before I begin

Life is too short to live behind lies

Friday, 11 March 2011


This post is directed at all those institutions  organisations and individuals who have been sucked into the use of nonsensical 'artspeak'. It amazes me that the arts, the bastion of free thought democracy  and creative potential should tie themselves up in  simplistic catagorisation .

I could list many examples of frankly meaningless and often diliberately elitist terms such as 'contemporary practice' and 'internal dialogue'. Such terms only serve to isolate large sections of society, not because these people  are stupid but because  it is difficult  for them to interpret this language. It is a language often born in the corridors of art colleges and universities, the codes and secret words you need to satisfy academic testing. Like many laguages it is also a reassuring badge of identity, a way of recognising 'your own kind'. At its worst, the use of such language is a smoke screen  to hide truth that a particular exhibition or event is frankly BAD! Its what I call the 'kings new clothes' syndrome. I'm sure there are those who may read this and say that I am naive,, simplistic and that I 'dont understand'. Heres the many others, I DO understand and I know exactly what I am talking about...So , dare I say it, maybe the problem is yours!

In particular I want to comment on two terms used by some arts institutions and individuals. They are;
'Mid career artist'
'Emerging artist'

Firstly, how do we define 'mid career'? If an artist dies at the age of  40 , was he 'mid career' at the age of 20 or 30? At what point to we mark the start of any individuals creative 'career'?
This leads me to  'Emerging artist'. A most nonsensical and pretentious term. A term which usually means 'just graduated from college' or 'A (young) artist we really want to promote'. Unfortunately this term is often presented in a way that suggests that this ( usually younger) artist has something new to say to the art world.
Sadly the art presented to us is usually poorly resolved and often consists of the remains of a degree show.

It should not be the artist who 'emerges' but the Art . As I stated at the begining of this post, it amazes me that an aspect of our human endevour which should be inclusive and without boundaries actually catagorises by age!  I know there are gallery directors and 'curators' who will claim this is not the case but believe me most 'mid career' artists will fall into a certain age band and most 'emerging artists' will be in a band somewhat younger. I apologise if the following analogy sounds almost 'biblical' but surely the fruit of a hundred year old tree is no less complex or important than that of a five year old tree.  Both contain the same potential. The creative statement is no less profound because of the age of the artist or the meduim used.

For an area of human endevour which is meant to encourage the notion that all things are possible and all individuals have potential, the art world seems obsessed with chronological measurement. Technques and indeed artists are catagorised into 'contemporary' traditional' 'new' 'emerging' etc. Increasingly, the terms 'new ' and contemporary' are associated with the methods and materials used rather than the ideas of the artist. Of course I do not suggest a return to some exhausted traditions and methods of centuries past. What i AM suggesting is that important art ( and good art..dare I say it ) should not be measured by age and the methods of its creator. To be really aware of where we are..we need to look around in ALL  directions.

Isn't it time we stopped taking this linear, one directional view of creative activity? Isn't it time that art institutes,organisers and curators promoted art for what it really should be....... trully '3 dimensional', limitless and ALL inclusive.

Friday, 17 December 2010

on being an astronaut..the beauty of visual

when  i paint..when i am really PAINTING, I am unaware of anything except the liquid movement of the coloured substance, the changing tensions between my head and my hand and infinite numbers of 'sparks' and stories and associations and relationships. Experiences which can only exist and make sense in the language of paint and the language of the visual. It is a 'parallel' world with its own rules. It cannot be trully interpreted and should not be. It is what makes visual art just that. An action without limits and with unlimited potential.

For this reason I become very sad when I see some art being made and exhibited as the product of 'research'. Art which is essentially an illustration used to clarify some ( usually language based) thesis. Often such output itself becomes the subject of 'critical writing'. It has no spirit, no direct relationship to the visual experience . Of course it has every right to exist, every right to be seen as a valid product of  human endevour but for me there is another issue. An issue which is sometimes avoided by critics , curators and even educationalists. This issue is often ignored and dismissed . Those who dare to air it are are belittled and patronised. Not because their views are unworthy but because it is more convenient.

So what is this 'big issue' whose name we dare not speak? At the risk of burning in hell fires of  the art
(under)world, I will say it.........
'BEAUTY'..........................there it is said!
I would not be surprised if some art institutions have on their list of desired criteria 'Must not be beautiful'.

Now I know we can discuss the definition of the word beauty and I know it  could be argued that the experience of 'conceptual' or research based art can be 'beautiful' . My concern however is for what we term VISUAL ART. I am concerned that we are losing  the inherent magic contained in the act of creating a physical...visual object through a human action which is driven by a desire beyond the 'intellectual'.

