What’s the Point of Art?

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Have a look at this painting of South Bay, Scarborough, by Yorkshire artist, Arthur Kitching. Do you like it?

(c) Joyce Kitching; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

(c) Joyce Kitching; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Yes? OK, why do you like it?
No? Why don’t you like it?
Or are you indifferent to it? Same type of question – why are you indifferent?

I guess these questions go some way to answering the one posed in the title of this article. A work of art inevitably provokes a response from the viewer. You are drawn to it – or not – by an intrinsic process that is often hard to analyse. And that is part of the attraction; looking at an art work is not a neutral act; there is always an emotional response of some type.

I maintain that this is positive, as it awakens our senses, reminds us why we are alive, and engages our mind. We shouldn’t be swayed by what others think – the so-called art critics. What you think is just as valid as the Director of the Tate Gallery; it is what you feel that is important. A photograph of the same view of Scarborough will also provoke a response – but I suspect not to the same degree or depth.

I will therefore now declare my support for the Arthur Kitchen painting – I like it, and I like it because it challenges me to think why.

Other people I have shown it to have reacted to the figures in the foreground as being ‘clumsy’, ‘naïve’, ‘childlike’ – or ‘daubs’, one person put it. Another said, ‘but Scarborough doesn’t look like this; it looks more like the Mediterranean!”

True. Scarborough is not the Mediterranean and the figures are not anatomically perfect. As for ‘childlike’ and ‘daubs’, I think that this was the point. The artist wanted to give an impression of the resort through the excited eyes of a child; wanted to catch the glorious magic and colour of being by the seaside in summer when you are six – or sixty.

I like the shape of the painting, too. I like the circular and semi-circular patterns in the painting: of the sweep of the bay, the clouds, the waves, the vegetation in the foreground – even the faces of the people. I like the way the light blue of the sky meets the darker blue of the sea, and how the terracotta colours of the buildings evoke the warmth of summer.

What’s the point of art? Simply to awake our senses, and encourage us to look at the familiar with fresh eyes. Bring it on.


Colin Neville is a retired university teacher, author of four non-fiction books (on education and local history topics), online seller of art & design-related fine and limited edition books, gardener, chef, granddad.He lives in West Yorkshire, near Ilkley. Currently working on developing an information database of Bradford (Yorkshire) born artists, past and present.

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2 Comments

  1. I like it to Colin. You make such a good point, and one we’d all do well to consider. Too often when browsing I will like (or not) without consideration as to why. Asking why makes us really look at the art and contemplate. That adds so much to our reaction. Enjoyed your article.

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    • Thanks for your comments, Merry.

      Asking myself why I am drawn to, or repelled by, a painting is the joy of art for me. I prefer visiting small galleries, rather than large, for that reason. I don’t get overwhelmed by the choice you have in a large art gallery. In a small, local gallery, you can take time looking at the paintings, pick one you really like and study it without feeling you have to race around to see them all.

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