UK critic takes a stab at Milne

Is critical bad-mouthing about art worth reading? Jonathon Jones of the Guardian newspaper makes me ask, after I came across his scorn for Canada’s David Milne. He says Milne’s palette is not bright enough and his art lacks shock value.

It is entertaining to watch Mr Jones rise in animated wrath, verbalizing his feelings about paintings for which he clearly has no feelings. He doesn’t understand or appreciate Milne, and apparently that’s Milne’s fault.

To answer my own question, yes. It is worth reading such opinions. For one thing, it is rare to see anyone get so excited by a painting these days. As people, we are excited by seeing other people get excited. Thus, Jones is good for painting, in general.

It’s also worthwhile to see familiar works in a new light, even if it is a hostile one. Jones does get  me thinking. Is “decorative” a dirty word? It doesn’t seem to have harmed the reputation of Matisse. Are nature’s colours not bright and saturated enough? Is Guernica not “great” because of its greys?

Critics always say more about their own values and perceptions than they do about their subjects. Mr Jones has little time for David Milne, but that’s what is needed to appreciate Milne … time and quiet.

Jones finds Milne’s war art “not very powerful”, utterly missing the profundity of the gaping negative cavities, enormous voids, contrasted with the little buildings of villages that remain. If these are “potholes”, are Hokusai’s waves “splashes”?

Leave a comment