Art

The Curse of the Camera Phone #TravelThursday #Paris

Gary and I visited Paris at the end of January as I have long wished to see Eugene Delacroix’s painting ‘The Death of Sardanapalus’ around which my WIP revolves. While in Paris we visited the Musee Rodin – dedicated to the works of French sculptor Auguste Rodin.

One of Rodin’s most famous works ‘The Thinker’ is there, set in the beautiful garden. We went out to see it. There was a little queue. We stood for a while, watching this queue. Each person waited patiently, then walked up to the sculpture, sat on the plinth, took up the famous pose, and their companion snapped away. Then they got up and walked away.

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Wonder what he thinks about it all?

We watched for a few minutes and not a single person actually looked up at the sculpture itself. Not a single one.

We spent a good hour or so wandering through the gardens looking at Rodin’s beautiful works, then we wandered through the museum itself, looking at the interesting displays (the work that goes into sculpting – my goodness, it’s like a science!). It’s an absolutely fantastic place, one of the best museums I’ve ever visited. And Rodin looks strangely like an old Tom Hardy! But as we walked round we noticed that the majority of visitors were looking at everything through their phones, snapping away.

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Tom Hardy’s future look?

The day before, we’d been to the Louvre, where all anyone seemed to want to do was to take a selfie with the Mona Lisa. Earlier that morning we’d been to the Musee d’Orsay , where again we had to keep ducking to avoid starring in other people’s photos. That afternoon we went on to Musée de L’Orangerie, home of Monet’s stunning murals. Monet envisaged the murals as providing a place of calm, of retreat, somewhere in the middle of busy Paris to sit and be quiet after a long, hard day. We duly sat and relaxed and took in the beauty of these amazing works. And across our sightline every couple of seconds someone would walk, taking a panoramic picture through their phone.

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Guia Besana for The New York Times

Why do people do this? Seriously, I really don’t understand.

I do take the occasional photo, although I’m not that great at it, but to me, as someone who isn’t a professional photographer, a photo is something I use to remember a good time. The photos I’ve got of Gary and me in Paris are mainly pretty bad and are the two of us grinning away at the fact that we’re standing in front of Delacroix’s house, or the place where Jim Morrison died. I didn’t take any photos of paintings, or sculptures, because what is the point?

When you look at a painting in real life you realise how no photograph can capture what’s actually there. If I’m standing in front of a Delacroix, or a Monet, or a Rothko, or a beautiful sculpture by Rodin or even an intricate carving in the stonework of a cathedral, I know that if I take a photo of it, I won’t be able to recapture what it looks like, how it makes me feel in that moment. And it wasn’t as if these people were looking at the paintings or the sculptures for a while and then taking a quick snap. No, their whole focus was on taking the photograph. I watched one woman come in to one of the mural rooms. She put her phone to her face, and walked round the whole room, with the phone to her face. Then she walked out. Will she look at that again? What was the point of her going to see those murals?

I don’t want to sound like a snob or pretentious, but I genuinely don’t get it. The age of the camera phone seems to have reduced the beautiful things in life to a list to be ticked off. Trip to Paris? Mona Lisa – tick, here’s the picture to prove it. Venus de Milo – tick. The Thinker? Tick. The Kiss? Tick. And here on Facebook is the picture.

And it’s a picture that will show none of the real beauty of that piece of art. You can’t capture those colours, those lines in a little snap on your phone, however good your phone may be.

And, in my humble opinion, you’ve missed out completely on seeing something really worth seeing. But if you do insist on doing it, then please keep out of my bloody way!

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Street Art in Bristol

Edgar degas

We were in Bristol this past Saturday visiting the university as my daughter is thinking of applying there to study Veterinary Science. It’s only the second time I’ve ever been to Bristol, but on both occasions I’ve been struck by what a lovely city it is.

Without getting too political (I’m sure that anyone who knows me even a little bit will have no doubt as to my views on today’s referendum), the atmosphere in the UK over the last few weeks has been toxic to say the least. We seem to have forgotten about the many benefits of multiculturalism, indeed of culture, and it was lovely to wander through the streets of Bristol, seeing people of many different backgrounds, faiths and cultures. I’m not sure what the exact ethnic make-up of Bristol is, but like most cities, it has that wonderful metropolitan feel – that sense, often missing in small towns, that you can be who you are and no one could care less.

One of the lovely things about Bristol of course, is its connection with street artists, Banksy among them, and the opportunity to see some of their work. It’s quite astonishing to be driving or walking down a Bristolian street, to glance up and see a work of art – just there, accessible, free, as it should be.

I was particularly pleased to see the queen/Ziggy Stardust piece by Incwel. I’m a fan of one but not so much the other (I’ll leave  you to decide which) and I love this:

We also saw this beautiful work by artist JPS:

JPS @ Park Row 150808-1

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Art has always been a comment on our times, a way of expressing ourselves, whether through painting, poetry, novels, and even, nowadays, through blogs. Regular readers and followers will know that my new book involves a girl with a passion for the French nineteenth century painter Eugene Delacroix, an artist whose work I adore. I’ve been very lucky to see some of his paintings. Another painter I love is Mark Rothko, who could be viewed as being as far from Delacroix as it’s possible to get. I’ve also seen some of his work, both in London and in New York.

What Delacroix, Rothko and, I feel, these street artists have in common, is the way they provoke emotion, the way they cause discussion, the way they draw attention, both to themselves and to the world around them. Art, particularly now, can be a provocation and a balm. It has always been a way of celebrating diversity, and culture, and humanity.

I’ll be keeping that in mind today.

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