Appreciating art from cafe to gallery

In the eye of . . . Art appreciation is as subjective as calling a baby cute, and tastes and preferences change over time. PHOTO: PXHERE

NEW TO TIMARU with Michael Riach

My neighbour won an award at the Alpine Energy Art awards.

She drew her inspiration from a window in a second-storey studio which overlooks my garden with glimpses of Caroline Bay.

Crediting my garden for her inspiration and the award may be a stretch but I’ll take it.

Mind you, don’t expect to instantly recognise Caroline Bay from her deft layering of acrylic pastel shades on canvas.

Art appreciation is as subjective as calling a baby cute.

The definitions of cute, like art, are elastic, and tastes and preferences change over time.

For example, no-one could be bothered with Van Gogh while he was alive, and Timaru-born Colin McCahon’s modernist landscape work was initially considered too abstract to exhibit.

Like McCahon, my neighbour interprets what she sees, and has a degree to help her do it.

Does this make her work more able to be appreciated or valuable than a pastel drawing of a clown in a Timaru cafe?

Like the baby, it depends on who’s looking.

Many of our local artists paint in the realist style, reproducing the South Canterbury landscape, that European piazza they dined at al fresco last winter, or one of the many character villas that distinguish our environment.

The variety of talent and sheer passion on display in many local galleries, cafes and farmers markets makes me think Thoreau got it wrong: the mass of men (and women) are not leading lives of quiet desperation but of underappreciated artistic exuberance.

Cafe art provides an alternative to the sometimes pretentious airs of an ‘‘art gallery’’.

The displays — often eclectic offerings from aspiring and established artists — are a clever way of bringing art to the people.

Displaying your creation in public takes courage and don’t believe what an artist may say, there’s a thick slice of ego attached to that creation and criticism stings.

Regardless of the artistic merits of cafe art, it serves a valuable public service, coddling the frustrated artist in all of us when we look at the price tag and think, ‘‘I could do that’’.

Speaking of cost, it’s interesting to note how artists value their work.

A watercolour of Caroline Bay at dusk $1750, a coffee cup $34, or that pastel drawing of a clown $260 may look like a sixth form art project but in fact are the result of hours, days of concentration and perseverance, as well as the cost of materials.

How many of you have thought that’s far too expensive and bought something reproduced from Asia at a fraction of the cost?

How do you value something you have poured hours or days in to creating?

How does a self-employed artist value their time?

Try to put a value on something you do, ironing, gardening, cooking or fixing the neighbour’s mower.

It’s not easy and most of us — including artists — undervalue our time and expertise.

Art galleries abound in and around Timaru.

Within the city is York St, a collection of local arts with craft, which, like the pop-up gallery in Temuka and the McAtamney in Geraldine, shows the incredible diversity of talent and creativity in this part of South Canterbury.

The jewel in the crown is the Aigantighe — a name that purrs off the tongue like a well-aged single malt, denoting a bequest to the people of Timaru as meaningful as Olveston is to Dunedin.

And then there are the art galleries in the middle of nowhere.

Michael Riach is a former Aucklander who shares his sometimes tongue-in-cheek impressions as a newcomer to Timaru.