If you want my advice, which you probably don't, it is better to approach contemporary art (especially at degree shows) with a healthy sense of humour and a carefree attitude. Otherwise it's easy to get wound up.
I wonder if we have a default setting in our appreciation of what art is? Understanding the traditions because they have been circulating around us for many years. Even if we are not practised at looking at art regularly, we still carry a certain amount of historical conditioning.
Theories that have been pursued by designers and artists over centuries filter down and become the norm, even if we don't recognise where they have come from. We, in turn, feel more at ease with this familiarity. I remember reading somewhere that the credit card has proportions that are based on the Golden Ratio, which is a very old mathematical equation. As an aside, some people have disputed the connection between aesthetics and the golden section but, either way, we have still assimilated it into our visual language.
Many theories in the disciplines of design, the humanities and science have influenced the creation and understanding of visual form; the principles of Gestalt for example or techniques we may be familiar with such as the vanishing point, rule of thirds and perspective. We can't prevent this infiltration because we consume visual data on a daily basis.
Painting on canvas is also still a favoured tradition in the appreciation of art; this is one of the reasons why Surrealism is forever popular. Despite the often bizarre content of the pictures they fall into a tradition of high quality painting that employs some of the tricks I mentioned earlier...and of course they could be hung on a wall to be enjoyed...I'm only talking specifically about the paintings here. However, paradoxically, it was around the time of Dada and Surrealism that new ways of presenting art were gaining strength, challenging what had gone before.
Contemporary work often ignores the old traditions and does its own thing, frequently preferring more conceptual principles. This can make it harder to interpret and take longer to read what's going on, which in turn can make the viewer feel insecure. When that happens there is often a reaction, usually a verbal one and sometimes more rarely a physical one, but there is no doubt that art can make people a bit angry.
A week or so ago a small group of us went to the Central Saint Martins Degree Show. I expected a lot of installations and various stuff assembled on the floor which I call 'floor art' so I wasn't surprised that this was all occurring in the very first room we went into. It seemed to take us a while to settle in and I managed to trip over one of these floor pieces which consisted of a large bundle of branches, amongst other things. We all felt a bit embarrassed by this but also thought it was funny...which it is, not least because it highlights how a work of art can be, amongst other things, a hazard and a health and safety issue. A picture that hangs on a wall could only injure you it it fell down on your head... I wonder what would have happened if I had actually fallen into it?
After this icebreaker we settled down. I made a conscious decision to concentrate for longer on certain pieces and as a group we chatted quite a lot with the young artists. We all found the Art and Science section engaging, probably because there was meaning, strength and beauty given to the work via the science. So here it is again, back to one of the traditions: 'meaning' and the security we derive from it.
Later with some of the Fine Art we found ourselves saying things like "I just don't get it" rather moodily, but this is where the sense of humour and carefree attitude come in because at times we were also like children playing with giant bizarre toys. This was especially true of works that we could interact with or go inside. Thinking about it now I feel that there is more entertainment value in this type of art than there has been in the past, but just like entertainment on TV it can be great and you love it or dreadful and cheap and you want to throw a brick at it.
Unfortunately I didn't record anything much on camera but I have included a photo of a collage, as we spent some time looking at the work of this artist. His work reflects some of the traditions I was referring to earlier.
Swimming Pool by Hanping Feng (acrylic & collage on panel)
If you want to go to the second show it will be on between 23-28 June for Architecture, Design and Fashion.