Category: Current

The Edge of Expression


For something so seemingly gentle an occupation art really does get up some peoples noses. Take the artist Owen Maseko in Zimbabwe for example, being arrested and having an exhibition closed. By all accounts the imagery was not a walk in the park, but then neither was Zimbabwe’s recent history. An artist’s reflection of that you might say.

In a different and a wider sense I agree that some art can be inflammatory because of the subject matter and the close proximity to defenders for or against its denial or existence. But really, is that attitude no different than with some people getting outraged at NWA rapping about stuff in the 80’s and 90’s? what were they going to rap about ? a walk in the park perhaps?.



Now Zimbabwe, and this artist’s (and other Zimbabwean artists) are obviously coming up against a regime which would prefer them to just shut up entirely, never mind to stop painting pictures of their histories grim reality. An acceptance of which on a daily basis I imagine every citizen faces in every aspect of their lives there.

But what is it about imagery that holds such strong sway when it comes to censorship and acceptance. We know this is nothing new; for centuries established and not so established kings and queens, religious hierarchy’s and the wealthy have bought the favours of artists to portray a kind of propaganda.

Religious paintings

Part Triptych of Le Cellier Jean Bellegambe

On the lines of non art/information delivery;

TV news is apparently having a renewed popularity rush with the imagery of video reporting – alongside its move to the internet and moving-image-reportage (delivered to your flat screen or where ever) the written media is feeling a squeeze in the presence of this visually captivating information over the finely crafted word. We like to see and hear stuff delivered by a human form – I guess it keeps our senses fully occupied. And perhaps it is also way of delivering a padded out slightly more entertaining version of what would be very tightly scripted or written news in a more traditional talking head style.

I get that video holds strong, and, still talking about dry stuff here, but I’m the first person to watch the vid rather than read the manual (personally I need glasses to read in any depth especially on the screen) but is it also easier all round?. Maybe though there is a little bit more to it than this, a combination of a sort of time poor attention deficit and being told information? bite size stuff.

Art and the delivery of artistic expression;

Art has been, up until recently, usually defined by a static image or sculpture; something to contemplate. Is that where its unease creeps in with acceptability?. Art portrayed like this can, or encourages people to ponder, to look, to touch, to think and therefore not be told, but to hopefully engage and take stock. Therein I think lies its perceived power on one level alone – that of contemplation.

TV news, political spin, whatever visual and verbal imagery that fills and occupies our screens, 3g spaces and airwaves, does just that, fills up our senses on a roll if you like, with just enough time to take it in and hopefully form an opinion about it. But the written word and art, moving image or not, is there to take as long as you can, or would like, to contemplate its nuances and then to re-contemplate.

The internet has a lot of visual, verbal and written content that whether art or not, is there and can  be consumed and contemplated over and over again if wished. This is now being shifted into brackets and categories by business, policies and legislation.

I will be very interested to see in the near future, why some forms of expression are deemed not as acceptable as others. The reason why.


I think the written word, however it is produced will always have the same contemplative ability by the very fact it is static; so prompting the reader to absorb and imagine at their own pace and re read.

Books, publications and art have always been bones of contention, especially in the light of big social change.

I am sort of surprised the kinds of free expression seen on the internet have had comparative freedom of space for so long.

How we read the world around us has an impact on our perceptions and how we then act within it.

So art, being part of a freedom of expression, sort of comes with the remit to endeavour to reflect that. But all art, whether theatre and film along with the written word and the still image, be it painted, photograph or whatever, will always be a valuable part of our collective contemplative conscience.

As long as that expression is not stitched, tailored to suit or tidied up into acceptable baskets of truth or authenticity, because of political zeitgeist, fear of offending, of rocking a boat, or indeed in spite of that.

A friend once said she believed art was not about beauty per se, more about finding beauty within the sometimes unacceptable and unpalatable – so all the information we personally process everyday local or globally, can reach for some sort of contemplative acceptability of that.

Never The Twain

Public Service Neutrality



I mentioned a few weeks ago that I might plan a gallery visit or two…. once the weather improves. So I have been sifting through the various heads-ups and gallery twitterings to see what’s going on.


