BBC2 had a programme the other night tracking the trends in mass-market art, from Vladimir Tretchikoff through the cheeky Tennis Girl to today’s bestsellers like Sam Toft and, the current number one smash, this photo of Ullswater. The programme took an unnecessarily long time to come to the less-than-earth shattering conclusion that living room art and gallery art fulfil different functions, so while a Jack Vettriano might look vapid and naff if it were hanging in the Tate, you wouldn’t want to wake up every morning to find Francis Bacon or Lucien Freud screaming at you from the landing. It is therefore besides the point to be snobbish about these things; one might as well scoff at a pair of curtains because they’re not the Bayeux Tapestry.
The programme did get me thinking about my own art collection – an absolute mish-mash of things I like, things created by people I like, things I’ve created myself which nobody else likes, things with a sentimental value and things that I barely notice are there at all.
When at school I cut some tokens out of the newspaper and sent off for a free Picasso print – Still Life with Bust, Bowl and Palette (pictured).
I did this primarily because I thought that having it on my bedroom wall would make me look offbeat and cool. I didn’t really appreciate it as a piece of art; if anything it was a bit of a joke. When I went to university I put it in a wooden frame which I acquired by buying an extremely cheap picture of approximately the same size from a charity shop and discarding whatever piece of (probably rare and priceless) tat was in there. I displayed the picture on my wall for much the same reasons as before but gradually I came to appreciate that there was something inexpressibly pleasing about the way the shapes were put together. Then as I became more aware of Picasso I realised that, in fact, Bust Bowl and Palette was by some distance one of the least interesting and pleasing of his innumerable works. Nonetheless it was the only one I had and I felt an obscure loyalty to it. When I became a bit more solvent I invested in a proper frame and transferred the print to it. While other artworks have come and gone, Bust Bowl and Palette has adorned the walls of all of my abodes. Now, I realise when looking at the picture, any aesthetic appreciation I might once have felt for it has retreated to irrelevance; its appeal is almost entirely based on comfort and familiarity. Never, ever, til the day I die, shall I willingly get rid of Picasso’s Still Life with Bust, Bowl and Palette. And where is the picture now, you ask? Reader, it’s in the attic, waiting until we have a bigger house, because my wife doesn’t like it.