My View, Mel Hewitt - We should never take art for granted

The Crying Boy painting
The Crying Boy painting

There’s nothing more personal than art.

Houses across the land have walls festooned with paintings, prints and posters that some people wouldn’t give house room.

I’m sure we all can bring to mind pieces of art work that make us want to wince and turn away at the same time. My own personal nemesis ‘artwise’ are the mass produced ‘oil’ paintings which usually feature a forest – possibly Canadian – scene, crafted in various shades of brown and khaki.

The finished effect for me is of a bad photo created with Artex. Yet millions have been sold. The Green Girl by Tretchikoff, The Crying Boy, the bull fighter posters which arrived back from the first package holidays in the late 60s. Many more have become favourites in homes across the land in past decades.

Just as one person will feel at home in beige and another only steps out in technicolour hues, art like our choice of clothing is so subjective, so personal. That’s why when art is commissioned for public places, buildings or organisations I imagine it’s such a hard thing to make the right choice. How do you create an ambience, impact and experience with a piece of art that most people will get something out of?

Or is it a better idea to challenge and provoke, to encourage debate and take people on a journey with their understanding of art and out of their comfort zone?

There is no doubt that art is important. Anyone who has spent more than five minutes in a room bereft of any visual stimuli, or just as bad, tatty posters and dismal prints will know this.

So, whether we’re at home, visiting someone in hospital or staying in a hotel, the colours and setting, the artwork and ambience all have an impact, even if we’re not aware of it.

At my Middle School in the late 60s art was very much part of the curriculum. If you were good at it or enjoyed it you were encouraged just as much as those warming to English, maths or science. There was a real sense that all were as important as each other – as indeed they are. Sir Alec Clegg the remarkable and inspiring Chief Education Officer of the old West Riding of Yorkshire visited my school in the early 70s.

As a child of 10 I can still remember the excitement of my paintings being shown to the great man and I still feel a sense of pride today – as well as thankfulness for the wonderful experience of my early years in school.

Art is all around us, but that doesn’t mean we should take it for granted. Standing up for all things creative when their validity or contribution to our lives and community are threatened, is crucial. Otherwise, it might be another sad case of we don’t know what we’ve got ‘til it’s gone.

* Mel Hewitt, community fundraiser, St John’s Hospice, Balby