As usual for me, the first one to catch my eye was a gallery behaving…well…. in a very un-art like way. This was the Beau Arts in Paris; apparently Clare Carolin senior tutor at The Royal College of Art and Chinese Artist Ko Siu Lan had been given a space to curate and create an installation outside the gallery walls. Outside – inside its all the same really – it is still connected to the gallery. But after the event was installed the gallery decided to pull the installation on the grounds of unsuitability – why after though? had the gallery not bothered to keep abreast of work in progress? had the artists right at the last minute bunged in some really visually offensive or epilepsy inducing strobes or something that was going to offend ‘those of a nervous disposition’ ? maybe it was offending language – racist even? .

No, the work consisted of four banners each with a word on it ; gagner, moins, plus, travailler  or  work, more, earn, less, the way the banners were positioned I guess you could read in any particular order you wished as they were hung vertically from the sides of the building.

Beaux arts

I baffled over this one cos the words to me in any order didn’t seem ummmm ? offensive?. Maybe an obvious statement if you juggled them about to actually read work more earn less. Only when I saw a news article did the explanation come out, the gallery had decided that as these words had specifically been used in Sarkosy’s 2007 election campaign (only in the order; earn more work less) that they were too ‘explicitly political’ to use. Ohhh right that explains it then, they being a public gallery and all, this is about being publically accountable to the government yes? No absolument! Ok publically accountable to the public perhaps? No No!… is about ‘Public Service Neutrality’.


Yes, I am in still in the real world and have not slipped into another parallel dimension, I did get that right – public service neutrality. Didn’t Richard Branson have an ‘art’ and state moment 30 odd years ago when Virgin records were taken to court in Nottingham over their subtle window display of the Sex Pistols Never Mind the Bollocks album? I can use the b word here – as John Mortimer (bless him) proved at the time the word had an old English meaning and therefore could not be deemed to be offensive. Even the other spin off from that album which involved the Monarchy and the song God Save The Queen, didn’t have her Maj expressing anything more than ‘regret’ over decency and taste that such sentiments needed to be used against her. Now the behind the scenes details I have no idea of, but the overall outcome was that John Lydon and the group’s manager defended the song’s lyrics as being a more ambiguous take on the monarchy or monarchies in general. No doubt her Maj was not amused in the slightest with that explanation. But it passed without having the whole thing withdrawn totally from the public.


Posh spice I seem to remember also tried a different take on word use a few years ago when she wanted to TM the word Posh and failed – cos its a word !.


So, Beau Arts, as bastion of art for the public, what kind of ethic got in the way of this project then?, free speech perhaps? – even the artist expressed disbelief and she is from China.


Public Service Neutrality… boy that’s a line and a half… Public Service Duplicity more like.

How Do You Do What Do You Do?

Artist?; from art in the depths of the garage to Micheal Landy’s Bin


Can you remember Shazia Mirza’s brilliant comic stand up line in 2002? dressed in hajib and introducing herself in monotone voice “hello I’m Shazia Mirza – at least that’s what it says on my pilots licence” the comedic nervous shock factor got her noticed straight away, as she headed for Edinburgh fringe accolades and, with many comedy awards later, she is certainly known as Shazia Mirza (and not for her pilots licence).

After the past 15 months of literally going nowhere personally, I got my passport out just to remind me that now things seem to be getting better I might even be able to use it again and started imagining a European gallery trip or literary gig or similar. The last one I went to was the Hay Book festival  in Granada, Spain with the Alhambra as its main venue and focus; and if you’re into that kind of thing there’s nothing like a creative fest held in gorgeous surroundings to brighten up what is essentially a promo Q&A.

So dusting my ticket to the world down and retrieving it from amidst previous ones I found that over the years my “identity” had morphed from export clerk, to mother, to IT admin with a smattering of artist in between, it read like a sort of life attention deficit disorder. This reminded me about meeting up with some friends the other day when I was introduced to someone new.

After the preliminary niceties the inevitable what do you do came up.  I know that it’s not used as much these days, but as far as I can see there is still no really unobtrusive  way of asking what someone does however outmoded the idea of actually saying it is. Personally after a couple of years struggling with the mother tag – not a denial thing here -I definitely was/am one, I’ve got the stretch marks and worry lines to prove it, but I felt I was more than that – if not a full-on career woman juggling family with work. A few years ago I eventually got over the are you mother or salary “man” tag and became quite happy to say I was an artist first, though baffling, even for me, I still felt tempted to hurriedly follow up by saying; but that’s not how I make my living or I haven’t made any money at it yet.

Last year proved pivotal on that one, filling in tick boxes for the dole, I found artist wasn’t going to fit in that box, nor were much of the other identities I seemed to have consumed over the years.  So the term what can you do seemed more appropriate. I resisted putting nurse cook and bottle washer in the box cos although I’d do it – I could envisage a literal interpretation of that and a spate of washer-up in restaurants imminent.

All the things I could do seemed to have been usurped by time, and especially with art; lack of funds to make or do, not that that wasn’t new, but it was impossible without affording some sorts of materials, so all my projects went on hold, half baked.

These days with my day job tentatively sorted I am now adamant that what I do is artist. My art work can still pay a permanent visit to or be found residing in the garage for a while before finding a home or a brief foray into the bright lights of exhibits.

So when I heard about Michael Landy and his Bin; you can’t miss it really, but if you did he’s commissioned a huge bin to be setup in Peckham Gallery where artists can deposit their unused work, dropped unceremoniously from the bin’s great height to go crashing into the heap at the bottom. This brought home how all the work that is not accepted or known by art institutions, establishments and gallery circuits and circus’s (and Landy’s definitely on the circuit) still has lack of relevance because of its unacceptability.

Artists will always be that species of their own making, but the past 20 if not 30 years has shown an increasing tilt toward the artist producing a commodity and as a commodity it has to have a use and value,  and like many commodities before with little known practical use were found catapulted to the giddy heights of luxury items with the money value of their work receiving a lot of attention, so the lines have become even more defined; us and them, if you like. The artists who had made it had really made it celebrity style and all the money spin off from that interest.

Michael Landy’s Bin and other projects around at the moment are highlighting the fact that art can and should be of use if it has a chance to.

The hashtag class project this February/March at the Winkleman Gallery is also engaging with the polemic of incestuous/competitive clusters of commercial art and its entourages with both establishment and private being exclusively positioned, excluding many.

Recent years have shown a special kind of art hierarchy fuelled by its own hype and money monopolies, which in turn send out messages; brand yourself, stand out, move on up, and even boho liberal’s, disenchanted cynical artists or both, still get given the message be there or be square or more likely don’t give up the day job cos you ain’t one of us yet.

Of Course there is bad art and good art, but that has been and still is very much the dictate of a few moguls and their directional interests, and with that, only a few artists can identify.  But it doesn’t stop others being artists, and the opportunity to validate that shouldn’t stop at school leaving age – the age at which the state stops being there for a lot of youngsters.

Music, art even PE are lauded as beneficial aspects of education just as the sciences are integral too (and strangely enough media studies – that shot to the top of the class straight away), but let’s face it how many of us when sat in front of the careers advice bloke, were, and are really encouraged in that direction other than to maybe go on to do arts degree level or seek out a job at the local gym/swimming pool (sports being slightly more ingrained as useful).

Purely commercial jobs (or art-o-tainment jobs) are the only option (and I’m not knocking them) the non highly commercial ones are pretty much left to the remit of public establishments, theatres, art institutions and dedicated groups for dance, comedy or whatever – and they are not exactly brimming with jobs or opportunities; with them lacking funds and chasing the coat tails of commercial entities holed up in their incestuous clusters in (usually) large cities.

And so on a very basic level the adage of “Don’t put your daughter on the stage Mrs Worthington” rings true, the arts as a profession still has that precarious life choice attached to it, one which you have to be either pretty determined to take and/or probably have fairly supportive parents.

Shazia was certainly determined and it is obvious what she does, for a lot of people though, their creative contributions will never grow past the collage that their art teacher thought was very good or the voice in which their music teacher saw promise. The structure to enable the praise given in school to grow outside of that is patchy and fraught, and for artists especially, being a fairly solitary activity even if you do survive that assault course and make some headway if you don’t play the games of media and hype (to name but a few) when reaching the giddy heights of the bright lights – it’s a long and possibly just as quick, way down to the bottom of that bin.

The Shock of The New

Susie bubble’s fashion conundrum and Chris Ofili’s creative originality.


