When I used to do CART reporting, back in Australia (realtime reporting for uni students), I was always dismayed to be allocated a particular class on our roster – the third-year Monash Uni class entitled Modernism and the Avant Gardes. Dismayed, and a little bit ignorant. Would it be about art or architecture? Would it be as big a wank as its title implied? Would I be able to disguise my philistinic “assumed knowledge base”, regardless of whether it was art OR architecture, from the deaf student relying on my services?
It’s fair to say I know nothing about architecture. Really nothing. I have no understanding of design and building style, no aesthetic, and I can’t visualise the basics of construction, from the finest cathedral down to the shit and immediately collapsing Duplo houses I attempt to make for the kids. Joel’s Duplo residences always involve pleasing aesthetics and sturdy construction, not to mention colour coordination. He puts the blocks together in a way that can withstand the demon forces of toddlerhood. I put them together in a way that satisfies my OCD – in rows all of type, meaning there’s no crossways reinforcement, meaning they smash up pretty much as soon as a Tonka truck even rolls into the room.
But art. I REALLY know nothing about art. I am as artless as they come. The last time I deliberately took in any art was at the Dutch Masters exhibition, and even then it was only because we got free tickets, and because everyone else in Melbourne was going.
When I was in Prep, I made my dad a clay pinchpot filled with clay balls for Father’s Day. Realising I wasn’t a natural sculptor, my mum bought me a “draw-by-dots” book. My join-the-dots beagle is still about the high point of my artistic output. The creative things I’m good at – writing, playing piano, steno – are prescribed and manual. And that’s the way I like it. I think I did Year 10 art at school but that didn’t change my thinking or my abilities. And I only did it because I wanted one of those black cases with the paints in from the stationery requisition list.
Sometimes, if I’m the only option, one of the kids asks me to draw something for them. Usually a rubbish truck (an actual rubbish truck, not just a truck that will inevitably be rubbish because I’m drawing it). If Joel were home he’d render a rubbish truck so superbly the bin-lifting mechanism would be almost audible. Me, I draw a rectangle, write “RUBBISH” on it, put three circles underneath for wheels, and some squiggles poking out the top. Representing the rubbish, obviously.
I just don’t get it, okay! And not only do I not get it, I don’t care that I don’t get it, and I don’t want to hear some idiot’s interpretations about what a painting may or may not mean.
One particular Modernism and the Avant Gardes lecture sticks out as the worst ever. When the lecture started, and I quickly googled Wassily Kandinsky and Kasimir Malevich – the first two artists mentioned – this is what came up. Are you fucking kidding me! This first Kandinsky looks like something I did in Year 10 with that coveted black case of paint. The other two look so much like spew, they make me want to spew.
And what can be said about Malevich’s efforts (look at me name-dropping like I didn’t have to triple-check the spellings of these dudes just now)? Black Square on White Field? WHITE SQUARE ON WHITE FIELD?
This is the sort of malarky that has always flummoxed me. Ooh aah, the white square, glorious conceptual embodiment of humanity’s something something. (Turns out, it is actually just meant to be a white square. Or so said the Modernity and the Avant Gardes lecturer. And Malevich was trying to get the viewer to look at an object in a way so simple and pure as to transcend into a fourth dimension of spiritual reality. So, respect.)
Perhaps in spite of my pragmatic and rational pedigree, I have produced a son who can see the hidden beauty in the mundane, who can awaken people’s consciousness with his placement of shapes on backgrounds. Here he is a couple of years ago working on a painting more meritorious than any I’ve ever done. (Clearly I’m no patron of the arts but you’d think I could’ve sprung for better materials than an old toothbrush and some water mixed with food colouring, what.)
In the time that’s passed since those photos were taken, I certainly haven’t encouraged Rufus’s appreciation of fine art, but nor have I actively hampered it. He goes to art class once a week, and they also have an art analysis session once a week at kinder where they look at a famous painting and try to interpret how it makes them feel.
On the pinboard in their classroom are the children’s reactions. They had to respond with a single word describing how they felt, and then paint that emotion. There were lots of ones saying things like “James: Happy”, “Alex: Sleepy”, “Josie: Smiling”.
That’s my boy.