I heard David Beckham interviewed the other day for the launch of his autobiography. Some clever clogs journo was asking him “what’s your favourite book, David?” presumably attempting to show up glorious golden balls as ill-read and himself as something of a literary scholar. Apparently being beautiful, a world-class footballer, fantastically successful at almost everything he turns his hand to and crazily affluent, wasn’t enough for this particular critic. He wanted to assuage his own feelings of inadequacy by tricking the Beckster into making a literary buffoon of himself. But Beckham’s not as thick as his reputation would suggest. With an unperturbed grin he casually shot back - “mine”. Starting to look a bit of a buffoon himself now our beleaguered journo returned with a tired expression - another failed attempt to patronise the great one – and a request, in that case, for Beckham’s second favourite book. “The wife’s” smiled David.
How I loved David Beckham after that. And why? Firstly, because no-one likes a smart arse and secondly, because everyone, like everyone, is sick to the back teeth of this boring ‘high’ art snobbery on which the art world’s insecurities seem to feed. Fine if you’re a literary scholar. I’ve no problem with that. In fact I love a literary scholar now and then. Equally, fine if you’re not a literary scholar, I’ve loved a few of those too. But whatever you are, just have the guts to be it. Pretence is such a turnoff. Such a waste of energy. And using the ‘high’ art thing to try and make other people look and feel bad about themselves? What’s that about? How insecure have you got to be?
I went to a private view at Sarah Myerscough’s last night. She was talking about the Affordable Art Fair. I must have unconsciously adopted my ‘high’ art looking down its nose expression. She very kindly pointed out that it’s all subjective. She was quite right of course and generous to tap me back down so gently. I can be a frightful snob at times and it’s a fantastically charmless side of my personality that I would happily be without. I shall try to remember that the Affordable Art Fair might not be my cup of tea, but if other people are digging it, then that’s fine and there’s no need for me to unveil my Hyacinth Bucket look over it. In my defence I was tired. I’ve had a traumatic week. Nevertheless, romantic mini-dramas aside, live and let live.
As we all know only too well, the question ‘what is art’ is monumental and has been argued over for millennia. If I were as well read as John Carey I’d probably tell you something like what he tells us in his 2004 book ‘What Good Are The Arts’. I’d tell you what Kant thought art was and what Hegel thought and what Schopenhauer thought. Then I’d tell you what Nietzsche thought and what Arthur C Danto thinks. I might even tell you what Carey himself thinks. But in actual fact it little matters what any of them thought or think. What matters is that none of them wholly agreed and usually they disagreed quite profoundly.
Does this make all of them wrong? Or does it make all of them right?
I’m starting to think that I really don’t know what anyone else thinks. I’m not sure half the time what I think. The only truth I seem to be able to arrive at is that we’re never all going to agree. Inevitably this conclusion drives me towards a supposition that everybody’s responses are equally valid.
OK I could perhaps, and not unreasonably, privilege education. But then that isn’t without complications. Various people have had a pretty similar education to mine - attended the same institutions, studied the same subjects, read the same books. And yet still we are a million miles away from agreeing on everything, particularly everything art historical. So where does that leave me?
Either I believe categorically in my own superiority or I accept difference. That seems to be the bottom line.
And whilst it’d be far easier to go for the former, I suppose really it’d better be the later. I'm really not sure that you can justifiably privilege any one thing over another.
If you’ll excuse me spouting Jung just one more time: “ most people are content to be self-righteous and prefer mutual vilification (if nothing worse!) to the recognition of their projections,” and in another essay, “for we seldom find anybody who is not influenced and indeed dominated by desires, habits, impulses, prejudices, resentments, and by every conceivable kind of complex.”
Except Beckham of course. He’s transcended all of that!