Friday, 24 October 2014

The History of Art According to David Nicholls

I think I have mentioned before - ooh look, so I have, you can witness me gushing right here - that I think One Day by David Nicholls is a really good book. Sadly, books that are amusing and entertaining are often overlooked when it comes to recognition by the world of letters, yet they can be as full of insight as less digestible works.

Anyway, having loved One Day, it was fairly inevitable that I'd buy Us by the same author as soon as it came out. I got it the other day when I was in London and I'm reading it and enjoying it now. Although I think choosing to tell the story from a first person point of view does mean the novel is somewhat more claustrophobic than One Day it is still a work of wit that subtly demonstrates - well I'll leave that for another time, (when I've actually read the thing from cover to cover).

The thing is, I've just got to a bit that I think is quite relevant, given that this blog has gone all arty just lately. It's Chapter 39 of the book, (Us, by David Nicholls, published just now by Hodder & Stoughton, ISBN  9780340896990 and five pounds off at Waterstone's already), and it's called a brief history of art:

"Cave paintings. Clay then bronze statues. Then for about 1,400 years, people painted nothing except bold but rudimentary pictures of either the Virgin Mary and Child or the Crucifixion. Some bright spark realised that things in the distance looked smaller and the pictures of the Virgin Mary and the Crucifixion improved hugely. Suddenly everyone was very good at hands and facial expression and now the statues were in marble. Fat cherubs started appearing, while elsewhere there was a craze for domestic interiors and women standing by windows doing needlework. Dead pheasants and bunches of grapes and lots of detail. Cherubs disappeared and instead there were fanciful, idealised landscapes, then portraits of aristocrats on horseback, then huge canvasses of battles and shipwrecks. Then it was back to women lying on sofas or getting out of the bath, murkier this time, less detailed, then a great many wine bottles and apples, then ballet dancers. Paintings developed a certain splodginess - critical term - so that they barely resembled what they were meant to be. Someone signed a urinal, and it all went mad. Neat squares of primary colour were followed by great blocks of emulsion, then soup cans, then someone picked up a video camera, someone else poured concrete, and the whole thing became hopelessly fractured into a kind of confusing, anything-goes free for all."

He forgot about Greek and Roman sculpture and all those flowers I've been so fond of the last couple of days, but I think in general terms he nails it quite well, given he's only given himself a paragraph - especially the concrete (I kept passing some increasingly forlorn looking people at the main Frieze art fair, who apeared to be attempting to flog battered petrol cans which had funnels stuck into them, each of the funnels having been filled with cement)

No comments:

Post a Comment