Venturing Into The Mysterious World Of Fine Art

Art & Culture

I’ve heard many things about Goldsmiths, as I’m sure you have as well. We’re all aware that it’s one of the best art universities in London. It has a shining reputation and has produced artists like Tracey Emin, Damien Hirst and Gillian Wearing. However, amongst other art universities, the students of Goldsmiths have a bit of a reputation as being rather ‘snobby.’ I kept this nugget of information tucked away in my head as I entered Goldsmiths’ Degree Show private view.

The first building I ventured into was the St James Hatcham Building (better known as The Church). As I entered I was greeted with a large concrete sculpture. The size of the work was quite impressive (it was just a little taller than me) and the way the sunlight filtered in through the pink doors of the building created a pleasing effect on the grey of the sculpture. But other than that, I don’t have much more to say about it. The work didn’t really engage me. I wasn’t captivated by it. So I went to find some booze.

With a glass of champagne in hand, I felt better equipped to explore this mysterious world of fine art. I would indulge myself in culture, I said, delicately sipping at my glass while watching a woman gently humping a hand dryer on film. I would become a better person from this. A more rounded person. However, as I wandered through all the buildings and looked at dozens of well-made, meticulously thought out art works, I couldn’t get excited. I saw various sculptures made up of rope and paper, films that depicted the inane like shaving legs to the bizarre like clay penis-esque models stuck on breasts and dozens of examples of conceptual art. I can’t fault anything in terms of the amount of effort that was put in. Everything I saw was made to a high standard, as is expected from such a prestigious institute. But from the perspective of some one who has never been taught about art and has never studied it, I felt like a lot of the work wasn’t meant for me. It was created to be enjoyed by people of far superior artistic knowledge. I began to wilt a little. My drink was also getting dangerously low.

Then, I found myself walking into a white room with a TV. The room had been turned into a living room of sorts with a black sofa, white shag pile carpets and an array of family photos hanging on the wall. Sounds like a pretty normal room. Well. In the corner of the room stood a mannequin wearing what can only be described as a plastic funnel bra. Opposite this was a large black and plastic ‘fish tank,’ and closer inspection of the photos made me realise that the artist had photoshopped her, sometimes brightly smiling and sometimes seductively leering, face into the photos.

I laughed.

Finally, a piece of work that didn’t take itself too seriously.

Chuckling to myself, I sat down on the sofa and watched the video being played on the TV. There were several bits of recorded video: one chunk of it showed various people laughing, another had shots taken of the British working class with a girl running her mouth and disapprovingly calling them scumbags and another section was made up of a faux-insurance company advert calling for people who had “broken a nail while driving” to contact for compensation. Sitting there watching the videos and observing the little black and white living room made me feel better about my lack of artistic literacy because I was getting it. I was able to interpret the artwork in my own way and it didn’t seem hostile and mysterious. The work, made by Rebecca Samura, felt unimposing and approachable. I exited the room with a small feeling of accomplishment and drank the last dregs from my glass.

Another piece of work that caught my eye was a painting by Holly Upton titled Somewhere Over the QEII. It’s hard to miss the painting, really. First of all, it’s massive. Secondly, it’s incredibly colourful. The canvas is filled with beautifully vivid colours and bold brushstrokes. From afar it looks like a psychedelic dream. From up close, you can see that the painting is made up of internet memes and caricatures of the working class. Somewhere Over the QEll features Miley Cyrus riding the weasel riding the woodpecker, Ed Miliband eating a bacon sandwich in The Dress (you know, THE Dress), an orange faced girl, a football hooligan with the English flag on his face holding an overflowing glass of beer, and Kim Kardashian’s butt (there’s more but you get the idea). Upton’s work felt more exciting than any of the other paintings I had seen at the degree show. It felt like it had substance and a proper theme. There was no vagueness or sense of fucking around with benign splodges of paint that I had seen in some of the other paintings. Again, I felt like I was able to engage with the art work. I didn’t feel like it was ‘too good’ for me (which was great ‘cause I had no champagne crutch at this point).

Looking back, I feel like Goldsmiths art students have an unfair reputation of being snobs because the world of art in which they live and breathe is mostly made up of snobs. In short, it’s not them, it’s the environment they’re taught in. It is elitist and does not often cater to people who have not studied the subject. The art world is what theatre used to be: a luxury for the wealthy and educated. But there are some students and some already established artists who are attempting to break down these barriers with the belief that art can be both sophisticated and inclusive. The two works that I remember most distinctly from the degree show seemed to have been made with this ethos. If more artists take into consideration the many rather than the few, the art world may become a more vibrant and exciting place to explore.