Some random thoughts on a cold winters day – Noel Kelly

Five years ago in a small gathering of artists, critics, activists, and theoreticians in Dublin, a hand went up in the audience when it came time for an open forum on the subjects previously discussed. The hand was attached to a lone figure sitting to one side of the main group of people. His question was very simple. The questioner explained that due to health reasons he had been out of contact of the mainstream art world for over 10 years. In fact, he had spent this time in a psychiatric clinic. He asked Am I still mad, or has aesthetics disappeared from the world of contemporary visual arts? There were a few embarrassed giggles in the audience and after a very dismissive remark from The Chairperson the mans question was passed over. I admit that I was one of the people who giggled in embarrassment for the person asking the question. But, afterwards I began to think that perhaps my reaction should have been focussed on the rest of us in the audience who were so completely caught up in our new models of representation, thought, practice, and intervention. Perhaps, it is us that could have spent the last few years in a mental asylum; maybe ours was the tyranny of thought control and this mans simple question was a clarity that our overcomplicated lives desired.
Some years later, in conversation with a group of peers, we were discussing this man. In our discourse we posited the opinion that perhaps we were all a little mad. This is one of our characteristics working in the world of the arts. Our minds have so many potentialities that it is perhaps the artist who is the only truly sane person, and we, the curators, the critics, and the theoreticians have complicated the experience of the viewer with double talk, trendisms, and spaghetti-like arguments that are there to make us look like serious intellectuals that ordinary people couldnt possibly understand as they were not part of our club. This supposition was later borne out at a conference of art critics that I attended in Ljubljana in 2005. A presenter at one session held in their hand a heavy tome of theory that they had written. Their opening gambit to the gathered audience of supposed peers was – (to paraphrase) this is the book that I have written. I wont go through it here as it is too complex for you to understand so I will explain it in simple terms that you will all comprehend. As you can imagination the reaction to such condescension was one of consternation. However, once again I thought of the man in Dublin and wondered – who is the more mad, the person who sat in the audience in Ljubljana and accepted that they were not intelligent enough to understand this important new theoretical tome, or the person who views art with a simplicity and love that can provide for a marriage of the aesthetic and meaning; to which the theory and rhetoric become subservient handmaidens.
I like this idea of handmaidens and have brought a version of it to many conversations. These handmaidens are so easily identifiable. In fact, my new description is perhaps a little more specific. I now call them the black crows and ravens. They descend the steps of aircraft, disembark from trains, get off buses around the world at specific times of their migratory cycles and descend upon towns and cities around the world who are unfortunate enough to host biennials and such large-scale exhibitions. I say unfortunate, as the good city fathers of these venues in their wonderful support of culture naturally assume that their cities culture and well-being will be a very central focus on these migratory visitors. In fact, the opposite can be true. For the most part, our black clad crows and ravens want only to listen to their own raucous songs and calls. They gather and form a transitory community that once they have fed and gorged upon the feast of art, they leave and the cities are left with a few bones that the general audience are then allowed to gnaw upon in almost empty spaces.