People in general conform to their social group, but an artist conforms to his- or her- self. Or not: the old two-headed eagle problem. This is partly due to the nature of reality, and partly to the enlarged ego of the solo operator.  But any artist who has achieved an identifiable personal way of putting things obviously doesn’t compete with anyone else –  because nobody else says that in that tone of voice.

However, a scorpion of doubt lurks in this comfortable slipper, namely “Is my work self-consistent? Do these diverse pieces come across as the work of this one person?”

Creators adopt various rules and self-denying ordinances to cope with this problem.  For instance, Braque would not allow himself light and shade in three dimensions, apart from the odd trompe-l’oeuil nail casting its shadow, a small pictorial joke. Or maybe he just knew he was better at two dimensions, though it is difficult to accept the moral severity of his strictures on ‘eye-fooling devices’. Perspective might be inappropriate, but can it be wicked?

Anyhow, on one side you have artists tying themselves to a rule-book for consistency, while on the other side are those artists ploughing a narrow furrow, who try to ensure that a case can be made for their variety..  Sometimes the result is almost comic, as in this statement by Morandi:

I have always concentrated on a far narrower field of subject matter than most  other painters, so that the danger of repeating myself has been far greater.

I think I have avoided this danger by devoting more time and thought  to planning each one of my paintings as a variation on one or other of these few themes

Dialogues: Conversations with European Artists at Mid-century, by Edward             Roditi, Lund Humphries 1990 p. 107


My smile is with Morandi, not at him, since the modest objective is so beautifully achieved in his calm paintings and etchings. Another case is Lucien Freud: in a recent review of Gayford’s book about his experience as a Freud sitter, Julian Barnes writes:

..Gayford tells us that Freud’s aim was ‘to make his pictures as unalike as possible, as if they had been done by other artists.’

 Heart Squasher, Julian Barnes, London Review of Books, 5 Dec. 2013, p.3 seq.’ (It’s worth the reading the whole of this fine review)

Another smile: if that’s what Freud was after, he made a duff job of it: a man whose later characteristic paint surfaces are dominating and unmistakeable. Of course he could have made his pictures unalike:  he could have abandoned perspective/ flattened everything/ drawn all things by the bounding line, or revelled in pure chromaticism.  But no, this is the man who said that he could not bear the idea of one of his paintings being known as ‘the blue one’. He said he painted things the colour that he saw them. Well, I see them in different colours, and anyway, reproducing the colour of  the objects in the scene is not the only ambition of painting. Terry Frost, who could become totally rhapsodic about the use of pure colour in modern painting, would have been deeply shocked by the idea that you should not paint in all the colours that are available to human perception. (There can, miraculously, be other colours, but to see them you have to become an insect).

However, in spite of the attempts of some to diversify their work, the problem for those of us on this side remains that of consistency: how to ensure that our images hang together coherently.  I would wish a sequence of my paintings to relate to one another like the parts of a sonata – which is, I suppose, not far from what Morandi was talking about. Oh, and that includes the ability to quote and refer, the way that Bartok inserts the little, wheezy musical-box section (or ‘barrel-organ’, as Paul Griffiths has it) in his fifth quartet, without breaking out of the coherence of the whole. But then all visual art wants to be frozen music. And again, again, who says that I as creator should be the judge of this?

The problem for us on this side is, yes, we know our own subject-matter, our tendencies, our harmonies and habits, even though, Braque says: ‘La personalité de l’artiste n’est pas faite de l’ensemble de ses tics’. (Cahiers). But personally we can be overwhelmed by the serious difference of one of our pieces from the last one – or the next one.  We don’t know – we can’t know – whether they look consistent to other people, however soothingly they reassure us, or however brusquely they confirm our doubts. Are we constricting ourselves unnecessarily, and failing to make the leaps, or are we jumping all over the place in an incoherent way? We are left with the condition TS Eliot describes in  East Coker: ‘every attempt/ Is a wholly new start, and a different kind of failure..’  True, but of course no help to us, struggling with our likenesses and dissimilarities.

ps.  I have put a few recent pictures in my pictures column. Do they hang together? See for yourself. And the intrusive memory serves up the  quote: “Depend upon it sir, if we do not hang together we shall surely hang separately!”

David Page 23 02 14

In the latest Norfolk Contemporary Art Society Newsletter there is a piece from Sculpture for Norwich about Barbara Hepworth’s Sea Form Atlantic, which reads:

SfN has expressed concern to the City Council about the state (and positioning) of this major sculpture now sited in St George’s Street. Already the patina is irreparably worn away in parts by children’s clambering. Following the representations and meetings with councillors and Nikki Rotsos, executive head of strategy, people and democracy, it was agreed that a plaque which Derek Morris has offered to design, should be placed on the plinth providing information about the work an expressing the pride of the City of Norwich in its ownership of a seminal work by this great artist.


Well, if it is decided to place this rather unusual climbing-frame-type object next to a children’s playground, it is inevitably going to get clambered on by little kids who wouldn’t know it was special.  As to the patina, some interaction between the public, the environment, and the work is also inevitable: the wonderful, cheeky bronze David with a floral hat by Donatello (now in the Bargello) used to stand in the open  – was it in the  Piazza della Signoria? – in Florence: it had a gleaming little penis because people stroked it as they went past; not sure whether you could say that was the subtraction or addition of a patina. Sculpture which does not wish to interact with people should presumably be guarded, or out of reach.

But this conflict between sculpture and children has happened to Barbara Hepworth’s work before. Back in about 1962 the Penwith Society of Artists in St Ives decided to reduce the entrance fee for families so that visitors with children would be more able to visit the current exhibition in the Penwith Gallery.  At that time Barbara Hepworth was exhibiting sculpture with stretched strings, (presumably an influence from Gabo?) When she heard that her strings had been twanged by kids, she insisted that the Committee put the entry price back up again. She also objected to the cathedral-like white space of the Gallery being violated by noise.  As the building was actually a refurbished pilchard packing station, it must have rung with the cries of fishermen and fishwives for years before it was consecrated to art.

Incidentally I’m not sure whether it is direct influence or some kind of convergence, but the vertical  Dyson fan-heater has a distinct Barbara Hepworth look.

Three of my recent paintings are on show at the 2013/14 Cut Open, at the Cut Halesworth Suffolk – see below. This is a good,  very well-hung show in a lovely space, and all works submitted have been accommodated on the walls. Well worth a visit. It is on until Sat 11 Jan.



Being Spied on in the Illfare State

Mermaids will not be denied

The last bubbles of our shame

The dragon flaunts an unpierced hide

The true fiend governs in God’s name


Robert Graves,  Mermaid, Dragon.Fiend

I have been reading a correspondence between the Swedish poet Tomas Transtromer and the American poet Robert Bly: TT was in Budapest in October 1969, where he visited a Hungarian poet; he wrote:

Pilinsky lives in one room in a flat in central Budapest (like most Hungarians he can’t afford a flat of his own).

