Every major art exhibition is always the same.
The ticket holders go in with their expensive tickets, and with their guide-books and ear-phone sets, and they look and they stare, and then they shuffle along and look and stare again.
But instead of looking and staring at the painting or other artifact, they look and stare at the typed caption 'explaining' the work of art.
And once they have looked and stared at this caption, they give the painting or other artifact a very brief glance, and they then move on to the next caption.
If you do not believe me, stand back at the next major exhibition you attend, and watch your fellow ticket-holders.
This is what they actually do.
It is almost as if the painting or other artifact is there as an aid to understanding the caption, and not the other way round.
Indeed, a visiting Martian - not versed in what is 'supposedly' happening - would observe this phenomenon, and think that the captions are the works of art really being visited.
I often stand back and watch this phenomenon happen, and I have very naughty thoughts.
I think about charging into every major art exhibition and running around, tearing down the captions, and shouting at the ticket holders: "No! Look at the bloody work of art, and form your own opinion".
And I would keep on doing this, at every major exhibition, until I was arrested by some police officer finally able to work out some plausible ground for arrest.
If charged, I would defend myself on the basis of the right to free expression.
It would only be for the public benefit, to allow people to be free at art exhibitions to actually contemplate the art exhibited.
It would be a mercy.
It would only be for their own good.
There is perhaps a more serious point to my threatened screaming criminal rampage though all the major art exhibitions of London.
(Sir, come with me. How do you account for all those exhibition captions in your bag? How many more exhibitions have you done, sir? How many?)
The serious point is this: for some reason, many people seem not to be confident about art.
Though people will readily form their own opinions about what they see on television, there is a certain discomfort when those people are presented with something they are 'supposed' to like and appreciate.
And, to my mind, this is a misconceived approach which makes me want to do something as illiberal as run through every gallery I can find ripping the captions off all the walls.
In one way, it all comes down to that most banal and preposterous of questions: what is art?
An answer to that question - and a completely inadequate answer it is - is to say that art is what is in an art exhibition, or some gallery.
Unfortunately, this inadequate answer is the one which is adopted by many people who really should know better.
They go into some place, with the twin clichés of high ceilings and blandly painted walls, to see something presented which is considered a work of art.
The work of art will of course have a explanatory caption.
Most people will spend longer looking at the caption than looking at the (supposed) work of art.
And in truth it is only being treated as a work of art just because someone has put it in an art gallery.
This how so many "modern artists" get away with such shoddy charlatanism.
We appear to have reached the ridiculous point where the most serviceable answer to what is art is: art is what is placed in an art gallery.
This cannot be right.
A new major exhibition has opened in London: this is of Leonardo da Vinci's paintings during his time in Milan.
Leonardo happens to be my favourite artist. I actually went to Krakow for my 35th birthday just to see the Lady with the Ermine.
But I cringe at the thought of going to this London exhibition.
As far as we can tell, Leonardo himself did not care for "art" and probably would have been horrified at the prospect of his work being in art galleries.
He rarely finished any painting - there are only a few complete works extant - and the ones he did finish were probably because of some demanding patron, or because the work allowed him to solve some technical problem.
Leonardo was interested in sheer observation: the desire to form a view, uncluttered by the conventions of received wisdom.
This is why, by just looking keenly at the spatial relationships of shapes and thinking things through, his notebooks are packed with speculative designs of things which seem advanced for his time, from screws to helicopters.
But it was not not because Leonardo could "see ahead". It was just because he sought to see clearly.
Leonardo would not have looked at captions.
Any one who spends longer reading a caption explaining a work of art than actually looking at the work of art has no business in an art gallery.
Any artist who puts any effort whatsoever in writing the caption, or the catalogue or sales "explanation" of their work, has no business calling themselves an artist.
Should you go to the Leonardo exhibition, or any other major exhibition, just refuse the guide-book and the ear-phones. Refuse to look at the wretched captions unless you want to know the material used and the date of composition.
Then you can enjoy art; for to form your own, personal aesthetic response can be the most wonderful feeling in the world.
And the things in this world that can trigger that wonderful response are the best answer to "what is art" - and they do not need typed captions and white-washed galleries to make them so.
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