I must admit to being a bit of a Philistine when it comes to art and all that. I appreciate beauty, but I am an old-fashioned conservative. I prefer pictures I can understand. I do tend to think that the art world is a tightly closed mutual admiration society and I am bemused by much modern art; I’m one of those who suspects I could achieve similar results by leaving a canvas on the floor of the chicken coop for a month and then on the garage floor for another month.
Like most people my likes and dislikes are complex, but untrained except by reading, traveling and experiencing. As an artist I’m a good engineer – hopeless. But I’m a good appreciator.
Even I don’t know what will impress me, or astound me or make me gasp at it’s beauty or it’s magnificence as I wander on my journeys – whether around the globe or around the corner. One of the magical moments on the Ring of Kerry was to turn a corner and find we were literally driving straight towards the foot of a rainbow – we kept expecting a leprechaun to appear on a pot of gold – then the sun went behind a cloud. Another time, three years earlier we got lost on backroads between Pompeii and Bari, stopped to check a sign - and saw these wildflowers beside the road. Beauty and art are all around us when you take the time to notice it.
I do tend to agree with Picasso when he said “Museums are just a lot of lies, and the people who make art their business are mostly imposters. We have infected the pictures in museums with all our stupidities, all our mistakes, all our poverty of spirit. We have turned them into petty and ridiculous things. Pablo Picasso”
That’s not to say that I don’t also wander through, and enjoy, museums and galleries. But when I do, I tend to look at the paintings others don’t, or look at the way they built the museum instead of what’s in it. So, I didn’t go to a single city with the intent of seeing it’s museum – yet I’ve probably been inside more than many scholars.
Of course, as a youth I spent hours in the Sydney and Melbourne Museums, mainly in the archeological and science sections. Somehow, over the past four years, I’ve stumbled across these, to name just some:
The Getty, in California
The Prado, Madrid
The British Museum
The Ashmolean, Oxford
Those are accepted as some of the great museums of the world. Yet, while I enjoyed them, the ones that stick in my memory were mainly smaller, often generally unknown – or even tiny. Or not even Museums. Because sometimes an ancient place, simply by continuing to exist becomes both a work of art and it’s own museum to me. Places like these:
The Far East Museum in the manor at Zbraslav, south of Prague. And the 16th and 17th European paintings/murals on the walls and ceilings there.
The small Greek Museum by the amphitheatre at Epidaurus.
The mosaic floor of the Cathedral restored from the mud at Aquileia.
The buildings of Pisa, Florence and Venice. To me those buildings were so much more impressive than the art they contained.
The Aya Sofia and the mosaics in it.
The Alhambra and Generalife.
Tiny town museums, like the one in northern Vermont all about Ethan Allen, or the one in Prescott Canada about the boom years as a port – before the Seaway killed it.
The list goes on and on: the town of Trier, the Budapest Citadel Museum, Nordlingen; it’s part of why I travel. You can send a Rembrandt to Sydney for display – but you can’t send the Lion Gate from Mycenae, or sit alone above those mighty ruins for an hour or two and ponder on the past. Or do the same at Auschwitz.
Maybe that will explain why we passed through Florence without attending a single gallery - and the only museum I went to there was the exhibition of models of DaVinci's great inventions.
Yeah - call me a philistine.
The journey starts here: Brisbane to Singapore