In 1929, the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein suggested that, ‘The human gaze has a power of conferring value on things; but it makes them cost more too.’ Insofar as Wittgenstein is correct, perhaps this is most true in the realm of visual art. For while we have all experienced the effect of seeing something – in a shop, on television, or in the hands of others – and finding ourselves desiring or being fascinated by it, art offers a singular way of arresting our gaze. Good art draws the gaze; great art can draw out the most extraordinary responses. And if, in the act of looking, value may be conferred, then we are also brought into deeper relationship with the object of our gaze. There is a cost to this, for this relationship isn’t merely intellectual. It is both emotional and passionate. People have been killed for works of art.
Rob Floyd’s recent exhibition, at St Nicholas Burnage, of his newly created Pieta and other works, religious and mythic, drew not only a large attendance but arrested, intrigued and challenged the human gaze. While, it is true to say that each person’s gaze will have conferred personal meaning and significance on the art works, I am convinced that Rob’s paintings work so well because of their internal power. He has genuinely placed his intentions and vision into the art work and I believe his new paintings have taken him to a new level. The Pieta – as subject for art – constantly runs the danger of falling over into mawkish sentimentality or dark violence; Rob holds these realities beautifully in tension. There is, then, a balance in Rob’s work that allows the viewer to play with myriad meanings. However, because of Rob’s serious intentions this ‘play’ is very far from being weightless: the choices available to the viewer are always powerful and exciting. Wittgenstein suggested that, ‘“For a large class of cases—though not for all—in which we employ the word ‘meaning’ it can be defined thus: the meaning of a word is its use in the language”. We might argue at length whether this comment applies to the word ‘Art’. However, I heartily recommend that if you want to understand a little more about the applications of the word ‘Art’ in our language, spend time in communion with Rob Floyd’s paintings. You will be rewarded.