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Dr John Hawkins

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Posted on 2009/12/13 12:15:59 (December 2009).

[Monday 7th December]
For a number of reasons I've started to take a bit of an interest in art recently - particularly contemporary art. Partly this is simply to do with living in London, and having such a wide array of (mainly free!) galleries and museums on our doorstep. Partly it's because of the season of various programmes on the BBC recently about art, including the probably widely despised "School of Saatchi" which I've been really quite enjoying. There's also no doubt some influence from my Uncle who is something of an arty type (being a curator of art at a museum tends to rub off a bit).

My scientific/engineering mindset had until recently predisposed me to the typical view of saying modern art is all just a load of meaningless nonsense, but I've noticed a definite change in that of late. Partly I think I've realised I actually like being confused - possibly this is a reaction to doing a very technical job where everything has it's function and has to be understood - whereas in an art gallery nothing needs to be subjected to cost benefit analysis, and nothing needs to gain the technical approval of a group of engineers before it can be allowed to exist. Yes it may well still be meaningless crap a lot of the time, but I've increasingly come to find that very aspect of it quite appealing.

This evening I rather pithily threw together a bit of stupid mock art: a cider bottle, some wrapping paper, a walnut and a pistachio nut. It was more a homage to Monty Python's "Society for Putting Things on top of Other Things" rather than anything else really.

Whilst that was probably borne more of poking fun at the contemporary art world, I think there was some element of me trying to understand it.

One of the really important revelations for me has been seeing art critics talk about humour in art - I had always thought when looking at a sculpture or a painting or something you had to be locked in some deep existential quandary about it. To realise it is completely ok to stand in front of a sculpture with a bit of a wry smile on your face is very reassuring to me. I've always enjoyed the absurdist imagery of comedians like Vic Reeves (who is now introduced as "comedian, writer and artist"), and of course Monty Python, and a lot of contemporary art is a natural extension of this for me. It is absurd: it's about taking something out of it's normal context and putting it in a different one. This is what comedians like Vic Reeves, Monty Python or The Mighty Boosh are doing verbally (and often visually) a lot of the time - contemporary art, or at least one facet of contemporary art is really not so different.

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