A couple of weeks ago Susie Bubble posted a fashion conundrum she came across in this email which not surprisingly spawned over 160 comments, if only through disbelief;


Maybe I’m a little old school when it comes to fashion, but I am having a hard time finding the appeal of today’s looks.  My girlfriend is studying fashion and frequently shows me new styles online, some I like, others I think are just silly.  After living in New York City for several years, I have noticed countless styles…and the more eccentric and colorful the outfit, the more snobby and arrogant the individual.

To me, fashion has turned into cries for attention rather than practicality.  Either outfits are designed to sell sex, or scream out for attention by encompassing bizarre trinkets and bright colors.  To me, good fashion requires class, practicality, and creativity. Where has this gone?  I enjoy several of your styles, and find others not so intriguing.  Of course these are my opinions, and I wouldn’t have an opinion if I didn’t care about the subject matter.  I’m afraid people will think I’m ignorant when the reality is I just dont see the practicality behind a lot of today’s looks. I would love to hear your side of the story, and your views on what I call “dramatic” fashion. Thank you so much, and continue blogging!  I’m finding it all very interesting.


So beige cardigan thinking aside a lot of views were raised due to the term “dramatic” fashion.

For anyone unfamiliar with Susie’s site although totally fashion oriented it is very creative, eclectic and inventive while at the same time holding the fashion zeitgeist angle, not surprising because her day job is centred around Dazed and Confused magazine.

I put in my two penarth on the subject – that as usurp flourishes in dress go, it is usually based on a creative gesture and, as in general creativity overall will be one that smacks of difference. The kind of thing I’ve been talking about in my blog; “falling into step with the crowd is still a one-way ticket, not least for creative originality (and god knows how difficult it is to create something absolutely and completely original).”


Susie replied that she had thought about the shock factor in fashion “it’s a dichotomy that I’ve struggled with for a while….that fashion seeks the shock-factor but also is quick to criticise those who step out of line…”


Essential before reading further! **2014 edit update

On a hugely positive note! : Chris Ofili’s new show Night and Day listed here on Artsy. Showing at Marcia Tucker’s, New Museum, Bowery, New York. 29/10/14 until 25/01/15. 

So, picking up on Chris Ofili’s tentative come back, if that is the right word this week at Tate Britain –  I kind of got what Susie was saying. Shocking has always come with the new, but more specifically recently has also become old hat; a lot of what has gone before has not only been done with the reasoning because you can, but because the market has been dictating and being chased by artists and their agents just like in the literary industry; as a crock of gold, the new improved version, the next tantalizing thing, and in so was always going to be vulnerable to the rejection of the commercial establishment and its slavish followers. Selling your work on that level is like competing washing powder brands, so that soon the difference between each work of art is whittled down to minutiae and the fickle choice of consumer whim.


I didn’t know at the time but Chris had apparently not sat comfortably with the art market status quo, so much so that he felt obliged to move and reconsider his approach to making art, because of its relevance to him rather than the market. He basically couldn’t work like that and found he was increasingly putting on his Chris Ofili “artist” hat to engage with that side of his life and return to Chris “the Man U fan” away from his work – the two he felt had become separate and pressure to be “the artist” not a real part of him, so much so he couldn’t see where his work was going next. I am guessing here but almost like his life blood (art) was drying up.


In an interview this week with Ekow Eshun he noted that; “too closely watched by dealers, buyers and museums from too young an age, he had not had the time or the space to dig more deeply into himself, and discover exactly who he was, who he is, who exactly he will become. “It got to a point where I felt the work was really known in a public sense, that the division between public and private was like a thin membrane,”


I have heard this mentioned in a different way a lot in business, of people putting on their characters for the various aspects of work they do and in a way it is nothing new, any Christmas party will throw up the unexpected sides of work colleagues that we never knew existed.


But I think there is something a little different here that Chris has maybe been toying with, people have and are having to address their values and how they approach their lives, after nearly 50 years of consumer driven rhetoric. The back to basics, back to this, back to that, is one of the spin offs for a lot of people, if not also a convenient agenda for a lot of politicians pushing for the luddite.


There is also a sideways shift though, values are having a reshape and the evolution of doing art for the pure bottom line of money is an old bone of contention but has been shifting for a good few years now, I know of a lot of artists actually earning a living from their work who did not feel comfortable with the way the art market was going, I genuinely believe this was not sour grapes about the top earners but a gut feeling.  So it didn’t surprise me that with art, as with all creative markets recently the absurd need to stand out because of the shock of the new  – bolder, brighter, better with clique value add one up-manship etc., was going to find its doppelganger to genuinely new and possibly shocking.


