My mother recently bought us a work of art – an etching by Piers Browne, entitled Survivor of the Interchange (see picture: in real life it's about two feet high). Buying art for other people is a pretty dangerous business: you can never be absolutely sure what they would or wouldn't like, and the lucky recipient is hardly in a position to say they don't like it!
In this case, the gamble paid off. I can't stop looking at it: I think it's a wonderful thing, and it has set me thinking about what I like and don't like in art.
I find it hard to be dogmatic. It's easy to pigeon-hole the arts into different schools and movements: a lot of it went on in the twentieth century and both creative artists and critics were guilty of it. It can so easily create a climate in which, before you realise it, you feel there are things you should or shouldn't like. This is the downside of criticism and gets in the way of whatever it is an artist is trying to communicate. Of course, it's fair to say that the artistic surprises of the twentieth century stretched the patience of the critic to the limit but, as Addison famously put it (he was talking about literature), “a true critic ought to dwell upon excellencies rather than imperfections, to discover the concealed beauties of a writer, and communicate to the world such things as are worth their observation”.
Piers Browne's work is a million miles away (well, probably about 50) from the fashionable contemporary art on display in, say, the Baltic in Gateshead (somewhere I enjoy visiting, incidentally), but I refuse to take sides. There will be those who think it's archaic, and those who think it's just the sort of thing art should be getting back to. A plague on both their houses. It's art, and it's wonderful.
There are more Piers Browne art works to be seen on his website. He is currently working on a children's book, Freya, due out in 2010.