I have dabbled in crafts all my life and at one time was prepared to accept the opinion of experts as gospel, in spite of knowing that artistic criticism is inevitably subjective, but that is all a thing of the past and came to an end in the YMCA Camera Club one evening when I gave one of my master-pieces to an alleged expert for his views. I sure got them.
About a month earlier I had come home late to find a bunch of daffodils and a decorated Spanish basket on the kitchen table, it was one of those baskets made from thin plates of wood, thonged together and painted with Flamenco dancers. The whole collection gave me an idea which I proceeded to put into effect. I pulled a hearth rug up against the fireplace to provide a neutral base and background and then, with some flowers in the basket and others on the floor, I made an elliptical composition completing the shape by tossing a pair of scissors on the rug so they fell casually. The idea was to give the impression that the back-lit flowers had just been cut, brought in casually in the basket, some had spilled and were all yet to be arranged. I was delighted with the final enlargements and Sophie gave her Good Housekeeping Stamp as well.
I showed it to a professional who was part of the leadership of the Club, and a rep for one of the two big photographic manufacturers at that time, but naturally it was a mere coincidence that he should be associated with a club. He looked at it casually and then handed it back with only one comment, ‘I would not give that many marks, I’m right handed and I couldn’t pick up the scissors, they are the wrong way round.’
A few weeks later I was at a meeting where we all submitted two mounted half-plate photos for criticism. One of the beginners who was terribly new fangled with his little daughter of about two years, had put in a photo such as nearly all parents take at some time, his little girl was hunkered down among the flowers she was picking, in the way all small children do. I have some of our own girls in that pose. The genius picked it up to talk about it and I could see the look of expectancy on the beginner’s face, which suddenly turned to horror. It was not the criticism of the picture, all beginners are used to that and might crumple a bit from time to time if the comments are a bit harsh, but they can generally take it on the chin. No! The bastard had said that the picture looked as though the child was having a pee. I could not believe that one could be so crass, I had looked at my photos of my daughter in exactly that pose, smelling the flowers, and that interpretation had never crossed my mind. Even if it had, so what, he should not have put it in the mind of the beginner.
From years of rejection and acceptance in a number of different artistic skills, I believe acceptance in art is certainly subjective but can be more a matter of fashion, than a reflection of taste or ability. Having been to art galleries and art exhibitions since the 50s, I am convinced of a number of things. If you take the works of the great masters, I believe it is impossible to compete, on the basis of their work. If this is the case then people who wish to make a name for themselves in any artistic field, either as artists or critics, have to find a new approach, something not done previously, and in this way we have arrived at all the isms, Cubism and so forth. The problem I find is that others in striving to be original are generally failing lamentably, but for some reason what they produce is upheld by some critics as genius.