Tag Archives: art

But is it Art?

I went to see the exhibition Banksy against Bristol Museum at the weekend and left in a thoughtful mood. Banksy’s claim to fame is as a graffiti artist: he is, by definition, street. However the exhibition showed a real Art School sensibility. For a start, the boy has clearly been taught not just how to draw, but how to design installations, how to sculpt, and how to design and maybe create fabrications. He’s a competent maker of artistic objects. So I would bet foldies that he started his career as a grafitti artist while at Art School in Bristol and that it was the graffiti which brought success. Justifiably so. It’s superb.

Several things were interesting. The Art School / Art Gallery style stuff is trite and unoriginal.

None of it said anything that hadn’t already been said by Duchamps, Magritte or Dali. Downstairs there was a painting by Banksy of MPs in the House of Commons as chimps and orang-utangs, and upstairs in the permanent collection is an early 19thC cartoon of the Prime Minister as a donkey. Hardly original stuff, is it? Don’t get me wrong, it’s all superbly executed and a lot of it is witty or fun. But multi-faceted and nuanced it is not. It is one dimensional and ultimately rather unsatisfactory. As Kipling said: ‘it’s clever, but is it art?’. The one exception was the image of a Muslim woman, in hijab and naqib, frying an egg and wearing one of those pinnies with a curvy body in a bikini. I have been mulling that one over for a while. But that aside, I wasn’t blown away by his gallery work.

I was and remain impressed by his graffiti.

It’s dangerous, edgy and – quite literally – apposite. So why do I think his graffiti is all of these good things and that his gallery pieces are derivative, politically naive and (whisper who dares) rather dull? I can think of only two explanations.

Firstly, that it’s a matter of framing. Margaret Mead said ‘dirt is merely matter out of place’. So a political point made in a gallery is emasculated in some way but the same political point made on the street is ballsy and subversive. And there may be some truth to that: Banksy is praised for making his political points in a gallery, but risks being tried and fined for doing it on walls

And the second is the good old Nietzscherism: that which does not kill you makes you strong. Artists are strengthened by competent critique. Banksy served his critical apprenticeship on the streets of Bristol, London and Jerusalem; or on their walls anyway. He learned what worked and what didn’t, what was admired and what would be ignored, what would be reproduced and what would be walked past. But he arrived in the galleries of LA, New York and now Bristol as an acclaimed artist, so his gallery work did not have to survive criticism to be shown.

So what relevance does this have for a BA? Well, that context matters: what works in one situation will not therefore work in another. And secondly that ideas improve with challenge.

Anyway – watch the videos and read the review linked at the top. His stuff’s good: it’s just that the street stuff is better.

One final thought: maybe the truly subversive thing about Banksy, his ultimate installation in these days of cheap celebrity, is that he prefers us to recognise his work rather than his face.



I’ve mentioned already that I work near an art gallery. I noticed a piece of opportunistic recycling as I walked into town today.

Reinstall 02

Apparently the artist

“creates new relationships, experimenting with unexpected combinations of materials creating objects and environments, which encourage us to see the everyday world with fresh eyes”

and she

“fashions monumental objects from scrapyard materials and throws them away after use”

Though I do wonder if a graffitied garage door is quite what she intended. It pleased me though.

Across the Universe

PolarisJulie’s comment about the Turner Prize on my previous post reminded me of something I’ve been meaning to write up for a while.

Wouldn’t it be better if the Turner Prize was just announced the way that the Nobel Prize is? None of this “and the nominees are…” crap.

If they did, then the prize this year should go to NASA. Yep, the eningeering dudes who run the Space Station and put men on the moon.

Yeah, I know that they’re Scientists and Americans, but they came up with the most amazing piece of art last month. They beamed the Beatles’ song “Across the Universe” at the Pole Star, Polaris, the most useful and influential of the stars visible from here.

I don’t know what the guys at NASA call it, but in my book it may be cheesy, it’s also brilliant conceptual art. They’ve blurred the boundaries between science and art and done something inspiring and witty, and clever and pointless, a piece of apposite cosmic graffiti, and we should give those geeks a prize.

Aphra Warhol

I should get out more:

Aphra Warhol

There must be a website somewhere that does this sort of thing automatically, but I did it the in the free photo software that came with my PC, and feckin’ ages it took me too. I don’t really like it that much either, though I did find it more interesting and much harder than I expected.

“I don’t know much about art….”

When I went around the sculpture in the garden exhibition, I went round with a colleague, his wife and the one I go round sculpture exhibitions with. Interestingly, they all claimed to have parents who were artists, but their approach to the exhibition was very different.

My approach to this sort of stuff is a rather breathy enthusiasm – “Oh, wow, doesn’t it look like a spaceship?” or “Oh, look, blown glass bubbles in a tree, how coo-oo-ool is that?” My valley-girl inarticulateness in the light of the candy battle of Helm’s Deep is a case in point. I get terribly excited about this sort of stuff and go off at a dozen or so tangents, like a pack of hounds in a fun-fair.

A much less satisfactory picture from the Razr.  In theory this shows some leaded light panels hung from the branch of a tree, but you can see how badly its pixellated.  This picture was the main reason I went with the Sonly Ericssons instead.

The one I go round exhibitions with engages at a more knowledgeable and academic level. This is a kid who was taken to the Tate before he could walk and who refers to holiday snaps as “images”. He talks intelligently about what he is seeing – perhaps he’ll comment on the references the artist is making to the work of other artists, perhaps he’ll think about the artist’s intentions. Not only does he ‘get’ art, he gets the context too.

But the other two were much more passive. “Oh, yes, it’s a garment made out of glass hanging on a steel coat-hanger in a tree – it’s very pretty”. MMmmmm. “Kingfishers above the water. That’s nice.” I was left gasping like a trout on a riverbank at their lack of engagement. Nothing touched them. They saw it, but only seemed to see what was in front of their eyes. I am not sure whether or not they were deliberately holding back. The exhibition was my idea, not theirs.

But how can anyone walk through a woodland glade where someone has planted hundreds of fabric flowers and have a reaction which is limited to “oh, look, hundreds of fabric flowers in a woodland glade”?

I may not know much about art, but it seems that I know even less about people.

Summer Sculpture

Summer Sculpture

This is a photo I took a couple of summers ago on a Motorola Razr. I have cropped it, but it is otherwise unaltered. You can however see that the camera on the Razr is not a patch on the cameras on either of the Sony Ericssons. It handled bright light badly, didn’t really know what it was focussing on, and tended to pixellate under pressure.

I remain very fond of this photo. I think the sculpture looks like a space-craft which is landing or taking off, and whenever I look at it I have the feeling that there is a buzzing noise nearby, just beyond the level of hearing. It was complete chance that the lens of the camera was greasy in just the right direction, but the grease gives a sense of movement and some sense of the stifling heat of the day.

Picassing around again


Messing around on Mr Picasso Head is concerningly addictive.

Unsung National Treasures – 1 – Radio 3

BBC Radio 3 Radio 3 is known as the BBC’s classical music station, but that description sells it short. It provides just over 2 million people with all sorts of minority programming: in fact I am not listening to the Theban Plays of Sophocles right now because I cannot listen to one set of words and type another.

Who else would broadcast Lifehouse, an obscure play (or is it an opera, ach, Pete Townsend calls it a ‘project’) which combines music by The Who with cyber-fiction and spiritual commentary?

What other station would wake you up with music by Mozart written for and played on the glass harmonica, which is an astonishing instrument apparently invented by Benjamin Franklin.

What other broadcaster would broadcast the complete works of J S Bach over a ten day period, as Radio 3 did last Advent?

Classic FM’s presenters drop their voice by a third or so and talllk realllly smoo-oo-thly. They tell you to relllaxssss with Classssic eFFFFF eMMMM, and intersperse their cheap seductions with advertisements for chocolate and weekends in York or Bath. The presenters on Radio 3 tell you what the music is, who is playing it, and maybe provide you with a fact or a point of interpretation to help you understand what you are listening to.

