Art and I: An Open Relationship

Art and I didn’t always get on. I didn’t know much about it. My parents were folk who thought art was the one print of ‘The Haywain‘ on the dining-room wall, or the lairy ’70s green, geometrically-patterned wallpaper in the hallway – now so revered as ‘retro’. Otherwise, Art was for ‘arty types‘, which, apart from my mother’s love of reading and writing, they were humble enough to realise they were not. Not really.

After a youth spent mainly dwelling on mind-expansion (and, incredibly, working like a demon), I married in my twenties and found myself with a Winchester and Oxford-educated husband, my former boss, who was rather more comfortable within the Art appreciation sector than the Art creation crowd.

With a Romford Technical High School education, a mere 11+ and a clutch of O Levels to my name and, further, feeling quite the black sheep at the dinner parties we were holding, aged 25 I turned to the Open University and never looked back. My then husband had naturally  introduced me to certain Art such as opera, theatre, ‘foreign’ films and, of course, visiting galleries, interesting architectural sites and so on. But I became hungry for more. Like Rita, in Educating Rita, I wanted to know it all.

It’s probably not the best idea to commence a degree with the sole aim of getting even with your OH, or to be able to keep up at the dinner table. But the more I went on with OU, the more I found I was genuinely fired up by Art History, Literature and Music, relishing each course, each tutor-marked assignment, each summer-school, each exam.

And that’s what started me off, following Art around, lovesick despite my lowly ‘Haywain‘ print beginnings, wherever I was in the world. I was now making a play for Art in a big way.

Of course, when the inevitable split between two diverse characters happened, I then had two children, the true gifts of the marriage. But I also had the gift of a half-completed OU degree, a sound basis on which to continue my passion for Art. Any of the arts. By then, I’d begun writing and getting published. This was my Deluded Period, when I believed myself to be quite the Bohemian figure around Blackheath.

Divorce, though, meant a Blue Period (in mood anyway) seeking out cheap and free things to do with the children, or on my own. So they were taken to free galleries, open air concerts, theatre and film when we could afford it, and it was no real surprise to me when they couldn’t get enough of it all. The National, The Portrait, Dulwich Picture Gallery and more. I remember Louise Bourgeouis’s Spider and Womb installations at the opening of the Tate Modern going down quite the storm with my two mini Art buffs.

As the children grew older and all of us still excited by Art, we sought out more and more. They were introducing me to new Art. Up to the minute stuff. My son insisted we see the installation Dreamscape at a Mile End Park – thank you, Ru, and wasn’t it great? We stormed the Saatchi Gallery to seek out Tracey Emin’s Bed, Tent and other exhibits. We all loved the Exploded Shed, I think at the Hayward.

I set aside the money in the late 90s to take my son and daughter to Glastonbury, although their father blenched at the very mention of it. We had a muddy, cramped-tent whale of a time and heard all varieties of music; though, if I never hear Firestarter again, I don’t think I’ll need a handkerchief.

Now, I’m very happily remarried and my old school friend and mechanical genius of an OH is an Art-deprecating cynic. This is fine. He has cars; I have writing and sometimes the twain meet. He’s a voracious reader, and that suits me. But with Art, he particularly takes his intellectual sledge-hammer to anything he sees as ‘pretentious and ponced up.’ Or public roundabout-and-hospital-forecourt Art of the fluorescent or mystifying kind. That he’s paid for. And that’s fine, especially as he is hilarious when I get him talking about it.

I see that view. I grew up with it – in the same way I grew up with a father who shouted ‘that’s not a boy; it’s a girl’ when the Rolling Stones played on Ready, Steady Go! Some get Art. Some don’t. There’s room for all of us.

My OH has it that a ‘proper’ (his word) painting, sculpture, installation or architectural structure is something quite different from the ponced up stuff. He loved the paintings we went to see at Greenwich Naval College. Wren and Hawksmoor had talent and hard work, he declared, enjoying the heavenly splendour of the Painted Hall.

With the internet now, though, I can look up whatever I like without fear of jeering or mockery from the OH. I am kidding. He’s not bad (he proofreads!) but each to his own and we live happily together, alongside our individual passions. I mean, being an engineer, his idea of Art is a Spitfire aeroplane or a war-painted B17 – and he’s right, it is! Because Art is subjective and, as such, is never really ‘wrong’. It’s a question of whether the beholder likes it, hates it, or is moved by it in some way, or not.

Anyway, you’ll gather that these days I’m not quite the roving Art critic and fan that I was – the roving is mainly on the internet, on Arts tv channels or at local events. Art and I have a very open relationship. And I have a very open mind. But then I’m a whole lot happier with my life and come from a place of relative security compared to past experience.

There come times, though, when I long to go to something arty. That’s apart from all the writing events I’d love to attend. I know that every time I do, my spirit is lifted and I feel ‘connected’ with Life. Even a drag race meeting (sport or art?) appeals to the senses and lifts the spirit in the way that all effective Art does. The amazing cars, the scene the visitors and racers create.

