When I was a child, I did my best to draw things exactly as I understood them to be in the real world: houses only had two windows and one door; the sun was surrounded by orange spikes; people - and especially horses - always stood sideways.
Despite my best efforts, the result never did justice to my vision. I would set out to create, for instance, an eerily life-like portrait of my family visiting a volcano, and would produce instead a picture of what looked like moderately hairy insects cheering at a hat.
The process infuriated and confounded me. How did this happened? Why were everyone's arms so short? How did my sister have three rows of teeth? Why was my dad wearing a top hat? He never wore a top hat. And certainly not to visit a volcano. What was I thinking?
Even bearing in mind that I had the fine motor skills of a tube sock, the result was staggeringly bad. It looked like it had been drawn by someone who had never seen, well, anything ever. Drawing realistically, I concluded, was super-hard; to do it would require true artistic talent.
It was for this reason that, as I got older and was introduced to the world of high art, I was perplexed. I understood the appeal of the greats of the Renaissance (whose names I knew, like most of us, from ninja turtles) because their paintings looked very much like what they were painting. Their fixation on flying babies might have been a little unsettling, but it was clear from the quality of the work that they were better at drawing than I was: On the Sistine Chapel ceiling, nobody's feet looked like wheels.
More contemporary works were a problem though.
Looking at a typical art installation on one of our school trips to the gallery, I felt the way most people feel looking at, say, three pieces of bacon stuck to an upside down car. I didn't get it.
Even the most famous pieces left me scratching my head. Edvard Munch paints what looks like an extremely upset peanut, and everyone says it's a masterpiece. That's totally something I might have pulled. Half the things I drew looked like extremely upset peanuts.
At the time, I assumed this attitude would persist into adulthood. I just kind of imagined my grown-up self as a bigger version of my young self.
"Bye, honey. I'm off to get missiles put on the car."
"Have a good day. Remember to pick up sour blasters; we need something for dinner."
"Will do. See you. No kissing."
"Obviously. Gross. Don't forget your top hat."
But when I got to university, something happened. Suddenly it was OK to be pretentious. I was among people who decorated their dorms with that Van Gogh poster everyone decorates their dorms with and pretends to like, and who felt it was normal to discuss the post-modernism over lunch. It was like there was a secret club I wasn't part of, and I decided to do something about it. In my second term there, I enrolled in an art history course.
To some extent, it helped. This is what I learnt: Western art was mostly realistic until around the middle of the 19th century, when someone invented photography and art lost its mind. A bunch of movements followed: impressionism (art should be like photos but fuzzier); cubism (art should mess with perspective); expressionism (aaagh, I'm a peanut); surrealism (art should be like photos but with more stretchy elephants); minimalism (art is - hey, I'm done already) and so on.
I learned these movements, I studied the paintings, I read the articles, and yet deep down I still didn't understand. Then one day I had an epiphany.
Near the end of term, our class was touring yet another bizarre installation involving looped video of people eating hay or whatever, when I found myself standing next to my professor in front of three matching canvasses that looked, to the untrained eye, like unfinished drywall. I finally snapped.
"I don't understand!" I said. "What's the point of this?"
It was then that my professor said something to me that I had never heard before. You don't have to understand it, he said. Art isn't a code that needs to be deciphered; you don't have to think about what the artist is trying to say. Just look at the work and let yourself enjoy the act of looking.
With this new thought, I turned back to the three canvasses. After a few moments my frown was replaced by a look of dawning realization.
"Huh," I said, and looked with renewed interest at what was in front of me. My professor nodded and, for the first time that term, smiled.
The truth I learnt about art in that moment has stayed with me to this day: With the right facial expression you can make even the most educated art connoisseur think you get it.
I still think screaming peanuts are stupid.