That’s not nice!

25 September, 2008

When I was a child, my mother tried to ban the reading of Enid Blyton in our house. As a teacher, she claimed it was because Blyton misused and overused the word nice. I of course saw the ban as a challenge and enjoyed secreting copies of the Famous Five under the bed covers with a torch to devour the antics of George, Tim et al as they ran around the English countryside, solving mysteries. As a child the word nice didn’t hinder my enjoyment of the books, but it is curiously a word I try to avoid using in adult life.

The word nice raised its head again this week and I was reminded of my mother’s heeding, that it is a lazy word, devoid of any real meaning. I came across it in The Times’ bold attempt to explain Modern Art. The newspaper invites readers to comment on a picture, which they post on line and print in Times2 along side the expert’s view. This week they were soliciting views on Francis Bacon’s portrait of Isabel Rawsthorne. It was the review by Alain Williams that caught my eye and ire. To quote Mr Williams “It is horrible – I can’t see why anyone would want that on their wall or do anything other than walk straight past it. Producing nice pictures might be boring, but it’s what most people want”.

Portrait of Isabel Rawsthorne 1966. © Estate of Francis Bacon

Portrait of Isabel Rawsthorne 1966. © Estate of Francis Bacon

My immediate response to reading this was, you don’t have it like it, but must we all be condemned to a world that is boring and nice, bland and dull. For me art isn’t about being liked or only for hanging on the sitting room wall. Art is about thought and challenge, it is about asking someone to take time out from the bombardment of images we see everyday, and consider the image held in our gaze. Not all art is good and it is perfectly ok to say I like this or I don’t like that.

There are vast periods of art that I don’t linger over as I stroll around the National Gallery or Tate Britain because it doesn’t particularly hold my interest. But to confine our visual senses with the prescription that art should be nice is a boring proposition and I suspect does not reflect what most people want.

The Francis Bacon exhibition is at the Tate Britain 11th September – 4th January 2009

One Response to “That’s not nice!”

  1. Jack Says:

    Nice is a real put down in my book! Like being told your suitable to introduced to Granny


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