“It feels a bit like you’re not supposed to ask what art is for,” philosopher John Armstrong begins. “I think that's what is ultimately frustrating about this idea, that it's the spectator's problem. It's not, it's the artist's problem,” he proceeds, “If they've got something important to say and people aren't getting it, then maybe they are not explaining it very well.”
Del Kathryn Barton’s work, roiling with colour and abstract emotion, is ripe for speculation. However, she says her hope is to convey something far more inexplicable to the viewer than just an idea. “The great themes of my creative life are always recurring; they are a desire for connection.” Barton explains, “I had this really idyllic upbringing, where I had this deep connection to the landscape. Maybe it’s a longing for that.”
The acclaimed artist, who's twice won the Archibald Prize, grew up in the shadow of the Blue Mountains. Her family lived in a rural farmhouse on the outskirts of East Kurrajong, a slip of a town bordered by the Hawkesbury River.
“I suffered anxiety from a very young age,” Barton says, “I had all of theses strange body-boundary confusions.” Her mother encouraged her daughter to draw, and art became a means for Barton to better deal with her emotions.
“I connected the act of drawing to an idea of coming into my own body… connecting to my own senses,” she explains.
It's Armstrong's view that the simple act of experiencing a work of art can be just as helpful for the viewer as its creation can be for the artist. Last year, he wrote a book with The School of Life founder Alain de Botton, in which they posited that art can act as a form of therapy.
“I think one of the things that I was really struck by was the idea that one of the therapeutic things art can do is that it keeps us cheerful,” Armstong says. “I think I hadn't realised until I started writing just what a big issue that is in our lives.”
The two find common ground on the value of art in our society. While both may grapple with what its exact function is, neither believes it's without purpose.
“The thing that's truly valuable is getting this work to matter in your life, to bring you serenity, to bring you an image of hope. These are really, really important factors in our life.” Armstrong says.
“I do believe that art is fundamental,” Barton concurs, “It is absolutely vital to our human experience.”
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Further information about Del Kathryn Barton & John Armstrong in Conversation is available here.