Wednesday 6 May 2015


Here's a little piece I composed about Tracy Emin.
It is Artistic Wednesday, my favourite day for a good rant. One imagines artists as ranters, doesn't one? I blame Don Music on Sesame Street for his histronics ("Oh,Ludwig!"). Most classical musicians I have met were calm, if not always happy, people.

Anyway, my opening rant will be about how much I despise conceptual art compared to drawing, painting, sculpting and all the arts that take real training, hard work and skill, not philosophical indoctrination and loyalty to a small coterie of corrupt professors.  No doubt some conceptual art is very clever, and I am rather fond of the neon sign outside Edinburgh's Dean gallery proclaiming (ironically) that "There will be no miracles here." If the artist, Nathan Coley, actually made his own tubes, I am even impressed. Meanwhile, he is certainly capable of building cool things on his own, as we can see here.

So I do not want to bash conceptual artists who think up an idea and use real skills to execute it. My scorn is reserved for people who pickle cows (or get someone else to pickle the cow) in formaldehyde and gild (or get someone else to gild) the horns. Snore. Zzz.  And don't get me started on Tracy Emin.

To tell you the truth, I have seen as much visual art in the past seven years as I had in all the previous years put together (perhaps not counting children's picture books). This is because of Benedict Ambrose, who is a voracious Culture Vulture. He loves fine art and goes to art galleries all the time. If it weren't enough that he can identify any piece of classical music by the end of the first five bars, he can identify gazillions of paintings that are fleetingly shown on TV.  I must say it is a joy to be constantly  impressed and surprised by one's husband. If only he could become similarly interested in Haute Cuisine and take me to The Kitchin... But I digress.

B.A. has an enormously interesting job, even if it sometimes means pitching in to help make cappuccinos in the café.  One of the most interesting tasks is--for lack of  appropriately humble phrases--curating the annual Historical House Artist-in-Residence show.  When I meet an artist whose work I really like, I sometimes say, "Oh, you should get in touch with my husband. He is in charge of the Artist-in-Residence program at the Historical House" and the delicious sweet wine of domestic power courses through my veins.

B.A. is much more open-minded about conceptual art than I am--he understands it or something--but I like best those Historical House shows that involve paintings. And this year--hooray! We have an exhibit that includes a dozen or so watercolours by an enormously talented watercolourist. Watercolour paintings are painted on paper, and the artist loves paper, so there are some interesting, super-modern, sculptures fashioned from homemade paper, too.

I always love to see artists' takes on the Historical House--if they really are about the Historical House--and this watercolour exhibit explores the landscape and the green-stained cellar. Interestingly, nobody is ever interested in reproducing or remarking on the prettiest rooms, more or less unchanged since 1750. The daughter of the Great Man who was master of the house in the late 18th century wanted to preserve the interiors as they were in her father's lifetime, but interestingly the Artists-in-Residences are more fond of her own contribution, her pretty china collection. The House provides artists with a wonderful symbolic language of  china, shells, chinoiserie, books, gilt, swirls and decay. Come to think of it, I ought to do something with it myself, being the long-term, if unofficial, Writer in Residence.

Being the wife of  a (for lack of a humbler term) museum curator (sorry B.A., I know, but it sounds way cooler) means occasionally having (or cooking for) artsy or scholarly dinner parties, which I dearly love to do. When I was ten, there was time set aside at school for a class called "Famous Canadians" and I was struck by the revelation that some Canadian heroine or others had parents who had glittering dinner parties. I connected the dinner parties with her future success--rightly, I think--and thus was sad my parents so rarely had them. The most we could count on was some grizzled professor from the UK or Australian at the table,  rather surprised, perhaps, to find himself surrounded by so many children. So imagine my joy that now that I am grown up I get to cook for Real Artists, Writers, Scholars and Politicians; it's too bad I have no children to profit culturally from this. Except the Inner Child, naturally.

Unless they are blocked, Artists have good relationships with their Inner Children and take them along to parties. B.A. and I had a small dinner party to mark our Watercolourist's Historical House debut, and my own Inner Child--to B.A.'s amusement--made me show my own elementary sketches to Fiona and her friend, one of Scotland's top painters.  At least, I think it was the Inner Child. She fed me several glasses of wine first.  And so the Top Painter (RSA, RSW--the works) called for a pencil and showed me on my sketchbook how artists automatically think 3-dimensionally when they confront the 2-dimensional surface of the paper.  I goggled, thinking something like, "Holy guacamole! Top Painter, who can charge squidillions an hour, is giving me a drawing lesson for free."

I am still enormously impressed.  There is something holy about being able to draw a bunch of geometrical shapes on top of each other until they are a man. That's techne, for you. That's skill.

Update: Thanks to reader S. for buying THREE (3) copies of Ceremony of Innocence. I very hope much you enjoy it, and Gracewing is tremendously pleased with little me. As for other readers in the British Isles and--if you aren't horrified by shipping costs--the Continent, there are still 24 available. Poor little books, sadly waiting to be adopted or deported. Imagine if unwanted puppies were at risk of being pulped? Urgh!

Update 2: A link! Hoorah! Now you don't have to go to the bookstore after all. You can cut out the middle man and have a lovely impulse buy!


  1. Talking about conceptual art is pretty much my most favourite thing ever. I bag it out (Bogan Julia) but then I'll actually go and see it (Hipster Julia).

    Check it out!

  2. Is it possible for your book to be published as an eBook? So it can be accessed on a Kindle Reader or other eReader?

  3. It has been published as an eBook! Have a look at the Ignatius Press website. Here we go--and I see it is on sale--

  4. It has been published as an eBook! Have a look at the Ignatius Press website. Here we go--and I see it is on sale--


This is Edinburgh Housewife, a blog for Catholic women and other women of good will. It assumes that the average reader is an unmarried, childless Catholic woman over 18. Commenters are asked to take that into consideration before commenting. Anonymous comments may be erased.

Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.