On Tuesday we went to two museums: the National Gallery of Ireland and Irish Museum of Modern Art. This was an interesting day, because not only were the discussions more frank about the culture we saw but there was some open disagreement about what makes good art and bad art.
Before we went to the gallery, Michael talked about Irish art in a broader historical context, comparing its quality to other countries’ art, and openly questioned the quality of art in a national museum and whether it was good.
I tend to sidestep the questions of good and bad—I’m more interested in the artist’s intent, the work’s reception, and the relationship to both (to be fair, Michael agrees with me I think on these points, but his talk was geared on getting students discussing).
We asked to students to find a painting they liked and one they didn’t and be able to tell us why. We met up after a while and the students presented. Many of them, as been my experience, chose abstract or contemporary art as paintings they disliked and more traditional ones they liked—contemporary art requires a type of faith in your own interpretation (and less concern with craft) that is often difficult to generate. We didn’t browbeat them into reconsider their choices, but I felt obligated (being a professor and all) to challenge them a bit, which they seemed to take in good humor.
We then went to the contemporary museum, or tried to, as the museum was largely closed for renovations and the new gallery in between exhibitions. But we did see a beautiful building and lovely gardens, as well as some outdoor sculpture.
I asked them the next day about what was Irish about the gallery, and aside from the presence of Irish work there, it was hard to determine. There were a few paintings that directly embraced Irishness, but many of the Irish works were more concerned with keeping up with more universal artistic trends rather than expressing Irishness. We don’t know (or at least I don’t) what other works the curators might have chosen, but we did find it interesting the choices that curators made—to focus on Irish talent rather than Irish content.