An unfolding view of the Thames from source to sea...
January 29, 2019 11:01 AM   Subscribe

... made up entirely of pictures hidden away in storage. Not just paintings you haven't seen in a gallery, but paintings you can't see in a gallery.

It's a perennial issue that in Britain most of the artwork held by galleries and museums isn't on display, and there have been some interesting projects to try and show some of this. Cuts to local government budgets are only making matters worse.

This Is our Art (Twitter link) is dedicated to sharing works of art - mostly from local authority collections - that isn't on display anywhere. Posting a couple of images daily, it ranges from the striking to the justly neglected to the fantastic and the "exotic" but the variety is the point. However it came in to public possession, and whatever we think of it now, it is our art, whether we like it or not.

The subject matter - which tends to the rural and picturesque - says something about the image these artists wanted to portray about themselves or the world around them. Given the sources, it has less to say about post-war Britain, let alone Britain in 2019, although it isn't entirely devoid of images closer to the present day.

Since January 1, This Is Our Art has stepped up the game with a series called A Year On The Thames - as the name suggests, it's posting one of these unseen paintings a day, providing a view of the Thames from its source to the sea over the course of a year.

While it might be no great loss that some of this is in storage rather than on display anywhere, somebody took the time to create these artworks, somebody bought them or accepted them as gifts and has been storing them safely, and more recently somebody else made the effort to scan them and share them digitally. And now someone is making the effort to share them with us.
posted by YoungStencil (7 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
This is very neat, but curation is a tricky issue: there's only so much space in museums, and while it's true you could always add more displays to walls, there's a point of diminishing returns in terms of being able to appreciate the art.

And then there's this bit: "somebody took the time to create these artworks, somebody bought them or accepted them as gifts and has been storing them safely" -- this made me think of two things: first, an Intel ad where someone created a model of San Francisco from old boards and chips, with a voiceover saying that old tech can find a new life; and second the idea that it's OK to throw away your kid's art.

People make art all the time. But how much do we really need to keep? On the Intel ad, I'd hazard to guess that art museum storage space would very quickly fill up if every bit of old tech was turned into something artistic, and a similar statement could be made for kids' art.

I love art. I buy art. I visit museums and I'm happy to know that there's more hidden, somewhere, that can be pulled out to make a new exhibit. But there are currently 7,680,xxx,xxx people on the earth, and hundreds (thousands?) of billions of people who have ever lived. Many have made something artistic at some point in their life. Even narrowing that to things that were made as gifts, or kept and valued, that's a lot of stuff.

In short, I'm arguing that art shouldn't be held on a pedestal, but considered closer to a commodity. Valued, yes, but not irreplaceable as a very broad collection. /rambling thoughts
posted by filthy light thief at 11:41 AM on January 29 [1 favorite]

Great post, OP. Congrats on making your first post after hanging out on the Blue for some 18 years!
posted by Bella Donna at 11:53 AM on January 29 [9 favorites]

As a museum professional, the issue of "put art on display instead of hiding it away in storage" is a little more complex than it first appears (of course) - putting art on display is wonderful, but also expensive, and having a painting in a gallery is usually shortening its life, due to light exposure. Curators generally want to have a good selection of works available that they can rotate in and out of permanent galleries and special exhibitions, and museums want to have a good selection of works that they can lend out to other institutions, and institutions have a mandate to balance preservation of the collection with allowing public access. Having the majority of a museum's collection be in storage seems right to me, although the figure quoted in that BBC article about local authority collections is pretty shocking.

I'm all for digitalization and sharing things online. I like the Year on the Thames project. And I like the idea of getting art into schools and non-museum institutions - governmental bodies should be putting money behind that. It's just a balancing act - art will not last forever, particularly art that you hang on a school wall without museum-storage level conservation measures. But, as a conservator I know once said when discussing this exact issue - "we all turn to dust eventually..."
posted by cpatterson at 12:04 PM on January 29 [6 favorites]

Great post, OP. Congrats on making your first post after hanging out on the Blue for some 18 years!

Ah, that's cute. YoungStencil is now epony-oldsterical.
(good post!)
posted by BlueHorse at 1:42 PM on January 29

Another interesting UK-based (but not solely UK-sourced) online project is Watercolour World, if you're in the mood to browse more art this afternoon.
posted by CheeseLouise at 1:54 PM on January 29 [4 favorites]

I'm sorry, this afternoon or whatever time of day it is where you're reading from.
posted by CheeseLouise at 1:59 PM on January 29

That's lovely, CheeseLouise - thanks.
posted by YoungStencil at 2:21 PM on January 29

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