Ever teetered nervously outside art galleries? Too intimidated to enter? Not too sure what you are looking for, or even more alarmingly, what you are looking at?! Well, fear no more friends. Art is for everyone, and a gallery is the same as any other shop… except far more fun. In this week’s post, we are going to give you a little Art 101, so you can stroll through any gallery a more confident critic, and we’ll let you in on a few Midlands places you should take your discerning eye.
There’s no meandering the Midlands without getting a healthy dose of arts and culture. Bringing arts and crafts to the people was the founding principle of what is now the extensive and very much beloved Midlands Meander. You’ll find painters and potters, beaders and glass blowers, sculptures and ceramists, actors and artists, musicians and maybe mimes… we’re not so sure about the last one. So it makes sense that to meander in true style, you need to have a little know-how when it comes to art pow-pows.
To help you on your way to muttering culturally astute things like “But what really is art?” or “Art is in the eye of the beholder” yada yada yada, let’s first cover the very broad, highly malleable and interchangeable classifications of art.
You've got your fine art and your applied art. Now, these distinctions - which are rooted in a Renaissance Europe - often blur and can be argued over endlessly, but very basically:
Traditionally, fine art is anything created for the sole purpose of being intellectually stimulating or aesthetically pleasing. They have no other practical application. Edvard Munch’s painting The Scream makes us think, Michelangelo’s sculpture of David is beautiful, but neither of them can be used to pour tea. Nope. Purely for the looking and marvelling.
Now, fine art covers a whole host of categories, including amongst others painting, performing arts, music and poetry. Luckily for you, the Midlands Meander has a plethora of places producing and selling fine art, and we recommend you check out the following to get your fine art fix:
Zulu Lulu’s art gallery at the Piggly Wiggly is a firm favourite. Showcasing local South African painters, ceramists and sculptors, this lovely gallery is a delight with some truly standout pieces. Howick plays host to the Hallett Reid art gallery which offers a range of artworks from captivating bronze animal sculptures to pencil pieces and everything in between. There is also a range of top quality ceramicists who produce gorgeous sculptures, but we’ve chosen to go into detail under applied arts as many pieces are not only beautiful but also functional.
For performance arts - that’s theatre and dance - you absolutely must try to catch the annual Hilton Arts Festival which kicks off in September. It’s a grand and deeply cultural affair that provides the art enthusiast everything from dance to plays to art exhibitions. Missing it would be criminal, so make your plans and get there!
There is also the annual Midlands Literary Festival, which has just been held at Fern Hill, but happily, it comes around once a year. So be sure to pop it on your schedule for next year, and you can check out literature’s established and emerging talent, listen to poetry readings and hear from the authors and poets.
Ok, so applied art (in contrast to fine art) is any object that has a practical purpose to which the artists then applies their art to make it aesthetically exciting or appealing. Here is where the teapot example comes in. You use a teapot for a function - to brew and pour tea. When the artist takes this handy item and shapes it into a piece of art - viola! You have the amazing applied art. Think Ming vases, Fabergé Easter Eggs and the masterful graphic posters by Toulouse-Lautrec - masterpieces all and famous examples of applied arts. The Midlands Meander, with its focus on supporting the arts and crafts movement, is really the natural home of applied art and artists in the area produce astounding work that you just have to see and appreciate.
This is where the pottery and ceramic masters shine. Think of the highly collectable and thoroughly captivating work from Ardmore Ceramics. The fresh and organic offerings from Astrid Dahl or the rich and vibrant pieces from Dargle Valley Pottery.
Other prominent players in the field are decorative furniture manufacturers who produce works of art worthy of the Bauhaus Museum. At the Piggly Wiggly, you can visit Homewood who create beautiful, unique handcrafted wood furniture with clean lines and stylish finishes while Sterling Wrought Iron uses traditional blacksmithing techniques to create a range of bespoke furniture pieces.
There are so many other artists and outlets to cover that to do them all justice; we’d need to write dedicated posts. There are glass cutters and beaders, traditional crafts and interior design to name a few. Sjoe, there is so much to see!… And, you know, sometimes discovering a gem of a place on your own is a prize in and of itself. So get on the road, take your art know-how along for the ride and enjoy all the artistry that the Midlands has to offer. Remember, to avoid disappointment; please check directly with the store/artist regarding opening times and availability before embarking on your cultural adventure!