The Lonely Palette

I came to this podcast somewhere in the middle following a recommendation and I’ve been working my way through the rest because they are superb. New to the whole art history malarkey, my co-student and I, both of us with more science in our lives than art, were floundering around in what seemed to be impenetrable verbiage about paintings we’d never heard of.

It all seemed so far removed from what we both understood, and it used language that was unfamiliar – some of it language we thought we already owned but that seemed to have been re-purposed. Left to our own devices I think we might have just shrugged and moved on but little inconveniences were beginning to emerge via tutor feedback; ‘try to reference more artists when discussing your work’, ‘what kinds of art influenced this piece of work?’, and the weighty requirement to ‘research twenty or so contemporary artists working in landscapes to inform your submission’. Oh man!

Then along came The Lonely Palette; the beginner art student’s equivalent of a walking frame. Clear, unfussy, never pretentious, its mission is to ‘return art history to the masses, one painting at a time’. The presenter, Tamar Avishai, is a past curator and lecturer at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, and she’s funny, politely and gently irreverent at times, and always a star communicator.

I’ve been meaning to post about it before but it was this episode that gave me the shove I needed simply because it talks about story telling. Avishai loves to tell the stories of the art she sees and that people come to visit, and she remarks here about how people might just stop to take another look if the electronic guide or a curator says ‘hey – look at this, there’s a really lovely thing you may not know about it’.

And this is my argument every time I see art with no contextual information appended to it at all; no clue as to how it came about, what it’s of sometimes, and occasionally with no title either. What are we supposed to make of it and why should we bother? Those of us actually visiting and looking might be predisposed to spend some time considering these matters, but what about all the people who are not there? The ones who find art inaccessible and maybe just a bit highfalutin and pretentious? How will they ever be encouraged to engage if artists don’t make the effort to help them do so? The Lonely Palette chips away at the mystery, one obfuscation at a time.

Also worth a look is Will Gompertz’s book What are you looking at?’ which covers most of 20th and early 21st century modern art in a marvellously accessible way. I have it on Audible and i’m beginning to recognise whole sentences now, never mind actual artists.

Then there are the two series’ Great Artists by Tim Marlow on Amazon Prime video. Each episode an easily understood half an hour trot through the core need-to-knows of around 24 of the greats we’ve all heard of and know very little about.

Gompertz, W. 2016. What are you looking at? 150 years of modern art in the blink of an eye. Penguin Random House, UK. See also Audible. Short review here

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