, in his recent fascinating and challenging article (26 May), with most of which I concur, states that 'we may still want to argue that people do not agree over matters of beauty whereas they do agree over matters of colour... We can usually but not always agree on whether a colour is blue or green'. I beg to differ. Not as a former physiologist but from personal family experience.
As many a husband is required to do, I have on several occasions been expected to pass judgement on whether my wife's current outfit is better than the other one she has just tried on, while I nervously watch the time disappear as we are due to leave the house of an evening. For a quiet, and quicker life, I would usually just agree that the current one was better and we could then get out of the house, but things could get awkward if we discussed the appropriateness of the colours of the various components of said outfit.
What to me was blue to her was green, or vice versa, and don't get me on to turquoise or other intermediate shades. I just had to accept that we saw these colours differently: but which of us was 'right' and which of us was 'wrong'? She didn't need much prompting, given a willing audience, to tell the story of her father who tried to join the Royal Flying Corps, as it was in WW1 before it became the RAF. He was rejected not because he was underage, which he was, but because he was 'colour blind' and she said he would have had difficulty distinguishing a windswept green field from a slightly ruffled blue sea. She conveniently chose to ignore that there might have been other factors which would have ensured a safe landing.
The other aspect of Professor Downie's thesis is what makes objects or works of art have 'beauty' and become works of art, as judged by galleries and the people who appreciate and buy them at sometimes mouth-wateringly high prices? I recall taking an artistically naïve visitor to an Edinburgh Festival art exhibition 20 years ago. He looked at the paintings on the walls and, pointing at one particular example, asked why it was priced at £45,000. I realised that I did not need to defend the artistic merit of the work, as I didn't particularly like it myself, but said that the gallery knew that there would be people there willing to pay that money for it, largely because of the previous reputation of the artist, even if we hadn't heard of him.
How many of us have looked at an apparently simple, even childlike, line drawing by Picasso and said 'well, a child could have done that'. As Picasso was alleged to have said: 'When I was their age, I could draw like Raphael, but it took me a lifetime to learn to draw like them'. Whether such works pass the 'beauty' test is almost irrelevant, but you could argue that his technique alone had managed to draw out the inner beauty of what he was looking at.
In the end, I suppose, this is what drives artistic experimentation and our, the viewers', judgement of the work as worthy of our attention and, if appropriate, our appreciation of its intrinsic beauty.
In the absence of political will, why is waking up good for your health (Geoffrey Boulton
, 26 May)? Or, more particularly, my
health? Here in the wee swamp, head below the parapet and snug for the time being behind ancient walls, we contemplate with mounting anxiety the fearful noise of around 30,000 talking shoppers descending on Glasgow in November. Bleak, damp and grey, should we beg, pray, or wish for an Indian summer? It'll still be noisy though!
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