The consolation of chocolate digestives


I’m on our garden bench. The first spring sunshine warm enough to sit out in has arrived and I’m sipping from a mug of strong tea. Two dark chocolate McVities digestives (“three would be greedy” as John Shuttleworth would say) are perched on my knee.

All should be well with the world.

But I’ve just begun reading the latest issue of Artists’ Newsletter (a-n- magazine as it prefers to be known) and I can feel my blood pressure rising by paragraph two. Why is so much art writing so willfully inscrutable?

Perhaps I’m just feeling jaded. And perhaps that’s because yesterday I found myself in yet another reclaimed industrial ‘space’ looking at more TV sets showing flickery videos. Oh, and submitting myself — yet again — to being shouted at by disembodied voices in the dark (a sound piece).

You’d like art to excite the senses not dull them into desultory submission. But that’s exactly how I felt standing in Gallery 2 at Bristol’s Arnolfini. The website had already oversold me the show in Gallery 1. It promised “new understandings of geography and distance” but served up limp social commentary in the form of a shaky video of the artist being carried in a rickshaw through the backstreets of Douala, Cameroon — give me Johnny Rotten’s rasping “cheap holidays in other people’s mis-er-eeee” anytime.

In Gallery 2, I sat compliantly on a white plinth in the centre of the room surrounded by speakers fixed to vertical lengths of scaffolding. Multiple recordings of children being scolded by their parents bounced off the walls in a steadily building cacophony. The whole thing was exhausting, not helped by the unforgiving whiteout of the gallery’s interior.

But the Arnolfini has a very nice café and an even better bookshop, from where I planned a future purchase of Richard Sennett’s The Crafstman and bought the latest issue of a-n. Which I am trying hard to read now. A pull quote self-venerates in half a page of artistic white space. It reads: “To pitch the gift sphere against the market sphere, as though one were mythical and the other objective, seems to be looking at the matter with one eye shut.”

The sun is still shining, the digestives and tea tasted good.

Think I’ll go for a ride on my Brompton and return to “Why Are Artists Poor?” some other time. I think I might already have a clue anyway.


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