….but we are all fabulous.

Art at the Tate Britain and a lesson in ageism

I took time out from a conference in London this week to pay my first ever visit to the Tate Britain. I only had an hour so I really only grazed the surface, but this time frame and the fact it was free, enabled me to wander round without feeling that I had to look at everything but rather I could just glance at things and look at the art that particularly grabbed my attention. This is quite different from how I normally look at art – not living somewhere with a decent art gallery I tend to mainly go to UK galleries to attend exhibitions. These are often wonderful, but tend to reinforce and enhance my awareness of artists I already know I like and don’t really introduce me to anyone different. One exception is the RA Summer Exhibition and another is when I go on holiday – when visiting a new city I always try and visit the art gallery.

Missionary Position II 1985 by Sonia Boyce born 1962Missionary Position II by Sonia Boyce, 1985

I only really became interested in art 15 years ago at the age of 30. Before that the art teacher at school was only interested in the ‘cool kids’ of which I was definitely not one, and a French exchange visit during which my exchange family took me to the Louvre and meticulously talked my 14 year old self through each of a series of huge, dark religious paintings sealed the deal that art, either the doing or the viewing, was not for me. The first exhibition I ever really chose to attend was the Paul Klee exhibition at the Hayward Gallery in 2002. I still don’t claim to be particularly knowledgeable on the topic, but I am now able to recognise genres to a certain extent and identify the work of certain artists.

The Blue Night, Venice 1897 by Arthur Melville 1855-1904The Blue Night, Venice by Arthur Melville, 1897

Performance Still 1985 / 1995 by Mona Hatoum and Patrick Gilbert born 1952,Performance Still by Mona Hatoum, 1985

As with anything, when we have our favourite this can somewhat close our mind to other alternatives, and I particularly enjoyed my visit to the Tate Britain because I encountered some new (to me) work. I have scattered some of my favourites through this blog. One gallery (they are organised by decade) I especially enjoyed was the 1840 room and it was here that I had my preconceptions challenged.

Liverpool Quay by Moonlight 1887 by Atkinson Grimshaw 1836-1893Liverpool Quay by Moonlight by Atkinson Grimshaw, 1887

I have always thought that I am reasonably non-ageist. I think that older adults have a lot of knowledge that the rest of us can learn from, I applaud those cultures which value the wisdom of their seniors and I deplore the modern culture which won’t slow down occasionally to accommodate less agile bodies and minds and which sees men and women with grey hair and overlooks them in queues or talks to the person next to them about what they might want. It came as rather a shock then, to discover my age stereotypes are alive and well. I was standing looking at The Emigrants by William McTaggart when a very upstanding, dapper looking gentleman, probably in his mid-late seventies stood next to me to look at it as well and said “some things never change do they?” I asked what he meant whereby he gestured to the painting and said “immigration”. I started moving away to the next painting and he called after me to say “I didn’t mean that it’s a bad thing”. I walked back and apologised for my rudeness and we talked about how fortunate we were to live in a country that other people wished they lived in and then went our separate ways. I was very conscious afterwards that I had judged him by his age to be more likely to be making a racist comment than not. My only defence – as I explained to him, is that with the recent news frenzy about UKiP and ongoing media reporting about immigration issues, you just don’t know who you might be talking to. My grandparents’ generation thought it was not the done thing to talk about politics or religion – these days, immigration is a similarly challenging topic.

The Emigrants 1883-9 by William McTaggart 1835-1910The Emigrants by McTaggart, 1883-9

Back to the art and I cannot end this blog without a shout-out to the lovely woman who served me in the shop. I was very taken by the Singer Sargent painting (below) and wanted a postcard of it. On enquiring, they had sold out. She double checked the stock, and then pointed out that the only card they had of it was in a collection pack – rather more expensive. On choosing this, she then gave me a discount as a goodwill gesture – great service and a nice end to a memorable if brief visit.

Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose 1885-6 by John Singer Sargent 1856-1925Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose by Singer Sargent, 1885-6


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: