My friends at the Hybrid Gallery have invited me to the private view (free drinks!) at the Affordable Art Fair in Hampstead, where they have a stand. It’s in a vast plastic marquee with air-conditioning and hectares of art. And thousands of visitors, though I’m here just after it’s opened (more arrive later, hot from the City. No, that’s unkind – there’s a smattering of bankers – what’s the collective noun? A slick of bankers? A shaft of bankers?) – but I imagine most are ordinary people, here to look for art priced between £40 and £4000 (it says on the publicity).

In the entrance foyer, there’s an aluminium Airstream caravan dispensing wine, and a black-clad performance artist slowly scaling her metal construction, to the mild interest of the crowd around her. The DJ plays classic R&B and soul tracks, and stalking through the crowd are attractive young women on stilts, strangely dressed in snorkel, bathing cap and rubber ring, smiling charmingly but professionally. In fact, I get smiled at a lot as I walk round, which is nice (I’m on my third plastic wine glass by now), but I’m not here to buy. There is so much art here: formulaic much of it, ‘designed’ to sell, gimmicky, clever, artfully-distressed. Nostalgic iconography, pop motifs, figure painting… Everything is beautifully crafted, but there is still much that seems honest, that comes from the heart of a lone artist in a small room.

So why am I here, if I’m not buying anything? To see my friends, sure, but also to be excited, stimulated, and kick-started; to get painting again. After the third rosé, I’m feeling a bit less overwhelmed, but I can’t shake off the thought of the hundreds of thousands of artists in this country desperate to have their work seen. And I wonder – art: is it a commodity? does it still have value in the age of instant high-tech gratification? And the old question: what constitutes art? Aaaagh…


PS: my friend Peter Clark tells me that the collective noun for bankers is a ‘wunch’. Thanks Peter!