Sometimes, a child says it best.

As the Emperor found out to his cost: you know how the tale goes.

The day the tailors bowled up to the castle gates, he should have sent them packing: but he let them do their sales blurb and was hopelessly taken in.

The thing was, he was an impossibly vain fellow with a love of good clothes. He had, it is said, a new coat for every hour of the day: and Hans Christian Anderson relates that when the great cry went up “where is the Emperor?” instead of saying he was with his counsel, his courtiers would confess sheepishly that he was in his dressing room.

So tailors were, for the Emperor, the stuff of life, and these particular seamsters seemed to have cornered the market in a new kind of fabric: fine and sheer, it would feel like a second – nay, a first skin, the epitome of grace and sartorial elegance.

And, they added: it would sort the sheep from the goats. The suit would be invisible to anyone who was not fit for office: or who was just unusually stupid.

That’d be handy, thought the Emperor: I could see which of my ministers was rubbish.

So the deal was struck and the tailors began a charade worthy of the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts, weaving invisible material with infinite care.

The Emperor came to inspect the suit. But he  couldn’t see anything. Which was he: unfit for office, or unusually stupid, he panicked internally? Whichever it was, his subjects must not know. He praised the weave lavishly and rewarded the tailors with titles and medals. The night before the big parade they sat up burning six candles to show how hard they were working. At last they announced: “The Emperor’s Clothes are ready!”

He put them on, and wore them proudly, right up until a little boy piped up: “But he hasn’t anything on!”

It only took one person, albeit a small one. Before long the whole town was shouting “The Emperor hasn’t got anything on!”

And the Emperor suspected they were right, says Anderson: but he thought to himself, this procession has got to go on. And so he stood proudly buck-naked as the day he was born, and allowed his courtiers to hold high the train which wasn’t there at all.

Childhood should be a time before politics, dissembling, and vanity and intrigue. It is the prologue to lives which may use all four. But at the tender age of three or four, there are few children who have any motivation to gainsay the evidence of their eyes.

As we grow, do we simply forget how open life should be? What an incisive jewel truth is? Or does life become so complex that pretending is a bare essential for a grown up?

My husband has a disconcerting habit of being childlike: stripping away pretence, and saying it how it is.

On Friday evening he found himself at the Royal Academy’s Summer Exhibition in Piccadilly.

He was unimpressed. There was little to take one’s breath away, he reported. He happened upon the Tracey Emin rooms and in particular a work entitled “Me too – glad to hear I’m a happy girl. It was a piece of paper with “Glad your a happy girl” written on it. And it was reasonably priced at £18,000. Phil saw the price tag attached to five words: and he was off.

He wandered round with his friend, becoming ever more incredulous at the works which hung on the wall, until he came to Alex Calinescu’s 2011 – 6674 – 2.

He stood beside a man and his wife who were appraising the black canvas with white shadows. Phil began to talk about just how unimpressive he thought the picture was. “It looks as though someone’s been painting with a black roller and missed a bit!” he informed the assembled onlookers.

One woman chimed in.”But don’t you think”, she said, “it looks for all the world like dappled shade in woodland?”

Phil was warming to his subject nicely now. “I live next to a forest,”he replied. “If I want to see dappled shade I go over there and look at it. This isn’t the same at all….”

Another room of expensive masterpieces, then another. Phil was scanning for allies now. In one room a lady in her mid sixties was walking around, frowning and tutting. He caught her eyes. “It’s rubbish, isn’t it?” he ventured. The lady nodded and grinned.

Finally, Phil found a work he loved. It’s called Dog In A Bin, by a man called Simon Brundret. It’s a silicone rubber dog rummaging in a bin. The bin moves gently as the dog probes. It was genius, Phil pronounced.

There was never a whisper of whether he had the right level of knowledge to appreciate such art; whether he was qualified to make such pronouncements; or any other prerequisite. As far as Phil was concerned, he was the Academy’s audience for the day, and its only redeeming feature was a model of a dog with its head in a bin.

Sometimes, a child – or at the very least, someone childlike – says it best.

Image source here. Thanks to Side View as usual for her inspired choice of weekend themes: this weeks is ‘childhood’ and you can find it here.





52 thoughts on “Childlike

    1. Well, Pseu, you have caught me donning a philistine hat for the day. I love some of Emin’s work and when I finally saw the piece of paper Phil was talking about my heart felt heavy from looking at it…my favourite is the little cast iron shoe sculpture on Folkestone beach. (I’ve posted a link here) But I think as important as it is to like different things, we need those with a childlike take on it all to keep us in check.

  1. Good for Phil. He sounds like great fun.

    I know you said you wandered off the topic a bit, but this is a super story.

  2. My artist friends often befuddle me when they gasp and oh over a few coloured lines on a piece of paper. I show them something I think they would like and their response is along the lines of “meh!” I do like the Dog in a Bin though. Reminds me of the Scavenging Pigs in Rundle Mall in Adelaide, South Australia –

  3. A fool and his money, etc. Don’t get me started on Tracey Emin.

    Good man, that Phil.

    I like the dog, too. At least we can see it took some real work and creativity.