I read the sentence with a horrible shock of recognition: forty-four years later this describes the situation for many people in London today. We are going backwards.

Growing up after WW2, the majority of my generation who cared about politics took it as axiomatic that everyone in Great Britain and Ireland should have a job (and that everyone should work); that a job should pay a living wage, and that everyone should have health-care, education, and decent housing, financed by universal insurance via taxation. Maybe the performance fell short, but the aspiration remained the same. No longer true – test the propositions for yourself .

It may seem odd that the spying and intrusion which has been going on has not  raised  much more indignation and protest from older generations.  There is a simple reason for this, namely, that we have all always taken for granted that we were being spied on.  The extended generation I am talking about includes people like Kim Howells MP, Jack Straw MP, Peter Hain MP, Tariq Ali, and a few more millions.

One exemplary event hangs in my mind like a little film-clip – a French student visitor at Hornsey College of Art  in the summer of ’68  lifting the telephone to phone home, and an English student bringing him down with a rugby tackle: nobody was allowed to make connections with other radical groups on a college phone. It had to be done in some random phone-box.

The assumption that the phones were tapped was tested in various ways. One way I heard about took place in central London. One of the radical organisations telephoned several others to arrange a Demo, specifying date, time and place of assembly. Then someone went round on foot to tell the recipients that this was a spoof. At the allotted time and place they took great pleasure in observing the police wagons draw up for the phantom event.  Communication is a two-way street, after all.

At Hornsey College of Art there was an elderly art historian called Susie – from somewhere in Central Europe. She would shout at the student and staff radicals “Well, if that’s what you want, why don’t you go to Moscau!” She was not aware

(why should she have been?) that the minority of students who belonged to formal political organisations were Trotskyists, and that the unattached majority were libertarians. Just the people the KGB would have locked up, or eliminated. after a successful invasion.  In my own case, hilariously, a friend who was teaching army officers told me that my name had come up in conversation as someone to be interned in the case of an imminent conflict. And of course, a list of who to lock up in the case of hostilities with country X or Y must exist, just like the plan in the Pentagon for taking over Great Britain in the event of a Red Government. And no, we can’t prove that it exists, because it is secret.

The Intelligence Community are rather more than less likely to make the same misjudgements as Susie. Firstly because of the political colour-blindness of people in a authoritarian position, and secondly because of the inevitable institutional paranoia of these organisations. They are set up to suspect the worst on our behalf, and indeed they do. Given that some of them thought Harold Wilson and Michael Foot were Russian spies it is only to be expected that they continue to construct paranoid fantasies; only the terms have changed. The organisation which may usefully defend us against real would-be suicide bombers also seeks to defend the State against the Vegetable Defence League. Those members of the Intelligence Community who are closest to the ground, mingling with real people and with some idea what is really going on, are by definition not at the top, making the strategic decisions

Most of the information about us which is now gathered will never be looked at by anyone: there are not the hours of work available. Of what remains, some will be scrutinised for respectable reasons, and some will be used for  quite other purposes: laws brought in for one purpose end up being used for another.  The Russians are not the only people who think “Demonstration = Piracy? =Hooliganism?”

Paranoia is infectious, in all directions, and destroys the social integration which, within a good State, ensures that extreme divergences from our moral standards are not tolerated by ordinary citizens. There is another problem with the Spying State, namely that it supports a conspiracy to insist that secrecy is indispensible, which all members of the Intelligence Communities world-wide affirm. Their international solidarity on this issue is amazing. A very large proportion of what they do is pointless and unproductive, but of course we don’t know what that is, because it is secret.  Spying is not just an inept Government joke.  It also costs us taxes.

Recent figures in the Guardian state that the three British state spying agencies have a combined staff of over 10.000 with a combined annual budget of £2bn. There is a Parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee, to scrutinizes the intelligence agencies. “Who shall watch the watchers?” the Romans asked. Well not many people it seems, since that committee is underfunded, according to Kim Howells MP. The average number of people killed by terrorism in the UK, 1990 to 2010 was 5.8, whereas the figure of those killed or seriously injured in road accidents in 2011 was just over 25.000. How many lives could we save by applying a billion or so pounds to improving road safety?  A better use of our limited resources?

Teresa May was recently asked by Keith Vaz if she had been told of any concrete  case of danger to personel as a result of Snowdon revelations. She danced round the question, coming across as increasingly shifty and evasive. She couldn’t say, because it was secret. Recently it was also announced that investigation had shown no evidence that the SAS were involved in the death of Lady Di. Well, that may be true.  Or it may not. In Mandy Rice Davis’ formulation “Well, they would say that, wouldn’t they?” The more this secrecy goes on, the more we don’t believe a word they say.

In 1959 I went to Marburg/Lahn, West Germany, to work as a Lektor. My first job. My friend & predecessor Mary Kern had persuaded her Professor that it might be good to have an English Lektor who had studied English, rather than the usual German language graduate. I arrived with as much German as I could learn on a beach in Jugoslavia from the Teach Yourself German. One project was to give a series of lectures on British Institutions, and one of these lectures was about the Monarchy.


It seems to me interesting, now that we have another Heir to the Throne, to look at this lecture of over fifty years ago, seeing how much has changed, and more surprisingly, how much has not changed.


The lecture was meant to be a Socratic dialogue between a Republican and a Royalist, read by me and a student with very good English.  A student came up to me afterwards and said “I enjoyed your lecture – the English view and the German View”. The Grune Blatt was popular tabloid in Germany at the time.



A.              J  was  reading the  Grune  Blatt the  other day (I read itregularly,  of  course,  like  most  students);  the main article was  about  Fara Dibah.  I  find  that when it isn’t about her it’s about ex-Queen Soraya,  or  King Baudouin,  or  Queen Elizabeth, or  Pricess Margaret,  or  Princess Alexandra.  Even the ex-Kingsof Jugoslavia and Spain, and  old Farouk, and  people with claims to  the  throne  of France are  in and  out of the newspaper everyday.  I  can’ t imagine why they’re  so  newsworthy.

B.            Yes;  I  agree with you; it is odd  that in our democratic countries  the  common  people are so whole-heartedly concerned withthe  affairs of Royal  Families – the  elite, who read the Times and  the  Observer like me (Top People,  you know), don’t learn so much about  them.  The  Court Circular in the Times tells  uswhat  the Royal Family  is doing,  and we’re sometimes discretely told that the Queen is suffering from a slight cold,  but  thereit ends.  And  a  good thing too, I think. Constant prying into the affairs of  the Royal Family is a danger to the Monarchy,in the  long  run.

A.              My God.  You  don’t really approve  of  the whole  thing,  do  you?

B.             Certainly I approve  of it. It’s a much better system than a Presidency,  with all the  dubious  political shuffling that goeswith it. Look  at America,  where the highest representative  of  the State will be the leader of a political party – where,  in other words,  he won’t have the  respect of more than half the population. Or look at  France, where the President is a kind of lay Pope- a  respected spiritual leader who is unable  to use his temporal power to get anything done.  Or again, look at Germany. Imagine the Prime Minister of  England announcing  that he’d decided  to become  King,  and  then a bit later,  that he’d decided. not  to, after all.  What  a  lot of  humbug!  No, our solution is far more satisfactory,  far more dignified.

A.            I’m not  sure I agree with this view of the American or GermanPresidencies,  but  then I’d rather have  the  leader of the  State a  human  being,  with  some admirable  qualities and  some  faults. Like Heuss  was in Germany,  or Tito  is,  in Jugoslavia – he’s  a very good  example.  I’ d always prefer human beings  to  dignified puppets.

B.              This only goes to show what a romantic you are at heart. Tito is really a medieval king who fought his way to the throne through personal combat, and united a grateful people. Very Balkan, of course. But he wouldn’t do in a democracy; after all, he’s not only President of the State, but President of the National Assembly too – very powerful, in other words. You can’t bracket him with Heuss.

A.              It’s interesting that you should bring Democracy into it: in the first place this raises a problem of definition. The President of America has as much power as Marshall ‘Tito: does that mean America isn’t a Democracy? In the second place I have serious doubts as to whether a Monarchy is compatible with a Democracy. But we can come back to this in a moment. The question is, what does work in your Democracy? In other words, if you think Tito has too much power, how much does Queen Elizabeth have?

B              Can I rephrase that “What’s her position? Well, she’s the Head of the State, and the symbol of the State. She’s the permanent part of Parliament: laws are enacted by her together with the Houses of Lords and of Commons. Some things are theoretically hers-The Queen’s Government, the Royal Air-force, the Royal Mail – this is a convenient fiction. She’s also Queen of some other countries-Canada and Australia, for example – and she’s the Head of the Commonwealth, recognized as such even by Commonwealth Republics like India. And lastly she is the temporal Head of the Church of England, which is the official State Church.

A.             Let’s take the first matter. If the Queen has to give her consent to laws before they can be enacted, this ought to mean that she can interfere by refusing to give her consent. But this doesn’t in fact happen, does it?

B.             There’s a long delay – a number of years – before official papers about the Monarch are released, so it’s difficult to say for sure what’s happening, but I think that recent Kings have abided by constitutional practice and simply accepted what their ministers presented to them. All the same, the King has certain rights. Bagehot, in his English Constitution, put it like this:

… the sovereign has, under a constitutional monarchy such as ours, three rights – the right to be consulted, the right to encourage, and the right to warn.  And he pictures the             Monarch as saying: I do not oppose, it is my duty not to oppose; but observe that I warn.


The King often does this. Prince Albert, as he was dying, made suggestions about a message from the British Government to the Northern States in the American Civil War-_it was so severe that if it had been sent, the North might have declared war on us. As it was, the message was softened, and they didn’t. Albert, acting with Victoria was fairly powerful. A constitutional monarch can’t really refuse to sign something in the long run, but he can certainly put pressure on his Ministry. King Edward VII once delayed the official announcement of changes in Army pay from early July to late October simply by refusing to sign the necessary papers until his Minister explained to him in full detail what the changes would mean (King Edward VII A Biography by Sir Sydney Lee, II p.216 seq.) In those days there were still Kings in most of Europe, and they were generally related. The Tsar was a relative of Edward VII, the Kaiser was his nephew, and Leopold of the Belgians was his great-uncle. This meant that a good deal of diplomacy could be carried on by subtle hints in family letters. The Prime Minister would have an audience with Edward, who would write a letter to Wilhelm, who would have a conference with his Chancellor. So that communications would be made without any official Government notes. Edward himself had the concept of a kind of Trade Union of Kings. He refused to recognize the new King of Serbia until the assassins of the former King had been punished. He said:

..1 have another, and, so to say, a personal reason. Mon metier a moi est d’etre Roi. King Alexander was also by his metier ‘un Roi’. As you see, we belonged to the same guild,             as labourers or professional men. I cannot be indifferent to the assassination of a member of my profession, or, if you like, a member of my guild. We should all be obliged to shut up our businesses if we, the Kings, were to consider the assassinations of Kings as of no consequence at all. 1 regret, but you see that I cannot do what you wish me to do.

ibid. II p273

This kind of Happy Families diplomacy has naturally died away as Monarchy died away. Within England, however, more recently, George V persuaded Ramsay MacDonald to head a National Government; again, according to Herbert Morrison, George VI discussed particular death sentences with him when he was Home Secretary. Morrison didn’t accept his advice, but at least the King made his point. What it comes to is that the King sees all Government Papers and signs many of them. If he is diligent in reading them he’ll have a very wide knowledge of what is going on, and since he is permanently there, and is above Party Politics, he’s in a good position to give impartial advice.

A.             Assuming also that he isn’t a normal human being with prejudices and preferences. But let’s stick to powers. It’s my turn to give an example. Have you read your Lytton Strachey? Do you remember Queen Victoria’s advice to the First Lord of the Admiralty about the reform of the Navy?

“Her own personal feeling,” she wrote, “would be for the beards without the moustaches, as the latter have rather a soldier-like appearance; but then the object in view would not be obtained, viz. to prevent the necessity of shaving . Therefore it had better be as proposed, the entire beard, only it should be kept short and very clean.”  After thinking over the question for another week, the Queen wrote a final letter.  She wished, she said, : “to make one additional observation respecting the beards, viz. that on no account should  moustaches be allowed without beards. That must be clearly understood.”

Lytton Strachey: Queen Victoria  p.213

B.             This is a very nice example of Victoria’s general tone. But I don’t see how it fits into the power question.

A.             I admit I used it because it amuses me – but look at the way it’s phrased. “On no account •••• that must be clearly understood.”  It sounds pretty uncompromising – almost dictatorial. What about Victoria’s memorandum to Palmerston, the Foreign Secretary, in 1850, when she threatened to dismiss him if he altered dispatches after she had approved them, although the right of appointing or dismissing a Foreign Secretary properly belongs to the Prime Minister? Or what about her remark ‘a democratic monarchy is what she will never belong to’? If Albert had lived longer she might have seriously opposed giving the vote to the working classes. What is there to stop the present Queen from hindering the Government in the same way?

B.              Nothing at all – except custom. That and the fact that Kings have become more and more democratic.

A.              You mean more and more middle-class.

B.              Perhaps, but as that’s the only class left, it is democracy.

A.              I suppose I asked for that. Anyhow, it boils down to the fact that the King has theoretically the power to do a great deal, but in practice doesn’t dare to do a thing.