Ofili’s work is, for me, wonderful, I remember seeing his work at The Turner exhibition in ’98. The vibrancy of his work is stunning but at the time the headlines he caught, were, in a lot of arty and non arty corners of the press all about the elephant dung (I saw The Virgin Mary and it was not the whole of that painting but maybe the beginning of the wrong time for that for him) – the shock of it.


He obviously knew what it was he needed to do and has come back to do again at the Tate, which will I am sure be evolved and possibly shocking and this time not be received the other way round being given the tag of shocking and new.


In the same interview Chris suggested that “We can only say looking back in terms of chronology. Ideas are recurring and do not only exist in the past. So I wouldn’t want to relegate something to being an old idea, the date doesn’t matter. You hear an amazing Thelonius Monk track, and the last thing that occurs to you is whether or not it was made at the beginning or at the end of his life. First thing that strikes you is that it’s just a surprising arrangement of sounds. Of individual sounds to make a whole.”


Things evolve and there will always be a man in a beige cardigan to be shocked, but when it becomes a rule of thumb commercial or otherwise to shock, however well crafted, just purely to stand out, the newness or relevance, for me doesn’t ring true. But the genuine gesture of creating something new and inventive as a creative endeavour, in my book, can be as shocking and arrogant as it like.

O Lucky Man


Class, Fairness and the Scope of Social Media



I am quite excited because hopefully I am going to help contribute within a month long discussion/exhibition at the Winkleman Gallery in Chelsea, New York who, with the artist curators Jennifer Dalton and Wlliam Powhida have opened its doors to artists and people to share thoughts on class and fairness within the art world, the event is called hashtagclass and takes place from 20th February for one month and will I believe, try and show all sides of the process from actually making the piece to the value of its social worth and how that squares with what has and is going on in the art market.


The dialogue and art will range from hands on in and around the gallery, to wider internet/social discussions and contributions (including my two pen’rth ) toward the project, which incidentally, I came across through social media.


Funnily enough  class has been on my radar for a while now, (or maybe not so funny – it is a bit bloody obvious isn’t it in the wake of last year’s polemic of no jobs, lives down the pan and pie in the sky bonuses). So yes I have been thinking about not necessarily the word class itself but the ethics that have been stifling the life out of social cohesion.  Class also seems to have been leaping out at me from every media source in the UK recently possibly with the advent of the political mudslinging that is no doubt going to become even more childish as the weeks wear into the pre election reasoning.

Will Hutton, never one to be swayed from his resolve hit the nail on the head in one of his weekly articles, pointing out that the PM’s joke directed at David Cameron and his buddies, although funny, instead of joking about Eton, educated toffs and inheritance tax had missed a more vital point. That of fairness.


A lot of this resonates even wider not least because from nearly every angle of the last 50 years or so the idea of the rat race, and the misplaced Darwin-esque theories that were entrenched into a social market place, the idea of dog eat dog, and tough luck has long been the social mantra of the more fortunate and therefore least likely to suffer from any of this anachronism. Unfairness is definitely the word best used to describe – not jealousy – not miss appropriated aspiration – just bloody unfair.


So with that in mind I was taken with other references to class that I had made here, when talking about comedy, fashion, and protectionist stances in the name of fairness and ethical issues.

As far as I can see fairness is a gesture made with the knowledge that you have not excluded someone from the possibility of also making or engaging with that gesture.

A wide task! But for some it is not a case of the scope of the task but the fact they have chosen to wear blinkers, a denial; what is not evident is not fact, and the protection of that.

Maybe that is why so many who are in a position to make gestures with money don’t like the idea of seeing where they could be without that freedom. Many do though, and look fate in the face, but the closed worlds of class have not been eradicated as some would have us believe; class is very much here and now.

I always thought the word class had become so entrenched in older ideals and categories that the Tony Blair exhort of a classless society to be a rather ambiguous use of the word. Categories do exist, financial categories especially, they demark how we live what we aspire and are able to aspire to, and pathways to these aspirations are just as relevant today. The days of I know my place; I’m poor and happy kind of propaganda, are thankfully no longer a convenient label posted in that tick box by people who would prefer it to stay that way.


