I Blame the French.

Conor Collins

Conor Collins is an expressionist painter, Opera singer, actor and former Southern England Irish Dance champion. He has recently completed his undergraduate at the Royal Northern College of Music and has had his art shortlisted for the Outside in National Art Prize as well as the Saatchi Showdown 2011 drawing prize. Follow @Conartworks

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The LouvreI blame the French. Firstly, because there is a natural joy found in blaming the French for things and in an odd way they have come to expect and enjoy this and secondly it falls to the French to accept the blame for the sorry state of the population’s cultural phobia in our decade. The French are superior cultural connoisseurs and they will never let anyone forget this. They insist on christening their galleries and art pieces with names we cannot pronounce, and with their super Frenchy domination of all this art it might appear that they have cowered the average Britain into believing that artworks are an impossible thing to appreciate, and that this is best left to specialists. French Specialists.

But in truth, it’s our fault. Even now, after years and years of surging interest into visually improving our landscapes, I believe we are still a nation far too intimidated by art. It is culturally our loss.

Oddly, we embrace the art we should fear. The cutesy, the mass produced and the cliché are all too popular, but when it comes to excellent thought-provoking art with dazzling streaks of colour, years in the making, an amazing number of Britain’s men and women, straight and gay, are so intimidated that they would rather buy a mass produced print of Che Guevara in a chain gallery next to an apple store.

Personally, I think our bad cultural habits and our fear of changing them have a lot to do with the 1950s fine dining experience. Bear with me on this. It’s a moot cliché which we still hold as truth. The snooty waiter, the vast and utterly bewildering wine list, the dress code and the fussy presentation. Bubbling beneath it all remains the deeply held and inherently British suspicion that French people are making fun of us for not knowing their luxurious language and in turn sticking us with bad wine for enormous amounts of money because we are too ignorant to know the difference. Distinctly symmetrical to the art world now is it not? How many people have bought a Damien Hirst preserved fish and gone home and thought… what the hell have I bought?

Let’s make a few pronouncements. Great art is great art if it is great art to you. You should enjoy the art. It should mean something to you and perhaps if you purchase it, it should celebrate something about you. It’s about learning new tastes in art and interpretations of classic ideas. It’s about observing things that move you. Even children understand this, why can’t grown-ups? There’s almost no better way to learn about different cultures than through their art. It is one of the most open and intense things people can enjoy… with their clothes on that is. It’s something you can enjoy with friends and family and fundamentally can be FUN!

Art should always be emotional to behold. It’s been my experience that the vast majority of people who dedicate their lives to the exceedingly tough life of creating art, often working all hours of the night, actually enjoy what they are doing. They love art. They love people. Or at least they love people who also like their art and spend money on it. They are generous people even if their paintings’ prices may be a little steep. So fear not the artist, curator or any of those gate keepers of good taste.

Why are so many men inept at enjoying a nice gallery let alone unable to think of a piece of art as a romantic notion of a kind and deeply personal gift for that special someone? The French aside, I think it’s perfectly understandable. Many of us don’t know much about art, a natural consequence of no one actually teaching us anything on the subject. This has much to do with the fact that appreciating art or an artist is still considered girly in some quarters. It’s seen as fussy to appreciate a delicately delightful work of art, elegantly composed, when what a real man supposedly wants is to watch the football. The world of art is vast and bewildering even if you do know the difference between a Monet and the MOMA. You know, in an article by a cynical man such as myself the old cliché about men being too proud or insecure to ask for directions was bound to come up sooner or later. So let me raise it openly. Guys ARE too proud/insecure/hard-headed to ask for information or advice in the realm of art. Enough already! Time to let that anxiety go and go to a gallery.

The artist is your friend. The man who puts the paintings on the wall, called the curator, he is your friend too. Think of them as guides, like the frayed haired old professors who take you on a journey in those WW1 documentaries or the sun burnt sunglass brandishing men who talk with you during Shark Week documentaries. You wouldn’t go hunting for sharks without a sunburnt man to help you, so why think you could intuitively wow your friends and work mates with an encyclopaedic knowledge of Andy Warhol. Here’s the thing, all you need to enjoy a gallery is an open mind and the courage to ask questions.

Here is the other thing. Being open minded and curious is sexy! And interesting! Unlike being stuck in your ways, which is not.