In an interview on ABC Classic FM today (14/6/14) the newly appointed conductor of the WASO, Asher Fisch, was asked whether he was hopeful or worried for the future of “serious” music. He replied that he was worried by the time gap between the music people can generally relate to and the present – a gap that is steadily increasing. The same is of course true of visual art; most people relate far better to paintings produced in 1890 than to those being created now.
Asher Fisch remarked that he was hopeful for the future of opera above concert music because it provided a narrative to which people could relate, and he commented that people are accustomed to hearing quite abstract film scores, although they don’t really listen to the music. We have been told often enough that we live in a visual age – yet without the music the film would not have the same emotional power.
He also said that he enjoys talking to audiences to tell them something about the music. It was great to hear him say that. For a long time I have felt that in contemporary Fine Arts of any form it is arrogant to expect audiences and to just “get it”. True, there are academic languages that can be applied within the arts. However, I suspect that what most of us in the business bring to bear on contemporary work is intuition as well as thought. We have given ourselves permission to feel as well as think, to look for resonances rather than resemblances, to look for an individual, internal reality. We ask ourselves how the work fits with contemporary practice, and we also ask: how does it work for me? We know that the response is highly subjective. No one in the arts asks themselves the question: what is it meant to be? Yet that is the question a general audience will always ask, as if there was a correct answer.
It seems that for a general audience, right now, a combination of two art forms works better than one. Films are given emotional impact by music: music is better accepted when it has a narrative to go with it. Concert goers are more engaged by the music if the conductor speaks about it; otherwise the music they enjoy most is the music about which they already know something, even if it’s only something about the life of the composer.
At my last exhibition in Hobart I provided brief notes on each painting. I made it clear in the exhibition statement that I hoped people would bring their own perceptions and associations to the work; there is no right way to look at a painting. Some people chose not to look at the notes – no problem. But some did, and I hope it added something to their experience of the exhibition.
There is a widely held assumption that artists are no good at talking about their own work; if they could say it or write it, they wouldn’t have to paint it. For me, painting is like visual poetry. It gives clues without proscribing meaning, it says more than one thing at a time. Works of art open up thoughts and feelings within oneself. Meaning unfolds. I paint because meaning is fluid. But I am happy to try and catch some of my own thoughts and put them to paper to give people a way of engaging with the work.
And next time I have an exhibition, remind me to play some music.