Geoff found an amazing field of poppies on his way to work one day, and we went out there yesterday to take some photos. A fifteen-foot strip at the edge of the wheat field has been turned over to the poppies and other wildflowers and it makes a heart-lifting display of colour.
What I find so difficult in these situations is thinking of a fresh way of photographing something that’s very definitely a cliche. On OCA*’s forum the words ‘pretty pictures’ are only usually mentioned in a sneering, dismissive way; if a photo doesn’t have an idea or a message behind it, or at the very least look a bit grungy, it’s not thought to be worth the taking. It’s hard not to be affected by this attitude, and to feel that you’re somehow doing something wrong if you just want to celebrate how lovely the world can look.
I think the truth of the matter is that it’s really only the tutors and a very small number of students who are vocal in rejecting something on the grounds of it being simply a beautiful scene, no more, no less. The rest of us – I believe – take pleasure in looking at and photographing a wide variety of images even if what we’re ultimately aiming at is to produce work with some greater meaning and a bit of depth behind it.
I went to the Cult of Beauty exhibition at the V&A in London recently. The Aesthetic Movement was concerned only with beauty and they aimed to make everything around them a delight to the eye. They painted, of course, but they also designed furniture and rooms and clothes and clocks and books – everything around them was made lovely. It was a refreshing change to see something like this after overdosing on art that is often pretentious, frequently gives no visual satisfaction, and usually dwells on ugliness and angst.
I wouldn’t want all art to be of the kind the Aesthetes created – it would get boring if this was all there was. There was nothing to discuss or ruminate over after seeing the exhibition; no new ideas, nothing to make you think. But there must be a place in life somewhere for ‘art for art’s sake’ and making things of beauty and offering them to the world is surely a worthy enough thing. There’s plenty of misery in the world, but a field of poppies can still make you feel it’s good to be alive.
I once read an account of a holocaust survivor, who came into possession of a tomato at one point during his incarceration. Despite being desperately hungry, he didn’t eat the tomato immediately because he was overwhelmed by its rich, orange-red colour. In the world of grey in which he was living, his soul was as hungry for colour as his body was for food, and he spent some time simply looking at it and drinking in its colour. We need beauty that badly.
*Open College of the Arts, where I’m studying a distance learning course.