B.               There is one exception. The King himself decides which people are to be honoured with the Order of Merit, the Garter, the Thistle, and the Royal Victorian Order. Apart from that you’re quite right. But it isn’t that the King doesn’t dare, it’s that Kings have a great sense of duty – public service.

A.               Oh really. I thought I was supposed to be the romantic. Let me put it another way. A satisfactory constitutional monarch must either be very lazy or very stupid, or, if he dares to be intelligent, mustn’t use his intelligence to get anything done. He must try not to let anyone notice it until after he is dead.

B.               I shouldn’t dream of contesting that Kings have been stupid and lazy, but you see it doesn’t matter. It’s the institution which counts, not the man.

A.               Can you really believe that? What would happen if the next King turned out to have a personality like Henry VIII,  intelligent~ wilful, and a natural leader? He’d hardly fit in, would he?

B.               I imagine that he’d eventually abdicate, as Edward VIII did.

A.               And everything would go on as if nothing had happened?

B.               I expect so.

A.               We shan’t make much progress here. What about the second part of the Queen’s position, that she is the titular head of the Commonwealth. What powers does that involve?

B.             None at all, so far as I can see. The Preamble of the Statute of Westminster of 1931 describes the Crown as the symbol of the free association of the members of the British Commonwealth of Nations. But you really shouldn’t place so much emphasis on power. Symbolic values often achieve a great deal. For example during the War George VI used to travel up from Windsor every day to work in Buckingham Palace. I’ve seen this ridiculed by A J.P. Taylor, but it must have been an immense boost to the morale of the British people to know that he was in England, and in London, during the worst German attacks. Or again, for symbolic value, think of President Heuss’ State Visit to London. I think that public respect for Heuss did a great deal to improve British feelings about the Germans.

A.             This is probably a good example for the assertion that Presidents are just as good as Kings, for practical purposes.

B.             On the contrary: Presidents change, and by vote, and the next one may not necessarily command as much respect as the last one.

A.             I think you will find that Monarchy is as vulnerable as Presidency: I doubt whether respect for the Monarchy would survive a succession of really bad Kings – and of course, no one can really make a King abdicate if he doesn’t want to, whereas a President is under control. What’s more, there’s a bit of choice when it comes to Presidents. Kings have an awful inevitability.  But let’s come to the last thing you said about the Queen. About her religious position. Does this give her any real power, or is it just another formality?

B.             The Queen is the temporal head of the Church of England. Her title to the Crown derives from the Act of Settlement 1701, which said:

                The Crown shall remain and shall continue to the said most excellent Princess Sophia and the heirs of her body being protestant.


Because of this Act a King may not be a Roman Catholic or marry a Roman Catholic, and must swear to maintain the Established Church. Before you go on, A, let me add that I can see the corner you are trying to drive me into.

A.             In you go, all the same. Do you realise what all this adds up to? The King is obliged to carry out his Royal duties, which occupy most of his time and may work him to death, as they worked George VI to death. He may not go where he pleases or do what he pleases because his time and his person are at the disposal of the nation. He may not do anything positive for the good of his subjects except to warn ministers, and he must stand by powerless and watch these ministers when they do various things which make the nation appear aggressive or idiotic. He may not marry whom he pleases; he must choose from foreign Royalty -with one or two honorable exceptions a scruffy lot of rootless emigrees – or from British noble families, on whom I won’t comment, and furthermore, only from those of them who are Protestants. Naturally he mayn’t worship which god he pleases. And last, or perhaps first of all, he can’t choose royalty as a career: it’s thrust upon him and he can do nothing about it. Really B., it’s intolerable. He hasn’t the democratic rights of his own subjects, whom he is supposed to represent. Isn’t that a subtle corruption, the just British State with its head in an iron mask?

B.             Oh come. No-one has to become king. And of course anyone who feels he can’t do the job properly can abdicate, like  Edward VIII.

A.             That’s a very naive point of view. Kings are brought up as Kings: they are educated from the start in the idea that they are above the level of others, that they have a duty to the State, and so on, and so forth. Your suggestion that no-one has to become a King might be a reasonable one if you could point to one example of an heir to the throne who refused to take up the crown. As for your example of abdication, Edward VIII provides perfect fuel for my argument. He abdicated. and married, and then what?

Does he seem to be living a full and satisfied life? Is

he happy? I can’t believe it. Look at the photographs. Just

consider this. After he had abdicated, when he wrote an article

in a Sunday paper on 24 May 1953, an article critical of the Labour

Party, Herbert  Morrison could write this (and remember that

Morrison was a Labour Home Secretary, and, mind you, an  important member of the Labour Party;)

Such an expression of opinion critical of any political party on the part of a former Monarch is, I think, unfortunate. It confirms my personal view that ex-Monarchs are wise to be silent) and. not live in a country or countries over which they formerly ruled.

Morrison: Government and Parliament  p82

The Labour Party is the one which is supposed to believe in equality! In plain words, when personal honesty leads him to give up the one job he’s been brought up to do, when he realises that he is not trained to do anything else, and not permitted to try anything else, the advice from the Labour Party is “Shut up and  get out!”  Take a more recent case. Mr Armstrong-Jones married Princess Margaret. He’s a a commercial photographer; I’ve seen some of his photographs and they are really good. But from now on he won’t work as a photographer, because Royalty does not indulge in Commerce.  Another good man reduced to opening flower shows and twiddling his thumbs.

B            I can understand your feeling here; in fact I more or less agree with you.  Kings and Princesses ought to be allowed to live natural lives, and in Norway and Sweden they approach far nearer to the ideal than we do.  I would certainly like to see certain  reforms in the way the Monarchy is treated; some reforms have been suggested by Lord Altrincham (a good Royalist if ever there was one).  But you see what happened to him. He was abused in the daily papers and his face was slapped in the street. The British Public just don’t seem ready for these reforms.

A            An argument I’ve heard before to justify not reforming anything of social importance that needed to be reformed – the Death Penalty, the Homosexuality Law – it’s even used about joining Europe, though there isn’t a scrap of evidence to prove that the Public are so unprepared.

B            Or a scrap of evidence to prove the contrary.  So we shall stick to our very different estimates.  But I want to return to your argument.  I suppose I should have to agree that a great deal of sacrifice is expected of a King and a Royal Family: fortunately their devotion to their indispensible office gives them the strength to make that sacrifice. Because my fundamental contention is that the Monarchy is indispensible. You have used Morrison, let me add Atlee, who was Prime Minister from 1945 – 51.  He recently said that democracies with a Monarchy are more democratic than ones with a president.  Well then, if the job is essential, someone has to do it. I’d hate to have the job – and I’d hate others too.  Think of being a dustman. – but there have to be dustmen. I think it’s terrible that there are still miners; I’d like to abolish mining: it’s degrading and appallingly dangerous.  But you know that we have to have miners, and we also have to have kings. But I expect you won’t agree there.