Our society is consumed by the  demands of  'documentation', 'evidence' and 'appraisal'. As one who works in education I know this dominates our students. It is perpetuated in art schools and the result is galleries filled with work which still looks like a unresolved piece of purely academic research. The people who make this work are told by someone that they are visual artists. They are not...they are visual researchers. It is an admirable and vital role they play. It is an essential contribution but it is not the product of an artist. No more than studying astronomy makes you an astronaut.

I will venture to say that  of all the thousands of arts graduates, there must only be a small few who are ( and always were) truly visual artists. I will also venture to say that ironically, the talent of such people is often overlooked precisely because they are VISUAL artists and  not the creators of documentary evidence  preferred by some curators.

There are many individuals and institutions who have lost the ability to read or be moved by the spirit of a visual medium and the acknowledgement of beauty is seen as a betrayal of contemporary 'coolness'.
Contemporary technology does not automatically make contemporary art.

Visual art is a magic and magical activity. It is spiritual. Our arts structures are designed to exist in the comfort zone of academic and politically correct agendas. We must begin to encourage ''feel' and 'experience' and sense. We must have a truly broad church...truly open minded...truly challenging. If we say we are 'cutting edge', forward thinking and risk taking then lets have the courage to embrace the visual....maybe even.. BEAUTY?

Tuesday, 9 November 2010


in my studio recently I have become aware of the many and varied sounds which eminate from the streets below. There is a strange balance and harmony. Last weekend, a cold autumn sunday morning was layered like a cake with audible icing. The oozing sound of the wind and the planes lifting off from city airport punctuated by the barking dog i have heard so many sundays but  have yet to see....and at  ten exactly the bells join the chorus, the cables on the pylons swing to the beat.and I realise  the rhythm is gliding into this old room on the back of beams of october sunlight .
I am stapling large sheets of canvas to the wall and praying that i can soak them in these sounds.

Monday, 25 October 2010

doing sums

i see the tory government will announce today plans to encourage investment in small business. The idea is to create jobs by expanidn the private sector.
They are going to invest 200 million pounds in this. The encourage banks to lend to small businesses.
Now.. we have just had massive cuts to public spending  so I'm not sure where the 200 million pounds is coming from.

Also the banks have been bailed out with massive amounts of public money I presume the money they will be encouraged to lend to the private sector may be the money we paid to get them out of the hole they had dug for themselves ( by lending too much without thinking!)
So they will use our money to lend (and receive interest on repayments) to private companies who will employ people at poor rates of pay  ...or even move abroad if going gets tough..taking those jobs with them.

So to put it simply..the tax payers' money has been used to shift investment from public to private sector. The banks have been saved in order for them to return to their habit of lending. If the businesses they lend to are going to make money then we need people to buy their do this , people need to have have money they need to have jobs. We have been told there will be at least 500,000 unemployed as a result of the massive public sector cuts...

Would it not have been possible to;
a/  spend less on bailing out banks..surely if the tories believe in capitalism then public money should not have been used to prop up failing businesses
b/ invest more  in public sector

I will admit that iam not great at 'sums' and not that knowledgable in economics..but i am quite good at history and i have seen this 'shift of investment' by right wing governments before. The result will be greed.. corruption.. and private business pulling out as soon as going gets tough...taking YOUR money with them and leaving you unemployed again. the meantime the tories can guarantee votes ( and money) from these businesses.

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

deepest cuts

so here we go..the feared government cuts We are told that the  country is in a mess and something needs to be done..I'm sure  there is truth in that but believe me the reasoning behind this ( so called ) coallition government's action is not simply based on concern for the welfare of its people.
These little spawn of thatcher have been waiting years to get the chance to shift power back to their mates in big business...the liberal democrats have finally shown themselves to be watered down tories hooked firmly to the leash of their bigger master. They couldnt resist the chance to experience  'power'...i hope and trust it will be the one and only time they ever taste it!
In the coming carefully and see how many fat cats will lose their jobs or take real pay cuts.
Add up their salaries and bonuses and calculate it against how much they could donate towards cutting the debt. A debt that ( contrary to tory lies) was not solely the responsibility of the previous government but a result of  the greed and arrogance of big banks.
Watch the next few years how many banks go out of business and how many bankers suffer hunger.!
Yes there is waste in all sectors...yes there is abuse of the system in all sectors...yes their are those who abuse the system in a sections of society but you will  find that when politicians talk about people on benefit abusing the system they will use terms like 'scrounging' and even ( as was reported recently) likened to 'muggers'. When the same politicians are forced to discuss the abuse of benefits by POLITICIANS they will talk about 'honest mistakes'!! Neither will they use such severe terms when referring to bankers greed.
Why?...because banks have power....people on unemployment benefits usually don't!