    I’ve blogged on this subject before: the biggest waste of money I’ve ever spent in my life was 20 cents at a Cape Town museum of modern art. Everything was called ‘Untitled’, presumably because it defied description.

    I confess to a sneaking admiration for Rothko, but I think my attachment stems from discovering him though my first Open University course, not for his ‘great’ ability.

    I can’t believe these people earn so much for what we could all do, if only we were born conmen.

    Isn’t Emin supposed to be educated? It’s ‘YOU’RE’!!

    See what you’ve done? I’m unhinged.

      1. Wow. I don’t care about the spelling but if it is indeed from her father, then it is a sweet note and not her art. I’m afraid that I am in Phil’s camp on the note.

      2. Ah, ladies, I do believe we have entered “But it it art?” territory 😀 I could drone on for hours about whether one should charge £18,000 for one’s self expression, whatever its form: but I shan’t because I have to make hot chocolate for the kids now…

  4. My take on most modern artists is simple – I think they are either delusional.or charlatans imposing delusions on the public who faithfully pretend to see a deep artisitic significance in, for expample, an arrangement of used cans. Am I the child, or is the king actually wearing something?

  5. Phil sounds like a good man to attend an art show with–someone not afraid to say what I think. Although I do think the Calinescu is restful and rather elegant. The dog, however, beggars description. I love it.

      1. Art? Well, I don’t think Keats would write an ode to it. But things have loosened up a lot since his time.

        It occurs to me that if beauty is truth and truth, beauty…and that dog is definitely true…then…the dog is a joy forever.

        But if there’s a difference between truth and true…and art and beauty…

        That dog raises some deep philosophical questions.

  6. As this is your blog, I’ll keep my reply brief and not get ‘started’ on ‘what is art?’ 🙂 I agree. I
    it’s good we all like different things. Love those pigs in Adelaide though!

    1. They’re brilliant, aren’t they, Earlybird? You’re always welcome to leave long interesting comments here, by the way, if you fancy delving into a topic. Hope to read a ‘But is it art?” post at yours one of these days…

  7. I had to pace myself reading about the emperor and his new clothes, Kate, knowing that from across the big pond you were going to take Anderson’s words and weave them into a greater tale and I almost – almost – couldn’t wait to see where to you were going to take us. Glad I waited.

    Ah, the honesty of children – and of people like Phil.

  8. Here in the States, we have the Endowment to the Arts (my tax dollars at work) paying megabuck for art like a crucifix submerged in a jar of urine (true). I don’t know much about art, but I still have the sanity to be able to identify distasteful rubbish when I see it, and the honesty to speak out about it.

  9. Some art appeals to our senses and some does not. And we should be able to judge art on its appeal to us personally. However, humans are funny beings who allow themselves to be easily influenced by people with the gift of the gab!

  10. Very true! Some people just love to fake it. I’m thinking why? Maybe just because a powerful person likes it and so the world thinks they love it too. Some paintings were totally rubbish and I think my kids could’ve painted it better but they say it was a classic piece of art, bags that cost $$$$ are the same bags that cost less but because it was designer it is classy and expensive and the list will go on. Bottomline is be true to what your eyes and heart perceived. If you like it then buy it, appreciate it. If not then forget it.
    Btw,I really like how you used known story first then relate something to it. The shift is so beautiful. Now, I’m not faking it, I’m sure that I’m being true when I say I love it! Have a great day kate! 🙂

  11. My husband and I often head off excitedly to photographic exhibitions only to spend the time shaking our heads in bemusement at how so much (of what we think is) rubbish is peddled as worthy of a fee-entry exhibition. An exibition of Annie Leibovitz’s photos, a recent case in point ( I think she shipped all her dregs here – the Antipodes is often the recipient of such disregard)

    I do rather like ‘2011-6674-2’ but wouldn’t pay for it, and I’m with Cin on the note and Phil on the childlike disinhibition 😉

  12. As much as I support free artistry (so to speak) I’ve some issue with the conceptual artist. I’ve tried, however, the more avant block painting…there is a spirit to it, I must say, thou I’ll stick with the splatter works of Pollack any day. Must agree, the dog IS genius ~

  13. I came here ready to stand on a chair and whistle and cheer, but the good news has vanished like the morning mist. Was the article retracted, or just the blog post?

    1. Wrong blog, Col!!! I’ve just started one for my church….we made this week’s Tablet, the national religious rag, and one has to trumpet good news as it comes…. sorry about that, pressed the wrong button!

      1. I’m sure it will trickle out in a post sometime! I’m sitting here with just over three hours before I help chair a meeting to which everyone has been called, but I am not sure how many will come….

      1. Blogs and mugshots and jazz, oh my! I’ll be watching my daily HP updates. (I hope this won’t prevent you from continuing the Saga of Mac.)

    1. Ooooh, Sorry, Pseu, I published it in my KateShrewsday blog but I’ve got a new one for the church- the blog was for that and I got characteristically muddled. Apologies…..I’ve got one a third written, will finish it tomorrow. ‘Me’ time is at a minimum right now…

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