I was visiting a large metropolitan art gallery and viewing an installation in one of the galleries. The installation looked like office furniture that had been broken up and arbitrarily distributed around the room. I had no idea what I was supposed to get from the ‘art’ and I refused to read the text on the wall to get an ‘explanation’ of it as I believe any artwork should stand alone.
Later, as I walked through the city, I encountered an evangelist publicly proclaiming to the passers-by that he was willing to proselytize them in the teachings of the religion that he followed. His placard confirmed this offer and I said to myself “why is it always religion? Why isn’t there someone on the street evangelizing about conceptual art?”
This thought amused me greatly and I played out various scenes in my head as to how it would work.
Usually, such crazy ideas of mine are consigned to an ‘ideas’ folder and don’t get looked at again for several years but this one kept reappearing with a new iteration on execution and variations on context. Experience has taught me that when this happens with an idea it means that it has huge potential and I decided to follow through one of the scenarios – the visit to Leeds Art Gallery with a placard that proclaimed ‘THIS IS NOT ART’.
The response was astonishing; who’d have thought that so many people had an interest in art and were willing to discuss it when a simple proposition was offered? On that visit to Leeds art gallery I was described by one visitor as “puerile” and “a clown” but they declined to justify their assertion with some critical thinking – a position that was an exact mirror of my own except that I did have some critical thinking to explain why something is not art (how to appreciate art).
Since then, I have made several films, collaborating with Noel Curry who shot and edited them, to explore the relationship between conceptual art and the public. I have resolved to employ the Socratic method when engaging with people I meet and to always ask questions of the concept rather than to offer explanations.