My background is not particular noteworthy, but the story of my personal journey into the world of ‘culture’ may resonate with some. For me, the seed of curiosity was planted many years ago. I would love to say I was dramatically stopped in my tracks by a painting that ‘spoke’ to me. In reality though, it has been a slow and steady evolution, with that seed only beginning to germinate after a major life event. Despite my trepidation, I felt a compulsive need to explore this fascinating world. As Johann Wolfgang von Goethe once said “Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, magic, and power in it. Begin now”.
A kaleidoscope of new experiences
I have always carried out a practical heuristic approach to learning, so rather excitedly, I found myself on the fringes of a new world, with a kaleidoscope of new experiences in front of me. Ready to have my cultural preconceptions disarmed through the world of fine art, and the pleasure of evoking new sensations, I took the leap. I have to confess, it was an inauspicious start. Like a monkey throwing darts, I would select galleries and exhibitions to attend, arrive by myself, armed with little more information than the University of Wikipedia could gladly provide. Over time though, I began to gain some semblance of a crude understand, and more fortunately, was able to make acquaintances with a few charming and enlightened individuals. Whether they realised it or not, through their insights, suggestions, and encouragement, I began to quickly gain momentum. I attended structured education at well-established institutions, and although learnt a great deal of the basic framework of Art History, I still found the technical aspect of analysis rather sterile. When I look at paintings, I like to be moved, and rather than being drawn towards the formal academic side, enjoy reflecting on the emotional storytelling infused within them.
‘The Cultural Aficionado’
It’s important we clarify the term ‘cultural’, which is often a misnomer. Being Cultural has little to do with materialism, vanity, or class. Being cultured is a state of mind. So my goal for The Cultural Aficionado is simple: to improve the way we look at the world, by promoting discussion of abstract thought, dilemmas, concepts, and avoiding superficial judgement. We can do this by engagement with the Fine Arts, which throughout history have been used as vehicles to manifest ideas.
Unless one has the benefit of formal academic training, or an upbringing that yielded natural immersion, those in the general population have little experience with looking at Art. The National Gallery in London, citing visitor statistics, states the average viewing time of a painting is less than 30 seconds. This does not constitute deep looking and reflection. Do individuals know what to look for and how to enjoy a visual narrative? I found Art a terribly daunting prospect, and in some spaces, rather pretentious. Since launching this project, one individual chastised my efforts, musing that as I was not formally trained or a published author, how could I possibly “teach” about Art. What a sad perspective, I thought. As Amy Herman stated though in her wonderful book ‘Visual Intelligence’, “Part of the beauty of art, is that anyone can discuss it. You don’t have to be an art historian to talk about what you see”. This critique is a central theme of why it can be challenging to engage with Art, and what puts so many of us off. Art is wonderfully universal, and the ability to observe, reflect, and share ideas, is not just for those formally trained. I wanted to view paintings and experience cultural artefacts, share my own thoughts and reflections, and start a conversation. I found great pleasure in some of the more ekphrastic art writings, and my hope is to share a deeper meaning behind the images.
My goal for The Cultural Aficionado is to start a discussion, break down this somewhat hostile veneer, and make discussing Art more comfortable. Where background, social status, and academic achievements are footnotes rather than pre-requisites. I want to bring people together, and engage with Art topics and the ideas that connect them. In short, to encourage cultural participation, build personal knowledge, and enrich one’s life with new experiences.