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10 January, 2007

But is it art?

I haven't felt much inclination to decorate my house; 3½ years on, the walls still feature the slightly odd colour scheme chosen by the previous owner, gold-and-purple ceiling roses and all.  There's a larger number of interesting rocks on my windowsills than conventional ornaments, which themselves are on show as much for their personal significances as for their visual appeal or any sort of thematic consistency.

I do have a few pictures on my walls.

  • In the living room, I have 'Brave', by Carl Glover (I think) at Bill Smith Studios, plus a lot of blank space. It's a small room; I don't want to clutter it up, and besides, I don't use it much myself.
  • In the kitchen, there's a photograph over the sink, depicting a gorge in North Wales, and Gotti Bernhöft's 'Angel Foetus' by the stairs (actually, mine is the negative of the linked image, and hence looks a little more like an ultrasound scanner's output).
  • There are four postcards of Edward Burne-Jones' 'Pygmalion And Galatea' series down the side wall of the stairwell, whilst John Blackford's 'Signify' hangs over the stairs.
  • In the 'office' (back bedroom) there's a print of D.G. Rossetti's 'Dante's Dream At The Time Of The Death Of Beatrice' plus various postcards on the noticeboard.
  • In the bedroom, I have two original paintings by my mother (all other pictures mentioned are prints, if that's even slightly unclear) and J.W. Waterhouse's 'Hylas And The Nymphs' (I wonder whether waking to the sight of seven nubile nipples has a subliminal effect on the rest of my day).
If there's a point to any of this, it's that a number of people have admired the Glover, Bernhöft and Blackford pictures until I've revealed that they're album cover images: Marillion's 'Brave', Sigur Rós' 'Ágætis Byrjun' and Porcupine Tree's 'Signify'. Something seems to change in that moment of revelation, and what was accepted as art is suddenly diminished and dismissed as either mere 'design' or as vacuous pop culture. I've even experienced laughter and the comment "I should have known", though the speaker couldn't, or wouldn't, rationalise that response.

Is the original published context really the defining characteristic, and is it impossible for the artwork to be considered on its own merits? That's surprising, and somewhat disappointing.

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