An Absolute Idiot’s Guide to Art

A whimsical, accessible and entertaining introduction to the basics, the philosophy and history of art.
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 Sylvia Sippl in An Absolute Idiot’s Guide to Art. Image via Fringe World Perth 2017.

Artist, MC, comedian, high school art teacher – Sylvia Sippl has many talents, a knack for witty observation and a neat turn of phrase. For this FringeWorld show, she delivers a lecture on art that entertains and informs at all levels of knowledge in a whirlwind tour through art through the ages developing Western perceptions.

Using a slideshow, we are presented with basic concepts of line, shape and colour, enlivened by side musings on teenage reactions to these lessons. Further details of tint, shade and tone come with a side order of ranting about the technical impossibilities of the title 50 Shades of Grey. Armed with these concepts, Sippl proceeds as our tour guide to present samples of famous works from Lascaux to modern day conceptual art. Her stated aim is not to turn us into expert critics, but to familiarise us with enough high profile samples that we can recognise satirical breaks on the next episode of The Simpsons – a noble endeavour.

The artworks keep coming at a steady pace, but overload is avoided by Sippl’s light touch in presentation. The selected works develop themes that reinforce with further developments through time, and Sippl’s own reactions definitely enliven proceedings. Highlights include the returning condemnation of ‘boring’ Classical sculptures, with the recycling into Neo-classical, advising us to ‘check the tag’ to know just how impressed to be. Running commentary on the use of prostitutes as artists’ models through history is made even more memorable by the contrast between the concept of ‘the gaze’ and ‘the gays’ in artworks. Further insights are provided when sharing reactions from her teenage students when studying the same works, although these are more entertaining explorations of adolescent perspective rather than artistic accomplishments.

Never taking herself too seriously, Sippl nevertheless impresses with her own depth and breadth of knowledge and research, veering from contemporary critical accounts of works to acting out the modern obsession of taking selfies with the Mona Lisa. Clearly stating when she is not familiar with particular styles or eras, she enthusiastically presents artists and movements that are close to her heart. Tasking various audience members to find offence, we also find the limits of individuals and how art manages to push buttons for us. With explanations of why art is more than painting, and how readymade and commercialism has a role in modern times, Sippl makes a strong case for the central role of art in our society and everyday lives.

Even for those well-versed in art history, Sippl has plenty of fresh approaches to the material. For those with no prior knowledge, this is a perfect introduction to a broad topic, with plenty of laughs all round.

Rating: 3 1/2 stars out of 5

An Absolute Idiot’s Guide to Art

Performed by Sylvia Sippl
The City of Perth Library, Perth
9-11 February 2017
Part of FringeWorld 2017

Nerida Dickinson
About the Author
Nerida Dickinson is a writer with an interest in the arts. Previously based in Melbourne and Manchester, she is observing the growth of Perth's arts sector with interest.