LETTER:Standing in the shadows of art

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From Ms Margaret Miller

Sir: In an old cartoon, a man at a private view stands in front of a painting and says out loud to himself: "I know a lot about art, but I don't know what I like."

Last week, Alan Bennett's original and open-minded lecture on My National Gallery ("I know what I like, but I'm not sure about art," 24 May) was in contrast to Andrew Graham-Dixon's disturbing attack on "Shadows", Ernst Gombrich's selected exhibition at the National Gallery ("Every silver lining needs a cloud", 23 May). Graham-Dixon seemed to be marking out a very large territory as his alone. There is a place for his rich, subjective interpretations of Caravaggio's Supper at Emmaus, or the (School of) Rembrandt Scholar in a Lofty Room, even if they do skate dangerously close to over- interpretation, but there is also room for the clear, focused purity of Gombrich's wall labels, which are about as objective as it is possible to be. They give us less to read, and force us to look at the pictures for ourselves.

Graham-Dixon misses the point when he complains that "Shadows" reflects only a "half-formed thesis". A fully formed thesis might be restrictive and premature in Gombrich's long search for ways to help solve the riddle of style: "Why is it that different ages and different nations have represented the visible world in such different ways?" (Art and Illusion)

He also accuses Gombrich of self-indulgence, and seems to regard him as a trespasser. But that is the great, creative fun of the National Gallery's occasional invitations to people to select and hang temporary exhibitions from the collection.

In addition to Alan Bennett's suggestion that there could be a notice in the National Gallery saying, "You don't have to like everything," there could also be one saying, "You don't always have to be serious in here."

Yours faithfully,



28 May