“Recently, I went on a guided tour of the Hugh Lane Gallery in Dublin”, writes Gerda Archer. “I heard the lady who was giving us a guided tour of Sean Scully’s works say that if we found that we reacted to this modern artist’s works we could consider what it was in us that made us react that way. This comment stopped me in my tracks! Immediately as I was reacting inwardly as I looked at his art. I could not believe that this was given such a prominent status in the art world. All those rectangles and squares standing one on top of the other, could it be the colours and textures brought about the mark of distinction for this artist? Was this a quality that I needed to develop and appreciate? Do I hold a limited mindset? I asked myself as I recognised that there was not an ounce of acceptance on my part while first looking at his art. I then examined what feeling place these impressions left with me. I tried to put a positive edge on it. Yes, the colours were restful to gaze upon. I could give the artist that as a gesture of appreciation, but all those straight lines left me cold! So what was it within me that wished to reject the enjoyment that many got from their appreciation of this type of art? I guess I was battling too much with my critical mind and its interpretations. So much so that I had not let in the valuable comments of appreciation that were being expressed by the guide. What I heard, were mostly my own reactions. A series of thoughts, which fixed me in an opinion about what, this art represented. Ideas such as, how narrow the artist’s feelings must have been because he had to keep within the lines and only colour them in. I would so much have preferred curves. I seemed to be associating the straight narrow lines with an attitude of mind that was narrow, limited, controlling, set and unyielding. And at the same time I wondered if this was not also a mirror of how my mind was reflecting this art piece. Obviously these were not impressions that the lovers of this sort of art shared with me so what was I missing?
We all have fixed, unyielding ideas as to what this, that or the other symbolises, and we are all very attached to our own opinions and the correctness of these limited opinions. Limited opinions…how can I hold a limited opinion when I am generally so broad-minded? Was my thought, full of righteous indignation!
When I was told that we were going to be taken to this Modern Art Gallery I was disappointed, as I would have preferred to have been taken to a Classical Art Gallery. A preference, incidentally shared by all the other over sixties in the group. However, I did recognise that there may be a learning experience in this for me that would give me a broader understanding and perhaps develop a greater appreciation that had never been developed before. So here was the first introduction to that crack of openness to Modern Art and I did not, nor did the rest in the group feel a delight of appreciation for this kind of painting. Well not at that point at any rate. The walls in the first room had one large picture from this artist on each of the walls. We were shown one which was different, or so we were told but the only break away from these forms was the lines were not so straight, or rather they looked to me like the glue was put on too thickly between the boxes and so it got smudged on the lines. But this was apparently the artist’s intention, a memory of Hans Christian Anderson’s The King and his new clothes came to mind from I do not know where, which discredited this account of appreciation of this art.
One thing I did notice within all of this discussion, was the fact that my preferences, or should I say prejudices were actually getting in the way. I was not like a child viewing this artist’s work with an open mind How could I, when all these reactions appeared, and they held a stamp of all my righteous previous attitudes? My delight in Classical art was held uppermost, here the artist was trying to speak to me in a different way and I did not have the eyes to see or the ears to hear.
Now somewhere within this crack of awareness came the memory of the first words spoken by the guide. “Look and see what it is in me that is reacting!”
So what is reacting within me to this art? What is it about the straight lines that I find so unappealing? Are we set in categories of lovers of one sort of art or the other? I remember seeing a beautiful art piece on a friend’s chair that had small diagonal lines with delightful colours in it and I am delighted to gaze upon it whenever I see it. It has lines but they are diagonal. Was it the large size of the rectangles and squares in Scully’s work that I found unappealing?
Perhaps I will have to leave the question of enquiry until a later time, and having put the question out there into the Universe my life experiences may bring about the answers to me in time to come. There is one thing for sure, that this piece of art had the ability to put a question into my mind. Surely, it is the work of a true artist to stimulate an impression within and this has set up a line of inquiry in my mind. I can hardly say it left no impression. So even if I cannot at this point of time wish to hang one of his pieces in my home, his art, certainly, has the power to leave an imprint on my mind.
Many years ago a friend of mine had visited America with her husband and just under two-year-old child. They arrived minus their luggage. The child had been ill and was struggling to walk when another child came and pushed him down. After all their tribulations they eventually returned home with an overpowering sense of relief. “Never again!” the parents said. However, a few years later they recognised that this was a holiday that they would never forget. They recognised that the holidays that had not ignited reactions within them were all too easily forgotten. And they now recognised that their American trip was a holiday that they would never forget.
There are many ways of igniting our minds or memories, and coming to that feeling place when it is closely connected to our thinking which can bring about the creation of an impression from it. It is the impression formed by the way we felt and the way we thought at the time that gets fixed in our memories and sometimes becomes static. Yet if we could only question our fixed opinions. Thoughts and feelings that may have held limited awareness at the time they were formed created these opinions. Had we known more facts about any given situation and developed ways of playing with other ways of thinking we can ask ourselves, would they have left that same impression that we hold to so tightly now.
We all have one thing in common we believe our religion, our customs, our methods are the right ones. Surely we can all see how faulty this way of thinking must be. But then we all are like children wanting to hold onto our security blankets, because of the comfort that we believe that they give us!”
Gerda believe it or not is partially sighted so it is not often we enjoy the thoughts of the semi-blind when it comes to the world of visual arts. The trip to the Hugh Lane Gallery of Modern Art in Dublin was organised by the National Council for the Blind in Ireland as part of their tactile art course for the visually impaired. Gerda can be contacted via e-mail. Her address is