The status quo like the market place is no longer in control of its customers, just as when social marketing took hold and customer profiles began to lead the product, it is having to reappraise its values. Social groups are having to look each other in the face, some very reluctantly but they need to square up, with fairness as its benchmark; aspiration yes, exclusivity, no.

Public interest and ownership of wider affairs is much broader now and is not the sole property of a fortunate few even if the jobs are. National and International law are having to change with human rights, privacy and information sharing. The closed structures of commerce and education are having to, if not actually believing in it at least look fair. The guarantee of the fairness of a gesture whether financial or social is hopefully coming into its own, and most certainly needs a strong focus.


The public realm of education is much more accessible, even if the formal institutions are still dogged but awareness of what can be accessed and public ownership has come with it. Social media can offer this access and even things like the XFactor have, regardless of the ethics of the format and content, involved a wider more engaged public and with it highlighting those sorts of creative possibilities (and not just through a lottery like structure). The baby doesn’t have to be thrown out with the bathwater here.

Public art and institutions in the same way must be pro active now and not follow suit only after something has become a commercial success. Now the word popular can almost be said in the same sentence as the word populace. Never before have Public Art and institutions been so in need to realize and engage with that.





Olympics Britannica

Anything that is attracting so much public expense is going to have a rough ride on its worthiness – not least The Olympics. So leaving actual efficient management, politics and spending aside – one of its detractors along the way seem to be groups who feel they are more worthy of funding ie; the arts in particular, well yes you have to shout to be heard or disappear where funding is concerned but the Olympics does encompass a lot, not just sport and until someone raises the bar and creates an arts Olympics this is the best we’ve got to a global fest in any sphere. So it was a great relief to hear Eddy Izzard giving the Olympics a big thumbs up the other day – not just as a great opportunity for athletes but sport in general at a time when malaise and get up and go certainly seems to have been left to the Jane Fonda fitness videos of the eighties, at the end of a decade when sitting watching others on one screen or another with or without a game stick became a national sport. So anything that gives a fun big-up to a sports event, that however finely tuned and steeped in athletic prowess and tradition, is beginning to look like an expensive and ageing white elephant has got to be good.

Grayson Perry gave a very funny take on how our Olympic torch should be lit – the building work just scraping in on time picture the last high visibility workman flicking his final fag butt into the torch …and… poof! It would be lit, seamless, and somehow very British – no airs or graces very matter of fact and by accident.

Brazil are going mad at the thought of hosting – no doubt seizing every given opportunity to engage and promote. Britain is not prone to wild spontaneous fiestas in the streets. But Eddy does have a point a really great opportunity is in danger of being missed in the UK through what seems like inward looking squabbles and that great British trait of not having much pride – cos you know what happens there – too much pride comes before a fall. And we should know we’ve knocked enough people of their so called pride pedestals to prove it.

Grayson and Eddy both have a point we should take our own pride in how we approach and do this event, not least because we need some civic and social big-ups – some social mutual respect, that can be shared through this event (even if the majority is taking place in Londinium)  but that’s another story – or maybe it isn’t….

Someone pointed out to me recently that in the olden days when it had snowed you would help to clear the pavements, so neighbours could walk ice free, done as a mark of social respect and just plain neighbourly-ness. A sort of collective respect that for many has all but disappeared. He juxtaposed this remark with the pride of someone chucking a Maccy D’s carton on the ground and in the same breath purporting to be full of national pride and respect.

Quite, I agree, sport the arts or whatever national (nay national/ global!) event it is that brings us together, it its well past time for in-squabbling and time indeed for a group hug and more power to the high viz jacketed guy and his fag butt lighter…it’ll never happen the responsibility of physical health and safety is way too important …Would be funny though, maybe Grayson and Eddy could do a double torch lighting act; Eddy sprints up the stairs hands the torch over and Grayson curtseys’ to Her Maj and lights the flame like a modern day Alice in Wonderland reaching up to that giant tea cup of Olympic togetherness on its pedestal.

