Monday, 20 August 2012

What Patrick Hutchings taught me about art...

Many years ago I started studying for a long distance degree in visual arts through Deakin University. I started off with a bang, getting a higher distinction for my first assignment on the emergence of realism in Renaissance art, then stumbled while trying to find a symbolism that wasn't there in 17C Dutch still life, and finally crashed into boredom with British landscape painting before deciding that the academic path was not for me.

Part of the deal was to attend a study tour at the National Gallery of Victoria where we got to meet our tutor, whose name I am embarrassed to say I have forgotten. I do remember that she had shapely legs, wore seamed stockings and high heels, and to follow her around the hallowed halls of this great gallery discussing the collection was indeed a pleasure.

Patrick Hutchings, teacher, author, critic, and one of the grand old men of Australian art, had recently retired from Deakin, but he did condescend to grace us with his presence on one of these tours. His knowledge of, and insight into art was profoundly illuminating. He was also a very entertaining lecturer whose passion for his subject often increased as the audience grew. On one occasion he began a dialogue in front of Picasso's Weeping Woman. Our group of six rapidly grew to about thirty members of the public as he shared his knowledge, finishing with spontaneous applause from an enlightened crowd.

We were wandering through the modern European collection when we passed the only Cezanne. He said, "Of course, this is not a very good Cezanne". Now I have never been a big fan of Cezanne, so I somewhat cynically asked, "How do you tell a good Cezanne from a bad Cezanne?". He turned to me smiling, and said, "Bob, by looking at lots of Cezannes".

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