This not just about where and how to cut debt..this is about  showing who you really support most..and in the next 2 or 3 years we will see a new generation of the 'yuppies' we saw in the eighties...selfish,greed driven little 'loadsamoneys'

If we have to cut ..yes it has to be done but please don't insult our intelligence by conveniently forgetting the abuses of those who now have power.

PS....Forgive me Mrs Thatcher if I dont send you a get well card

Friday, 15 October 2010

get a life

as i sit here and watch live coverage of the miners in chile being brought to the surface one by one I, like so many others, feel  a great sense of hope and positivity . I dont know these people, I don't know much about Chile but I do know how important freedom is.....both literally and metaphorically. I also know how much effort governments make to prevent our freedom. ..and how little companies care about their workers.

We are reminded of the important
 This morning I watched anews item on TV discussing the fact that some shops had run out of luxury handbags!...Two different headlines which sum up the extreme dilema we have got ourselves into.
As I watch the actions of an essentially greedy society I just despair!

The media is an arm of this greedy society...indeed it is one of the drivers of it. When we criticise the media they cry 'freedom of speech'..but the truth is that the media companies are the dictators..supported by business and needing public popularity to survive. So the give us what they think we want, not what we need.

They try to create a belief  that the sale of luxury handbags or the fate of some talentless bimbo pop singer is important to our lives!...and you know what is so sad?..we get sucked in..we have become such a dumb and dumbed down society that we rarely challenge anything.

So many have lost the ability to prioritise values. Why?..because its an easy option..its easier not to challenge or fight..its not worth the 'hassle'...and goverments and media know this! So we get the lying, greedy , selfish   politicians we voted for! 

So what about those mners in Chile? We have been lifted by their courage and reminded of the value of living....but bellieve me the media will change our 'diet' of TV news quickly..back to the handbags and the bimbos....for too much truth and too much exposure to thinking about the important things is something those in power fear. It COULD make us challenge could make us less interested in handbags!
...we cant have that can we?
...and whilst the miners are free....society is kept buried in the darkness of media controlled igorance.

Friday, 1 October 2010

temporary contemporary

it seems to me that the term 'contemporary' art is increasingly used by so called 'curators' who really have no understanding of art history.
I must begin by confirming a personal interest ( gripe) here in that as a painter I am very aware that in many areas this medium is somehow seen as not being worthy of the term 'contemporary'. However , i believe that i understand why this may be the case.

It is a sad fact that some institutions of learning ( particularly in fine art) have lost the teaching staff who are;
a/ working artists themselves
b/ have high levels of technical skill

The result is that students do not have access to a full range of creative methods and techniques. The emphasis is shifted to concept rather than construction. Many of these students themselves fall into teaching and the cycle is continued.

Meanwhile ( as i have metioned in earlier posts) in order to secure funding from the arts council or similar bodies, public galleries need to justify an education programme. In some cases this is done by forming links with local universities. As a result, the gallery's programme of events becomes associated with the 'colour' of that particular university. If the learning institution is of the type described above, what we have is a recipe for a kind of monopoly on  what the public are told is 'contemporary art'.

This is of course not a new phenomenon. The links between galleries and art schools goes back a very
long way and it is in theory a very healthy relationship. However the evolution of our 'tick box' culture has created a generation of teachers and  curators who are concerned with the completion of the criteria on the assesment and funding forms. The filling in of all those little boxes without which there will be no money! We may have come to believe that without funding there will be no art!!  So there are fewer people in the arts who will lift their  heads, step back and simply ask 'Is this good art?..Is this worthy...Is it effective..and ( dare I say it?) .Is this  VISUALLY interesting???...Why? ..because they are essentially administrators and not educationalists or critics.

The result is often that the term 'contemporary art' is not neccessarily associated with that which is dealing with todays issues in today is associated with certain media and methods preferred by particular institutions. We sometimes end up seeing exhibitions of what I call 'novelty art' rather than 'new art'.

How do we address this? I am not really sure to be honest but what I do believe is that before recovery can take place, one must admit there is a problem. Wouldn't this be a truly creative and couragous challenge for us all!