Pop Will Eat Itself

Every little helps…


Enfant Terrible was a word used to describe people like Damien Hirst and Tracey Emin during their rise into the public consciousness. For centuries there have been people in the arts ‘making waves’ or shocking the establishment, and these type of tag-names help reinforce the effect. There is, though a lot of distance between someone like Damien Hirst and the tortuous life of Dostoyevsky. Maybe that is because we live in more ‘stable’ times – the threat of the establishment smothering the life out of anything that purports to go against the grain is less likely now – isn’t it.


Isn’t it? or is it? as Robert McCrum aptly put the other day there is a deal of difference between being ‘disloyal’ and ‘complicity’. Shazia Mirza was also banging on about the amount of petty hate that’s flying around these days –  like the venom spouted toward Jedward, Tiger Woods, Jordan and various people who have very little real effect on our lives, and certainly not worthy of the vitriol given to that of Hitler, say, or Pol Pot. It seems that for most of us the minutiae of detail we seem to absorb on a daily basis deserves the same amount of hurrumphed response of a Victor Meldrew clone in full swing.


And the arts are no less affected; the last time I recall the arts having a really momentous avant-garde moment (apart from Mr Rushdie’s singular attempt and as opposed to active ’disloyal’ people protests like that for the Poll Tax/Criminal Justice Bill etc). At the last count saying something ‘incompliant’ was in the days of punk – and even that was really about making your own crap music in your bedroom – but you know – in general up till then apart from blues, or rock and roll type stuff, for main stream popular music the affordability and ‘knowhow’ was the reserve of a few.


When I heard of Sam Taylor Woods new film ‘Nowhere Boy’ (I couldn’t miss it really being in lieu of its release) I winced thinking about the press responses to ‘an artist doing a film’ and not just that ‘an artist doing a film about a treasured icon’.

The usual knee jerk reaction to most artists encroaching on different territory is ‘go back to what you do best’ etc etc., ‘jack of all trades master of none’. True, there is something very relevant about being a master at what you do best. But Sam Taylor-Wood is a visual artist, she has done many short films, photographic pieces, and emotional visual forays into unchartered territory – not necessarily in a shocking way either. No the wince factor for me came when I saw she had done what looked like an emotionally heavy look at the early life of John Lennon – and why not, indeed  she got the backing of Yoko Ono to use the song ‘Mother’ after she had seen a special screening of the film. But the iconic nature of John Lennon and how he touched many in some way by his life if not his death, I’d hazard a guess that if you didn’t like his music or even the public persona and were over 9 you would at least respect the talent and genius.


So it didn’t surprise me when sifting through some of the early comments about this film that aside from the usual arty spats between critics, there was an element within the press who were somewhat disgruntled that she had chosen to show him as anything other than a perfect example of how a budding rock/pop star should behave. Sacrilege sprung to mind as I read one review, well all I could think of was the response to Steve MQueen’s foray into feature film a couple of years ago (he too a visual artist) with ‘Hunger’ about IRA hunger striker Bobby Sands. A barrel of laughs it was never going to be and indeed Nowhere Boy does not have to have the precursor to be the ‘happy go lucky art school cheeky boy made good’ subsequently being shot down, thus delivering us with a ‘righteous tear fest’. Life isn’t like that but for some reason going against the grain by ‘telling it like it is’ albeit an interpretation, is nothing short of defamation – of what though? the rose tinted idea? – Robert McCrum talked of artists today being fearful of risk – vulnerable to propaganda and being prisoners of conventional wisdom. This is a sobering and true sentiment – as is Tom Paine’s ‘we must guard even our enemies against injustice’.


So if I hear the baying crowd rallying around some petty injustice of idyll whether it is a Middle England preserve or whatever – Sam’s film will remind me that ‘disloyalty’ and risk are part of the wider issue of Not being compliant – so that, without wanting to sound too dramatic, the Dostoevsky’s of the future do not have to suffer the same fate again.

As Neil Young sang in the 70’s, Rust Never Sleeps; so however ridiculous and irrelevant the concept of going against the grain may seem today, falling into step with the crowd is still a one-way ticket, not least for creative originality (and god knows how difficult it is to create something absolutely and completely original).

Graham Greene passionately believed in playing devil’s advocate and ’being a piece of grit in the state machinery’. With popular culture now as state of the art if not art masquerading as entertainment, however small the ‘disloyal’ gesture made it will go some way to ensure the imploding nature of complicity doesn’t take hold – every little helps.