A.             No. I certainly won’t. I would like to see the Monarchy abolished, and I don’t think it at all essential.

B.             You know that Philip Toynbee said that wanting to abolish the Monarchy was the sign of a false radical?

A.             Toynbee’s remark was a silly one: all he meant was that some things are more urgent than others. In any case I’m not the spiritual heir of Toynbee, or of Atlee, or. of Morrison. You can’t talk about ‘Radicals’ just like that, any more than you can talk about ‘The English’. As I said, I’d like to do away with the Monarchy, but it doesn’t depend on me. It’s bound to come to an end anyway. We can’t tolerate this inequality in a democratic state. Think of the things  which are hitched on to it- an Established Church – a kind of built-in religious intolerance. The Nobility – a self-renewing growth of class-distinction and social inequality. lt’s a focus for the most vicious of virtues, Patriotism (you can’t deny that the extremest nationalists are the most fervent Royalists,) an encouragement of inequality in education (since the Royal Children will receive Public School education outside the State System.) And the utter ruin of the design of our Postage Stamps.

B.             Whatever you say, I should hate to see it all disappear, and I wonder how happy you would be with the mangled remains left after your reforms? But I won’t argue about these things, because I want to show you how impractical your ideas are. Supposing you had a party whose members had decided to abolish the Monarchy.

Before those who were elected became Members of Parliament they would have to take the oath, which goes like this:

            I swear by Almighty God that I will be faithful and bear true

            allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, her heirs and

            successors, according to Law. So help me God.


Anyone who refused to swear wouldn’t become an MP . And then if your Republicans did swear, they would have to break their oath to carry out their prograrnme. For this they could be, and probably would be, tried in a court of law.  Even without the Parliamentary oath the would probably be committing High Treason, which includes trying to kill the King, the Queen, or the heir to the throne, or starting a revolution to overthrow the Government (by action, not by speaking or writing.) The punishment for High Treason, by the way, is Public Execution, so the Republicans might end up hanged in rows on Tower Hill, just as in A.P.Herbert’s story the whole Government Party was sent to prison for breaking the electoral laws. If the MPs got into Parliament they might not be allowed by the Speaker to debate the abolition of the Monarchy, because it is quite Out of Order to ‘utter treasonable or seditious words, or to use the Queen’s name irreverently, or to influence the debate.’ Even if Bills were passed, they would have to be given the Royal Assent, and under the circumstances the Queen might refuse to give it – and she might be constitutionally right to refuse, too. As long as there was any opposition in Parliament or in the country it would cripple the Republicans, because the system is weighted very strongly in favour of the Monarch. The Republicans would have to keep on holding General Elections to make sure the Public were supporting them-otherwise they couldn’t find out what the Public thought, since there isn’t any machinery in England for the holding of plebiscites. As the Queen is the Head of the Established Church this would lead to a religious conflict.

A.             It’s alarming that we can’t abolish the Monarchy without fighting the Church down to the very last vicar, but at the same time that we can’t disestablish the Church without abolishing the Monarchy. That’s really an insoluble riddle.

B.             Only insoluble if you want to disestablish the Church. Why not leave it alone? It doesn’t do any harm, nobody takes the least bit of notice of it – which may be bad for it spiritually, but at any rate stops it from being effectively intolerant. And the Church  helps the National Economy by putting all its money into steel shares. But I haven’t finished yet. The Queen is the figurehead of the Commonwealth, by the statute of Westminster, which we mentioned before. If a member of the Commonwealth wants to alter its status, the other nations have to approve its staying in the Commonwealth. You will see this process in action soon, because South Africa has decided to become a republic. If you had your way we might get the ridiculous situation of Britain being thrown out of the Commonwealth and Queen .Elizabeth continuing to reign as Queen of Canada and Australia, I daresay they’d be glad to have her. We should be a minor hive-off, like the Irish Republic, only without the dignity of having fought for it. And so eventually, adding it all together, your reform would take years to achieve, would split the nation, and wouldn’t bring about enough changes to justify the vast sums of money which would have to be spent on it.

A.             Here we are back at money again. How much does the Queen cost, by the way?

B.             No, you can’t escape that way. The Queen’s grant from Parliament (The Civil List) was £475,000 per annum as from 1952. That’s not quite 2d per head of  population. I don’t suppose they mind paying 2d a year for a King or Queen, do you? The money covers a lot of necessary expenses, remember. Then on top of that Prince Philip got an annuity of /£40, 000. But consider what a marvelous tourist attraction they are. We must make millions out of that. Presidents don’t excite the tourists, but I bet you they don’t cost much less.

A.             I’ve no idea how much a President costs, but you don’t tempt me into this argument. This is the big financier excuse – it makes money, so it can’t be wrong. I asked because I was curious, not because I wanted to change the subjeet. The fact that the Monarchy works and \would take effort to change seems sufficient to convince you that it is right,,, But somebody has to think about the truth. If 1. am right, that it injures the moral health of the nation and isn’t compatible with democracy, and I believe that I am right, then it will have to go in the end. However, in the mean time I shan’t go around in a dark cloak plotting High Treason in dark corners, I shall just sit down peacefully waiting for the next Bad King. He’ll do my work for me very effectively. I wonder how Prince Charles will turn out?

B.             Yes, 1. wonder how Prince Charles will turn out too. And here, it seems to me, we might as well close the discussion, because we’re back where we started – the truth about Charles is bound to be revealed to regular readers of the Grune Blatt.


Derek Nice and I first met  in Southend in the summer of 1956. In fact we both marched up the stairs at Rochford Hospital, never having met before, to stand either side of the bed of Yvonne Patterson, who was recuperating from TB. She was a somewhat exotic creature for Southend: her grandfather had been Mayor of Marseille & she spoke French with a Fernandel accent. Hallo Yvonne, if you are still around.

It was surprising that Derek and I hadn’t met before: he was a Southend School of Art, where I had many friends, and had studied under Tony Oldfield, who was also an unofficial mentor to me.  Anyhow, we immediately shared a wavelength, and spent that summer drawing, painting, mono-printing & making pots together, meantime roaring about the area in the evenings, telling impossibly extended shaggy dog stories. The deal was that each of us telling the story had to incorporate the embellishments put in by the other the last time it was told, and then add some new finesses. Jokes that ended ” never put all your Basques in one exit ” and the like… and went on for hours.

I had finished my first degree (in English) at Corpus Christi College, Oxford: I went back to do a B.Litt and then a Teaching Diploma, after which I taught for two years in a German University, followed by Greece and a year in St Ives, after which again, via supply teaching, I ended up in Hornsey College of Art, followed by the NE London Poly. Derek went via a London ATD and some time at the Central School, variously into teaching and design for TV, film,  museums and exhibitions. Among other interludes he was at one time Assistant Stage Manager at Bromley Rep, and a drapery counter hand at Selfridges.  No one could accuse him of narrow interests, but I have always admired  his great central ability to build anything he can think up.

Teaching was in principle a stable occupation, but the Colleges were taking a beating in the late ’70s, and the commercial world was very uncertain, what with various crises, so I took ‘early retirement’ and went back to full time painting, and Derek ended up also making paintings and sculptures full-time, but with various excursions along the way.  For a brief period we worked together on the Gozo Experience, which was Derek’s baby: I did the research and the script and he supervised the design construction and sound-scape for the client, Brian Mizzi.  It was pretty successful over the years, though not to our enrichment or renown. Nothing else like that came up, though many schemes and proposals were put forward.

So here we are, painting and sculpting, trying, in Tony Oldfield’s phrases, not to ‘get it over rich’, and not to ‘get a woolly  line’ (with a Yorkshire accent, please note). Derek’s subject-matter, wherever he is, seems to return constantly to the sea, and mine to the fields and the land I stand on. As miserable old Tom Eliot said (quite correctly)

every  attempt

Is a wholly new start, and a different kind of failure

(East Coker  174/5)

At any rate, this exhibition is about where we are now, and we intend it to be enjoyable as opposed to solemn.  Hope you come, and hope you enjoy

DVN top Grimes Boat

Derek Nice: Grimes Boat

David Page: Some Views of Salthouse Marsh

David Page: Some Views of Salthouse Marsh


Frozen Landscape, Sussex

I’ve been in Chichester helping to set up a retrospective exhibition of Peter Iden’s paintings of the Downs (Peter died in 2012). Both exhibitions are on the campus of Chichester University; a broadly chronological sequence in the foyer of ArtOne, and an exhibition of his abstract views of Downland, the late work he most cared for, in the Otter Gallery. The latter exhibition runs until 26 July, but the former, which supports it, closes earlier on the 6th July. The book, Peter Iden: Versions of the Downland, contains sixty pages of images and information (21cm square). It is published by the Estate of Peter Iden, at £15, and can be ordered at   What follows is one chapter from the book.

Occupation Painter

I first met Peter in Chichester in 1984 at one of Bridget Woods’ Life Drawing evening classes at Chichester College. (Jane German, who became my wife, had already known him for some years).  It was immediately obvious that he was an outstanding draughtsman, who could, if he wanted, draw a line right round a figure in one unhesitating movement, without the pencil leaving the paper. Then he would put the volumes in with one or two strokes and wiggles of a water-colour brush. Much of this ability must have been innate, but a training in Graphics – he would have preferred Fine Art – and some years as an architectural draughtsman, had sharpened his ability.

When I first met him, he was producing topographical pen, pencil and watercolour sketches based on meticulous but fluent drawing, of town- and landscape, recapitulating the origins of English Landscape painting as they occurred in Girtin to Crome and Cotman. He had in 1969 embarked on the first of what was to become a series of annual exhibitions of work in Chichester, which later provided the major part of his income. With the advent of CAD (Computer Aided Design) architectural draughtsmen became largely redundant, though Peter remarked that he dropped that work before it dropped him. Although he was a fine craftsman in this area, he did not enjoy it.

It is a remarkable fact that he supported himself as an artist by selling his art to a devoted local public (which continually grew). This is very rare. Most artists today keep themselves alive by teaching, lecturing, or some other occupation: Peter did it the hard way, surviving amazingly, for five decades, mainly on his artistic work.

He exhibited for some years with the Royal Institution of Painters in Watercolour, and at the Royal Academy, but the annual show in Chichester remained his focus and his main source of income.

Peter travelled, spiritually and conceptually, a very long way in a few decades. Water-colour soon became too light to carry the power of his work: he moved into oils, gaining control of the new medium in a few weeks: this enabled him to produce bigger, bolder pictures. The move towards a more abstract language was intensified, he said, by an extended period of ill-health at the end of the ’90s. His work gradually felt for the underlying shapes in the landscape, with an increased sensitivity to the physical feel of the paint on the surface, and the use of colour in its own right, looking back to pictorial ancestors like Ivon Hitchens or Peter Lanyon. In 1952 John Berger described Lanyon’s work as being ‘not of the appearance but the properties of a landscape,’ a description which defines a whole new category of landscape painting, broadly emerging after World War Two, of which Peter Iden became a leading practitioner.

By the end of his life he had ‘put to one side’ the meticulous ability he was so well endowed with, in favour of painting as a journey, full of bold strokes, scrapes and shunts, and powerful pigment breaking away from the local colour of the Downs in a seemingly inexhaustible re-discovery of them. His later versions were more Zen portraits of the Downs than postcards.

All this was not achieved without pain and struggle.  In 2001 he wrote ‘Nobody guesses the courage that each work takes’ and seven years later: ‘After 40 years I won’t give up trying, though it certainly doesn’t get any easier.’ He abandoned earlier attempts to formalise his landscapes in favour of a more distanced mode employing gatherings of rods and ribbons against tonal areas, angled against the vertical and horizontal axes, generally centrifugal, usually set against a notation of the sky-line and the sky itself. The colour, the tonal masses and the juts and darts of line create the particular feeling of the landscape he was concerned with at that time.

This work constitutes a dialogue between an artist and a landscape, as intimate as that between Constable and the Dedham area. As in Constable’s case, each painting was a complete statement in itself, but was at the same time part of a sequence of intimations which draw collective power from continuously amazing insights.  Amberley, Goodwood, the Arun, Didling Church and the stretch of downland behind it, Halnaker Hill – no one could have felt their way more lovingly round a terrain than Peter did with the South Downs.

Things were never easy, though. In 2002 he wrote:

            I’m so disappointed with my work to date.  One or two things emerging, but no pattern, and can’t seem to get launched. I’ve been on one or two wonderful walks recently, which may kindle something. March is a very non-committal month I feel, but recent warm days seem balmy. Butterflies out on Amberleywild-brooks – quite unbelievable. All seems well on the health front, but I get impossibly tired.

One of the problems of his reliance on the annual Chichester exhibition for the majority of his sales was that he established a devoted following for a certain kind of art. While his idiom changed substantially, to make a living he still had to provide the kind of painting, in form and content, which enthused his supporters, alongside the increasingly abstracted art which enthused him. His annual exhibition rarely contained fewer than 100 works, and his financial stability depended on the sale of small items, generally local views, carried out in a vigorous traditional style. He needed (he wrote) to produce many small pieces ‘which are fun to do, but are also limiting and tiresome. As they are the only things that sell, I’ve become a slave to them.’  In 2003 he wrote: ‘My heart isn’t in the small work any more and it shows.’


The approach to the annual exhibition was always a stress point: ‘I am panic-stricken about my next show …with the usual rush of pot-boilers although I have 2 doz left over from July, and I want to do a few whacky large ones.’

When Messum’s Gallery in Cork Street, London, offered him a ‘small one-man exhibition’ (June 2003) he wrote ‘ puts paid to [a visit to] Cornwall for a bit but otherwise I’m very excited’.  His work was in fact shown in several substantial shows there. However, the much-hoped-for financial security that London might have provided never materialised. In June 2005 he wrote:

            This has been an awful year so far, for me, having earned barely a £1000             since last December…I can’t help feeling I’m in the wrong system! obviously means that I didn’t earn enough for my efforts, from London….

In fact I prefer to go my own way again, & be able to sell cheaper down  here. I don’t want the anxiety of it all.’

The ‘whacky large ones’ mentioned above were the increasingly abstracted Downs landscapes which were his passion. ‘Like you’ he wrote in 2005, ‘my mind is set now on working on a bigger scale (it comes from working for London)’  Large is a relative term – his abstracted pictures, usually in square format, were rarely bigger than 61 x 61 cm. This was mainly due to the tiny space he worked in. The work room in his flat was about 12 foot square, but since around the walls it held his easel, all his paints, brushes, tools, drawing material, current and spare canvasses, books and photographs (along with CD player and earphones), the actual central workspace was perhaps only 6 foot. The only way to appraise the painting in progress was to back out of the door.

Peter’s ‘large pictures’ are by contemporary standards modest, and might be thought to be constricted. But once you are in one of his pictures there are no limits to the view. He was not a solemn person: if you met him in the street you would not know that he was a visionary. He was funny, friendly and self-deprecating, and although he was never a good businessman he was that other thing, a fine artist. He loved the Downs, and they loved him back. He was a familiar character pottering around the centre of Chichester with one eye on the sky, or returning from Arundel with a rucksack on his back. For his friends he was deeply loveable.  To them, and to everyone else, his pictures now speak for him.

David Page


Peter Iden Downland paintings at the Otter Gallery, University of Chichester

Depth of field flier textWe have an exhibition at the Steeple End Gallery in Halesworth Halesworth, as above.  We wrote a short piece as thought to accompany the exhibition.  Here it is

What we used to call Modern Art has set itself a number of problems.  Perhaps ‘problems’ is also a misnomer, because they do not entail absolute solutions.  One of these ‘problems’ then is the depiction or creation of space before, behind or on the picture plane itself. Looking at the scene we perceive space: how do we map these three dimensions onto a two dimensional surface so as to induce a recognition in the onlooker? Pre-Renaissance painting employed a shallow space behind, or on, the picture plane in which relatively two dimensional figures and buildings were arranged parallel to the picture plane -  behind, but not very far behind. So that these images in shallow space co-exist happily with shallow relief – carved and gilded frames on altar-pieces, for instance.

 Renaissance painting employing perspective introduces a potentially very long space behind the picture plane, with forms set at any angle to the canvas. The frame becomes a window containing a view to infinity, denying the flatness of the canvas, and that of any surface the image sits on: a Renaissance painted ceiling seeks to destroy the architectural form it sits on, punching holes into space beyond

Abstract colour field painting, according to some of its practitioners (Heron for instance), proposes a space created in front of the canvas. Devices which might suggest recession – overlap etc – are avoided. Here we have used the optical term Depth of Field as a portmanteau for this ‘problem’ of space. Painters nowadays are not obliged to choose one category of spatial use, or to commit themselves exclusively to one system: indeed, the currently favoured trend is towards a heterodox approach. These concepts are rather abstract unless you are looking at an actual picture, when they become simple enough.  But do we sit around, you might ask, thinking about them and construct our construct our paintings from this cogitation? Of course we don’t!  Painting is an intuitive activity which is done, with the help of instinct, from the part of the brain which we know is there, but cannot entirely control: the area which provides the ‘Ah ha’ experience, the ‘Eureka!’ of Archimedes. But as we try to say something we are nonetheless conscious, among other things, of the problem of space, or try to find out what we want to say, to the onlooker. Even our instincts have been trained by our immediate predecessors.


Dom Theobald

Nets and Stones. Shallow spaces, thought of as either vertical or laid flat. Objects falling or floating or both. Vitrines, streams, transparent nets, moving stones. Tanks. Held in Water. Ice. Clear resin. Static space. Coloured spaces. Cross section of another space. Exploding space. Acoustics of space, how we hear and see. Layers, overlaid. The otherness of two-dimensions. Growth through space. Colour, line and song conspiring to create space and colour.

Dom Theobald 'Slope' 2012 etching 59x55 cm 72

Dom Theobald    Slope  etching


Jilly Szaybo

My recent paintings are about an accumulation of tiny details from nature, which, in my work, may appear sometimes to shuffle about and move in and out of focus. I like the idea that they may also buzz and whirr. These elements can be contained within circular shapes, perhaps a disc or a loop.



Jilly Szaybo   Nocturnal   acrylic on canvas


David Page

Like most of my generation I inherited pictorial preferences from the Cubists, so that I tend to tilt horizontal surfaces up towards the picture plane, and try always to preserve the integrity of the surface. But I am fascinated by perspective – Hobbema’s The Avenue, Middelharnis is a great favourite, and Breughel’s Hunters in the Snow, which seems to contain perspective rather than being moulded by it.  In my small painting Little Bridge in Snow, for instance, the perspective of the bridge is countered by the iconic shape in the middle, like a Japanese character, and the rods and lines anchored to the top frame, so that depth is both asserted and denied.

Meander Ploughing final lite

David Page   Meander Ploughing     oil on canvas






This is a revue I wrote for Cassone , the art book review site, but because of some muddle it wasn’t published there. I was interested in Craxton from early on, and prompted by small coincidences – for instance, I spent many months in Galatas/Poros without realising that Craxton and Freud had been there before. I first saw Craxton’s work in the 1950s, in a copy of ‘Penguin New Writing No 32′, in black and white. My father was amused by this neo-cubism, and wrote a short poem in pencil in the margin

If to Greece you should go to learn farming
You may find biped goats a trifle alarming
But Greek farms hold other surprises
Greek farmer’s feet are of two different sizes

More important Greek surprises were in store for him.

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In November I wrote a letter to the Guardian about Gove’s plans to marginalise the arts in education. This is how it came out in the Guardian:

Gove and his lot are stuck in the realm of the 3Rs. Today the is an increasingly seamless matrix of visual, verbal and aural – TV,       the internet, texting and tweeting- and the arts are at the centre. Children have to learn how to understand, judge and use the new means with the old. Meantime the Govites arrange chairs on the deck of the Good Ship Education without any idea what seas they are sailing into.

