As someone who works freelance (read: lots of time on my hands), I can often be found mooching around London's many fine and, crucially, free art galleries, waiting for inspiration to strike. So far, the only things to have struck me are how infrequently I feel inspired and on one occasion a stray umbrella, but these visits haven't been entirely fruitless - I've somehow gleaned a little bit of artistic appreciation to go along with my bruised shin. That's not to say I'm any sort of critic, mind; my tastes are yet simple and I still know more about cannelloni than I do Canaletto, but it's probably enough to bluff my way around a slightly pretentious party without being rumbled. That and a handful of Twiglets, anyway.
However, beneath this whiff of artistic credibility and Marmite I harbour an alarming secret. For whilst I can spend many hours happily gawping at the pock-marked faces of long-dead aristocrats in the National Portrait Gallery or loitering beside a slowly rotting shark carcass at the Tate, I've always felt a deep unease when it comes to abstract art. Don't get me wrong, I've been to exhibitions featuring the likes of Joan Miro, Jackson Pollock and Wassily Kandinsky and enjoyed them a great deal. It's just that sometimes, loathe as I am to admit it, I'm not sure I always 'get' it; like some kind of in-joke whose punch line is always tantalizingly out of my reach. And as a comedian, this is unbearable.
On reflection, my inability to connect with the genre probably says far more about me than it does abstract art; I thrive on logic, fact and definable points of reference whereas abstract relies on strange shapes, incongruous colour schemes and worryingly banal titles. That, and I think it's mostly a bunch of pretentious, overblown tosh dreamt up by art cliques in the last century to make people who don't know much about art hate themselves even more.
So you can imagine my dismay when it was announced this week that the world's oldest reliably dated cave art was a red dot. A red dot! It doesn't get much more abstract than that. Paul Klee must have been kicking himself that he hadn't been born 40,000 years earlier. He's probably not too happy about the fact that he's been dead for the past seventy odd years, either, but then there's no pleasing some people. Suddenly, it seemed that between mastering the art of controlling fire and hunting far bigger, hairier and less extinct game than we have today, even cavemen had found the time to get in on the abstract joke. Could it be that the whole of the art world was just a big pile of fossilized mammoth poo designed to alienate me?
As it happens, no. For a start, such thoughts are considered 'borderline paranoia' by my psychiatrist. And more importantly, this newly classified discovery is more persuasive evidence of the fact that, far from being the modernised, elitist pseudo-symbolism I had once feared, abstractism is actually one of the most entrenched and widely understood art forms in the world. It was able to convey words and emotion long before any formal concept of language existed and can, now as then, transcend the temporal and spatial bias of the viewer. And you can't say that about a picture of Charles II's syphilitic mistress.
Okay, deep breath, I know it got a bit heavy back there; even I had to come up for air half way through, but then I hear syphilis does that to you. I suppose, to put it another way, I've come to realise that not liking abstract art because it doesn't always make itself easy understand it is a bit like dismissing poetry because it doesn't always use literal language; somehow, Shakespeare comparing thee to a similar but slightly less attractive face rather than a summer's day just doesn't have the same ring to it. In that case, I have a lot to thank the Stone Age's answer to Banksy for. Were it not for him, I might still think that beautiful paintings such as this were nothing more than a load of squiggly lines. When in fact they are a load of old Pollocks.
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