The internet harbours staggeringly wide range of crusaders, desperados, and Broad-Band Supermen. Mix them up with some perverts, narcissists, stalkers and fantasists and you have the plankton of the great online Sea, even giant websites like Facebook and Ben’s Garden are built on the energy flowing from these tiny insignificant digital archetypes. Of the various Online Justice Leagues striving to rebuild the world as a better place the one currently hanging out Thinking Gardens is to me the most interesting.
Readers of the online UK garden media will be aware of their essential argument. That some gardens are serious artistic pieces and deserve critical recognition as such. The garden as art is a rare beast, but it exists, and at Thinking Gardens they argue that art-gardens need all the trappings of established art – including a new critical language and crucially a press willing to critically review gardens without having to resort to ‘and they sell lovely teas on Thursday afternoon’-isms.
A noble aim, keep fighting the good fight comrades! However, I take a functionalist view of art. If an object exists to be appreciated aesthetically, then it can be called art. My favorite mug shows a lovely picture of a Yorkshire terrier sitting on a tartan rug. I’m not really certain if I can call it art or not. My attitude towards the mug at any one time defines whether or not it is art. If, as I sometimes do, I place it on my piano and invite guests round to discuss what the mug is trying to say, its art. Shit art, but art. If I happen to be drinking tea from it – it’s a mug.
All that is needed to turn something into an art form is a group of people willing to engage with it from an artistic angle. If you have a set willing to aesthetically digest the subject, to discuss, dissect and squabble about it, you can call it art. Since beauty can no longer be regarded as an artistic criterion (nice one Picasso) interaction is all we have left. Gardens, mugs, urinals and soup cans; they’re all floating in the same leaky post-modern boat.
The problem though, with turning an object into art, is that you then can’t drink tea from it. For the critically artistic garden observer all the wonderful utilitarian things that people use a garden for are trashed. Playing Frisbee, stolen kisses, eating picnics, smelling flowers and (perish the thought) gardening, not part of the creative vision so out they go . Most people do not visit a garden, be it theirs, their friends or a publicly opened garden, to engage with it as a work of art. They go for a nice day out. Historic gardens are appreciated not for the inherent statements they make, but for the insight they give into the period of their construction, and for their staggering scale. There is an aesthetic element to the engagement, but it is the same X-factor that people are looking for when they visit a stately home. The building is appreciated aesthetically and architecturally but it is not a work of art. It is a magnificent building designed for a purpose, for people to live in, just as the magnificent garden was designed for the Georgian equivalent of Frisbee – strolling.
I am happy that gardens can be appreciated as art, but there is no need to evangelise the garden media. Niche subjects enjoy niche circulation. People buying twee mail order mugs from the back pages of The Mail on Sunday Magazine don’t want to know about its profound but often overlooked narrative statement on the Battle of Boscome, they want to know it has a nice picture and holds hot fluid. People who read the mainstream gardening press want to know which gardens have nice flowers on bank holiday weekends and whether they sell cream teas. Cultural agendas cannot be forced on the unwilling, let the happy majority enjoy tips on frost resistant fuchsias and interviews with the television gardeners. Ignorance is bliss and most readers enjoy their blissful garden visits as they are. Gardens can be art but I’m afraid that the darker recesses of the internet will remain the proper place for their discussion as such.