinced myself that I didn't 'do' dancing and always sat them out at parties - mainly a confidence thing. However, in an effort to improve on fitness I decided to give jive lessons a try and actually really loved it. What's more, I turned out to be really rather good at it. Failing was part of the fun, but it did teach me the ability to make good and move on to the next step rather than sit out the rest of the dance. A bit like writing, or editing, really. Its all about examining what you have created and gaining a feel for what works and what doesn't - and why. And like your classes, being on here, working on short pieces and getting peer support and feedback, ensures that I don't stagnate.
  • Clebs
    by Clebs 3 months ago
    My step into the unknown was our move to Devon. It’s something we had been planning for a few years but it had to fit with our sons’ lives. When the day arrived to sign the contract for the sale of our home I remember wondering if we’d thought this through.Talking about moving was easy but suddenly it was reality.

    In my mind I’d built up the final drive away from our home - floods of tears as I waved goodbye to our home, to our neighbours, I’d be an emotional wreck. In reality I was in the lead party with one of our sons, Barny was waiting for the second removal van. A quick kiss and see you later to Barny then younger Barny and I headed off towards the West Country. Later that day we were all together in our new ‘temporary’ home. A very happy moment.

    We’ve been here for nearly three months and I can honestly say it was one of the best decisions. I’m in such a happy place in my life and we love Devon! Even if it continually rains.

    My next big step: I’ve just booked myself onto a ‘Novel in a Year’ course. Will I be able to complete the challenge? I feel both nervous and excited.

    I have two partially written novels - I’m still undecided whether to go with the story which keeps jumping into my thoughts or the one which rarely surfaces but when I read the odd ‘written’ chapter it feels just right. Then there’s the third….

    Time will tell as I take a step into the unknown…

    Note: A few days ago I suggested to Barny that he wrote a blog on a completely different subject which I wouldn’t have been able to comment on. He posted this then mentioned it in passing today, his referring to taking steps is something which feels close to me at the moment hence my long reply!

  • Jill
    by Jill 3 months ago
    Interest to read your experience of the move, Clebs and well done you for embarking on the Novel in a Year Course.

    I think one of the biggest things that changed my life was when I decided mid-life to retrain by undertaking my first counselling course. I then did a second, longer diploma course and attended many additional workshops, plus I began my own personal therapy which, as it turned out, went on for a large number of years. It was all very different from the work I had originally trained for and for me was very worthwhile. I gained confidence, 'grew' as a person and worked through previous trauma which was healing. Made new, now long-standing friends and learned to air 'warts, mistakes and all' in small and large group settings. In addition, during this time I wrote and wrote ~ my writing room bears witness to the reams of work! Writing was often a therapy in itself.
  • Jill
    by Jill 3 months ago
    *Interested* even! Also, I was interested in your account above. Well done to you too. :)
  • JB
    by JB 3 months ago
    It is Barny, Art I mean. We used to do similar exercises at college and University. Have you ever done speed drawing in your life classes? Usually you draw for 10min then 5min then 1min. This has a similar response at first, but once you realise everyone's drawing as bad as you confidence grows. Both are good for getting you to look at things differently, breakdown the drawing to it's main components and basically free you up, speed up the drawing process and long term confidence grows.

    I work with students local Universities and schools working with the students studying design, I get them to put away the pencil & rubber and draw in Pen (so they can't erase anything). I pinched the idea from David Hockney, the reason to do this is often when you rub-out your early ideas they're lost and invariably they're the better ideas. It also makes you think about the lines you draw more carefully. But it again speed the artist up and more ideas flow and confidence blossoms.!
  • Barny
    by Barny 3 months ago
    Sorry yes of course it's art, but something I haven't done before. TBH my life classes were a long time ago, and my efforts were frankly so appalling that I only lasted one term - far too difficult.

    Yes the teacher's perspective must be interesting watching your students learn. Hockney probably nicked the idea from one of his teachers. I'd happily go to drawing classes rather than painting, given the chance.
  • Squidge
    by Squidge 3 months ago
    I'm a bit of a one for variety, so always trying something new, especially when it comes to being creative. Take quilting, for eg. I tend to stick to geometric quilts - usually simple squares with borders or stripes between.

    Whilst I have enormous admiration for quilts which are filled with mixes of all sorts of colours and patterns, I find I'm a bit anal about where colours 'should' go and I always quilt the layers together in straight lines.

    For my latest quilt, which is full of stripes on the topside and plain on the back, I challenged myself to quilt the layers with a less defined structure. As a result, I am hand drawing and stitching spirals on the plain side, just to prove to myself I can 'let go' of the squareness and straight lines which feel so much safer...
  • Squidge
    by Squidge 3 months ago
    Oh - and failing? You would not want to be a fly on the wall when my spiral goes awry and I have to unpick half of it! So I've learnt to hold my quilting hoop in a particular way and stitch in a particular direction so that I can see both the curve I've stitched AND the curve ahead to minimise wrong directions...
  • mike
    by mike 3 months ago
    ear Barny,
    On 5th April I attended a piano recital and the pianist gave a talk on how he had chosen the works he played that evening. The recital was in two halves. During the first half. he played Schumann. Fantasie in C . After the interval, he played Beethoven’s ‘Appasionata’ sonata. He wove shorter Debussy works around these two classics of late romanticism. His recital began with Clair du Lune and other Debussy works were of a similar form.
    I hope I get this right as I am using my own words. He explained that Beethoven and Schumann composed music in a specific genre. I think you can say box. Debussy thought outside the box and composed in a different genre. He became known as an impressionist. Equating one artistic genre with another may not be a good idea but it seems applicable in this case.
    Someone from the audience asked how can you judge? He specifically mentioned judging modern art. The pianist said, during his explanation, that performing Debussy as Debussy wished, would drive him mad. Every note might have some sort of accent or mark, indicating how the single note should be played.
    The pianist left us to judge his recital in which he compares the three musicians.
    Just by coincidence, I saw ‘Amadeus’ in the afternoon and then saw ‘The Marriage of Figaro’ in the evening. Even a half-wit like myself could see the difference between the two productions and Salieri’s despair of Mozart’s success - and the stir he must have caused in his short life.
  • mike
    by mike 3 months ago
    My Mozart's standards, I would be a fuckwit. There id a splendid 'Emproer's New Clothes Moment' when Mozart throws an unedited version of 'A Marriage of Figaro' in front of the Elector and says 'This is perfection.' The Elector is somewhat confused and asks the opinion of his courtiers. Multiple stonewalling ensues.
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