Radio 3 is unafraid of its own intelligence. If you want arrogance and exclusivity go to Radio 1. If you want radio that is easy on the ear and easy on the brain go to Radio 2. If you want radio that is politically engaged go to Radio 4. If you want the Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves go to Classic tweeting FM. If you want radio that considers its subjects for their own sake, engages with them on their own level and as a result is neither repetitive, patronising nor pretentious then go to Radio 3.

It is shocking that the 60th anniversary of the Third Programme went past earlier this year unannounced, unnoticed and uncelebrated.

Ladies and gentlemen, one of Britain’s unsung National Treasures, and thanks to internet technology a wonder of the world, I present to you BBC Radio 3.

Postcards from Blackpool

I spent this weekend in Blackpool. It was cold. It was wet. It was tacky: (“In Blackpool the things in the Poundshops are all over-priced”). But it was also photogenic:

‘Guernica’ Rocket

Having already written about Picasso’s Gurnica here, it seemed worthwhile to show this. The rocket is apparently a familiar part of the Promenade, and is a model of one of Thunderbird Three. I wish now I had paid more attention to why exactly it had been repainted with a rendition of Picasso’s Guernica.

The ‘Big One’ from the South Pier - I
The Big One from the South Pier – I

The Tower from the South Pier - I
The Tower from the South Pier – I

Seagulls alongside the South Pier
Seagulls alongside the South Pier

The South Pier
The South Pier

Old Bench
Old Bench

“Keep Out” - Full Tide
I liked the King Canuteness of this. They are doing a lot of rebuilding work to improve the whole length of the Promenade.

The Tower from the Ferris Wheel on the Central Pier
The Tower from the Ferris Wheel on the Central Pier.

Blackpool Valentine
Blackpool Valentine

The ‘Big One’ from the South Pier - II
The Big One from the South Pier – II
(This was taken about three hours or so after the first of this pair)

The Tower from the South Pier - II
The Tower from the South Pier – II
(I should warn any emulators that the sand under the piers is boggy and rather dangerous – I’m not sure I’d try taking these photos twice).

The Largest Glitterball and the Biggest Rollercoaster
The Largest Glitterball and the Biggest Rollercoaster

The Largest Gitterball in the World
The Largest Gitterball in the World

New Bench
New Bench

The postcard shot
The Postcard shot

A note on the photos: these are undoctored, and straight as they came off my phone, with the exception of the Postcard which I rotated by 3.5 degrees (I have a horror of tilted horizons). I did reduce them all to 30% of their original size, but I really could not be bothered to adjust any of them. They are, however, the best few of the 240 that I took. Even so, I love my phone.

Needles, motes and beams – part 2

Monday’s post about Sir Isaac Newton prompted a comment on the subject of eye operations from the one who cares about these things.

You see, eye operations are usually performed with either local or regional anaesthetics. (“… which means that the recovery rate is umpty percent better, and the operations are dumpty percent cheaper so that dum-diddy thousand more are done each year…. “ … or so the one who cares about these things explained). However, with some eye surgery the patient sees the scalpel come towards the eye, the latex covered hand, the surgeon’s masked face.


Ikketty ikkk. Ikketty ikketty IKKETTY IKKK!

Thankfully that is not something I’ve ever had to deal with, but I thought I’d share the following two images which are linked to the article in which they were originally published.

Visual experiences during cataract surgery under topical anaesthesia and Visual experiences during cataract surgery under topical anaesthesia

These show what a cataract operation looks like to the patient.

With a cataract, of course, you start with a lens which is translucent but not transparent, so you can see light and shade and little else. These two paintings were painted by artists following their eye operations. The full article is worth reading if only because of the slightly non-plussed tone of the thing.

I feel slightly non-plussed by them myself, but I thought they were oddly interesting, and worth sharing.

Right. That’s the last thing I have to say about sticking needles into your eyes, I promise. Well, unless there’s a next time.