As edited I thought this sounded brusque, out of context, and close to gobbledegook, What I actually wrote was this:

The Editor

The Guardian


The central problem is much larger than ‘the marginalisation of cultural subjects’. It is that Gove and his lot are stuck in the realm of the 3 R’s,  if not  the Trivium & Quadrivium. Life has moved on: for a child growing up today the information world is an increasingly seamless matrix of the visual, verbal    and aural. The world is Television, the Internet, the mobile phone, texting and tweets, and the ‘Arts’ are at the centre, not at the periphery. Children have to  learn how to understand, judge, and successfully use the new means with the old. Meantime the Govites continue to arrange chairs on the deck of the     Good Ship Education without any idea what seas they are

sailing into.

It seems to me important to expose & put the skids under Gove, the worst education secretary of my lifetime: he has, so far as I can see, no experience of teaching, and no understanding of education, but is entirely undeterred, driven by political ambition and a primitive theory of learning.  Milk-snatching aside, Margaret Thatcher when she was education minister at least listened to her civil servants and went out and batted for them. Peter Wilby (Guardian Mon 28 Jan) writes that “Gove alone [of ministers with big projects] can look forward to completing his project by the election, largely because he ignores almost all advice from professionals.” I have been baffled by the way in which Gove has been allowed to rejig the whole education system, and by the apparently numb immobility of the Labour Party, which should have been fighting and obstructing every inch of the way. Gove’s deforms will have to be rectified after the next election using up time energy and scarce money. There is at least some evidence of resistance in the education Ministry – the Guardian (Tues 29 Jan., p.9) writes: “Gove.. has told friends civil servants have blocked policy initiatives…” Thank God for that, then.

It is probably worth while trying to spell out what I was trying to say in my letter. The information world which I grew up in (the ‘fourties and ‘fifties) was moved along by conversation, books, daily papers, the cinemas, the telephone and the radio – the last of these marking a radical change from the Victorian era. Television was just beginning to penetrate, (though I did not begin to absorb a television culture until I was in my thirties).  The next generation grew up with Television as a given. Radio, television and the telephone have accelerated the speed of circulation of information, which with contemporary technology moves from its source almost instantaneously, and is then disseminated very quickly. An atrocity in (say) Syria is photographed on a mobile phone, sent somewhere, and spreads in minutes rather than hours.  The problem now is filtering out the relevant from the information overload, and this is done, not by a small band of journalists, but by everyone in reach – (you might almost say by The People).

” Our efficiency in living our lives as ordinary human beings depends on what we do with this bombardment of information.  … [This] involves ignoring some of it, seizing the rest and interpreting it in the light of past experience in order to make as good a guess as possible about what is going to happen”  The quotation comes from Jane Abercrombie’s fine 1960 study The Anatomy of Judgement, compelling reading for teachers.  But the bombardment has increased exponentially in the mean time.

Apart from the increased velocity of information and ease of access to it, one major change has been in the amount of visual information available. In the past if we wanted for example to look at the work of a painter, we had to find a book paper or magazine which reproduced the work: now we can find examples on the screen in reasonable resolution in seconds. And this applies also to newsphotos, video clips, maps, monuments, scenery and so on. In the past visual information of this sort was usually presented in a verbal context (a photograph illustrating a newspaper article, for instance, or a clip of film in a news programme): the visual was moderated by the verbal. Nowadays it is just as likely to be the other way round: the commentator tries to elucidate meaning out of clips of amateur video of events as they happen. In an interesting reversion the sequence of frames which when speeded up creates film has now become a form in its own right as the increasingly accepted graphic novel. – a procession of freeze-frames with added verbal elements. What used to be called Comics. Non-verbal sound was always used to point up language on radio and in film. We all know simple sequences of action which become sinister or happy depending on the sound we are experience at the same time, to take a simple example, and this information, sound including music, increasingly penetrates the other forms, determining their meaning, at the same time as music takes up far more of our communal consciousness.

Today’s children grow up in this visual/verbal/aural soup: to them this is the normal universe. Of course they need to be able to think, express themselves and to use appropriate languages, and of course they need to understand mathematical language and the concepts of science – that is a given. But they will do a poor job of interpreting the information world if they do not understand colour, shape, representational systems, sequence, sound, and music. The way that you develop a real understanding of these areas is by the path of making.  Awareness comes out of struggling to do things and make things. Observation, demonstration and commentary can help, but there is no substitute for direct experience, and making requires equipment, time and dedicated teachers. Learning through making is far deeper and more resiliant  than learning through memorisation.

But the information environment is, in current parlance, a virtual one. It does not involve the full physical force of the body, our delight in our animal powers. We don’t denigrate the thinking, imaginative part of ourselves  to say that it should not be allowed to lose touch with its corrective. the experience of interaction with the physical world. William Morris wisely said that we are most ourselves when our animal self is most accepted: at the other end of the scale is the perceived dichotomy which so tormented Robert Browning, between the thinking person and the man of action.

It’s difficult to see where the idea of ‘soft’ subjects comes from, other than blind ignorance and stupidity, which I suppose is the easy explanation. TS Eliot said “No vers is libre for the man who wants to do a good job” and by the same token, to do anything really well in the arts takes intelligence as well as the skill and pertinacity which is often thought of as merely ‘aptitude’ and written off as mindless. Any study of the great artists shows that their thinking is incisive and powerful. The intellectual content of the arts is not inferior to that of Languages, History or Maths,

though it is somewhat different. At the same time, although an ability to draw, construct, dance or cook will not get you into Oxbridge, it will joyfully accompany you through life, which does point up some of the limitations of those august academic institutions and the thinking which allegedly flows from them.

Learning through doing, contrariwise, is the great teaching tradition the Arts subjects give to education, which adds another dimension to the life of the body, the achievement of ‘sport’ or ‘games’. Nor should these areas be somehow segregated from the rest of  primary and secondary education: the object of  ‘games’ is not primarily to prevent children from becoming fat slobs (though you might think so to hear politicians talk): it is to engender and encourage delight in the power, flexibility and grace of the human body. Using ones body to do things is one of the joys of life, no less than the satisfaction of using ones mind: though we can for the sake of argument describe these two activities as different, we make a major mistake if we think of them as separate. Separation and categorisation are the watchwords of Govism.

Today the arts and activity subjects are central to education for the world as it actually is. Anyone who needs reminding of the nature of Gove should re-read the first two chapters of Dickens’ Hard Times.  We have met him before: his name is Gradgrind. Go Gove and what you get is the boy Bitzer.  We and our children deserve better than that.

photo Jazz Green

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