I’m going to take a brief aside from poetry to talk about one of the world’s most annoying received phrases instead. Yup, I’m talking about that very original refrain: ‘My five year old could have done that!’ (Hereafter shortened to MFYOCHDT!)
Most of you will recognise this argument-starter as the favoured assail of those that don’t appreciate modern art. It’s a hard one to combat too. There are perhaps too many ways to answer it, and too many barriers on the other side. The two sides of the argument short circuit themselves in exasperation. Nonetheless, it is one of my chief irritations because it’s the verbal equivalent of crossing your arms, digging your heels in and refusing to engage with the subject. It also assumes a level of arrogance that, to me, is incomprehensible. Modern art is there to challenge. By its very nature it provokes strong reactions – maybe you love a piece, maybe you hate it. But to refuse to even acknowledge it? Hmmmm…
Modern art is often materially reductive, but all the more powerful for the lack of fussiness. It is the distillation of a feeling, a snapshot of a moment. The stripping of layers serves to highlight the properties that the artist sought to convey in their purest forms. Trying to engage with those sensations is to try somebody else’s skin on. Whose five year old can create that illusion?
Part of the problem, I feel, is embarrassment. ‘MFYOCHDT’ is shorthand for discomfort and incomprehension. It’s a get out clause to avoid attempting to understand the work. Amazingly enough, I’m not the only one out there who is sick of hearing the same old put-down. I’ve discovered that Susie Hodge has written a timely book that acts as a tour guide through some of the more controversial moments of recent art history. She has created an accessible and absorbing volume that provides contexts to installations and paintings derided by the MFYOCHDT gang.
If you have an overuser of ‘MFYOCHDT’ in your life, you could do worse for an xmas present: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/9533029/Why-Your-Five-Year-Old-Could-Not-Have-Done-That-by-Susie-Hodge-review.html
That is all.