So, last week, when I was asked by To Do List to visit one of Boris Johnson’s ‘Secrets’, an installation in parklands not far away, I jumped at the chance. It’s been many years since I visited the Uffizi, the Louvre or the Jeu de Paume, or even the Tate, Tate Modern, Portrait or the National Galleries.

Maybe Art was straying too far away from me or, more likely, I from my darling Art. I took my camera and you can see my report for To Do List below. I enjoyed my day out, with the dog and another enthusiastic visitor at the site, just keeping checks on my love for Art. We both know, me and Art, that it’s free to go where it likes. And so am I.

Here is the link to To Do List’s website. They are a fantastic, informative, always interesting, spot-on guide to free, cheap and offbeat things to do in London. They always cover Art events. Just the thing I needed when struggling through divorced parenthood for all those years.

Pictures: Me, To Do List,,,

PROGRESSIVE ROCK: Boris gives away one of his ‘Secrets’ in Fairlop Waters

Magic is a rare experience in our hectic, adult lives. But Nothing Is Set In Stone is offering many a delighted London explorer just that.

Fairlop Waters Underground – Central Line (short walk from station) | Fairlop Waters, Forest Road, Barkingside, IG6 3HN | | Tel: 020 8500 9911 | Open Every day 07:00 until 10:00 p.m – lakeside restaurant and bar, as well as many activities/nature reserve/water-sports and boat hire. Plenty of (pay-at-machine) parking. 

It’s the kind of thing you might expect to see at the top of Glastonbury Tor, at a Tri-Wizarding Tournament or by the teepees at Glastonbury Festival.

As we walk up the grassy pathway, lulled by angelic song, NISIS, by the artist, Mira Calix, appears to grow from the ground. It now looks smaller than the giant, Jetson-style rocket  we viewed from the other side of the lake.

As we approach, it looks and sounds  like an over-sized, musical water feature. Something Worth Experiencing. We get nearer and hear birdsong, more vibrant than the birds around the lake.

It’s shaped like an egg or a womb, it’s pointed end skywards, and made of real, huge, striped beach stones.

Meditational, ethereal song and a deep vibrational tone emits from within it. As we near touching distance, a woman tells us she has brought her little son three times. Eschewing the playground for the rock, he thinks there’s a lady in the rock singing to him personally. We imagine people sitting around on a much sunnier day, enjoying picnics.

All the elements are experienced: water, fire, air, earth, as well as wood and metal, it seems, are represented here. Much of natural earth life is represented through the sounds we hear from the monolith.

We stand before it and touch, testing how it might change. Walking around it appears to keep the sound going though the sounds may come in random order.

Although the artist has called this Nothing Is Set In Stone, it is as though she is telling us quite the opposite. Life is represented here, emanating from within this rocky womb, reminding us how earth was born, if you believe in the Big Bang Theory.

And … the rest is silence. Until birdsong, flowing water, fire, bamboo sticks, or song begins again.

Around NISIS, we can be grounded and still, like stone. Listen, admire and relish a little magic.

For more Secrets in London visit: 


About Tessa Tangent

I write and I often go off at tangents. Tessa Tangent's my nickname and, at home, I'm called Tessa more than I am my real name, Heather. In the 90s, I had short stories published in magazines like Ludus and For Women. I also won a cherished second prize in a BBC travel writing competition, was the writer of a newsletter for a dry ski slope and had a newspaper article about the slope published. At the same time, I wrote half a first draft of a novel then, for reasons I may reveal, I stopped writing. After a long fallow period, I am writing again - and not a moment too soon...
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4 Responses to Art and I: An Open Relationship

  1. Viv says:

    Ha, I have a very personal view of art (parents very similar to yours. They still have the Haywain) and am a fan of Emin, to a point.
    I’d love to see the singing rock.

  2. Yes, I get you! Thanks for commenting, Viv. And you know, as a ‘Secret’ it would have been great to have gone to Fairlop Waters (apt location, it’s an ex-quarry made quite scenic) and simply found it by surprise on walking round the lake. But of course, a lot of people won’t find it unless they know it’s there! Conundrum, or what? However, whichever way you approach it, even if you know a little about it, it’s still a good surprise.

  3. Well I’m not quite sure on what to say on the whole art conversation as I don’t really have a view. I look at something and I either like it or I don’t. MMm, Very scientific that isn’t it!

    But, as for the OU! Fabulous place! I did two years completing my level one courses when aiming for a geosciences degree, but stopped after year one to see if I could write a novel. Now I’ve been sucked in to that world. I would love to finish the degree, but with a full time job as well, there just aren’t enough hours in the day!

    I do like the pictures of your rocks though 🙂

    • Thank you! The OU is amazing. I did take some of it pre-children and I think that was the easier time for me. Also had a full-time job but found that, if I stuck to the scheduled 15 hours a week, I did well with it. I have nothing but praise for them. At the time, it opened up doors, my enthusiasm and appreciation of the world that were hitherto closed to me – or nigh on impossible to negotiate or understand. 🙂

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