Category Archives: arts

02 Feb

Manchester’s newly-imposed censorship

Manchester Art Gallery has removed a pre-Raphaelite painting which depicts naked water nymphs seducing a man. Hylas and the Nymphs, painted by John William Waterhouse in 1896 is a famous Victorian painting, but its erotic content – combined with the rise of the #Metoo movement and the recent expose of the President’s Club – has prompted curators to take the artwork down.

A statement on the gallery’s website said they removed the painting, “To prompt conversation about how we display and interpret artworks in Manchester’s public collection.”

“This gallery presents the female body as either a ‘passive decorative form’ or a ‘femme fatale.’ Let’s challenge this Victorian fantasy!”

Members of the public – who were not consulted before this iconoclasm was perpetrated – have answered back. One said, “A dangerous precedent is set for other artworks,” Another lampooned the “Po-faced, politically-correct virtue-signalling.”

Now just brace yourself because what I am about to write is not pretty. It is political jargon at its ugliest. Clare Gannaway , contemporary art curator, uses English as a foreign language. She claims the removal of Waterhouse’s painting was not about censorship, but about, “outdated and damaging stories this whole part of the gallery is still telling through the contextualising and interpretation of collection displays. The area of the gallery which included Hylas and the Nymphs hasn’t changed for a VERY long time and still tells a very particular story about the bodies on display.

“We think that we can do better than this and the taking down of the painting is a playful way to open up a discussion about this whole gallery, the collection and the way that artworks speak to us through the way they are interpreted and put into context. We’d like this gallery to tell a different story in 2018, rather than being about the ‘Pursuit of Beauty’ with a binary tale about how women are either femmes fatale or passive bodies for male consumption. Shouldn’t we be challenging this instead of perpetuating views which result in things like the President’s Club being able to exist? The gallery doesn’t exist in a bubble and these things are connected, surely? The gallery’s themes need addressing and challenging. That’s kind of the point and it’s amazing it hasn’t been done sooner,” really.”

Get you breath back for a minute, then I’ll try to comment. We have noticed that what Ms Gannaway writes is not English. It is certainly not art criticism. It is not even joined up thinking – for jargon is not a medium receptive of thought. Her apologia is ideological prejudice of the most narrow-minded and mean-spirited sort.

But I have a question: if we are to remove all depictions of girls and women as temptresses and sex objects, what havoc we shall have wreak throughout all the great European galleries.

Goya’s The Nude Maia will have to go. We can’t tolerate a juicy picture of a comely lass lying naked on the couch and giving us the glad eye.

Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights has kinky nymphets all over the pace – some standing on their heads. Get rid of that too.

Titian’s nude Venus of Urbino has her hand placed provocatively over her – shall we say? – mons veneris

You don’t need to be able to read German to understand what the flagrant flasheress in Klimt’s Frau Bei Der Selbstbetfriedi is doing with her hand: it’s all in the picture.

Rubens’ Leda and the Swan features the creature with his long neck lying between Leda’s thighs. Lucky old swan – but don’t let Clare catch you!

I could point you to hundreds more, but it’s tiring work for an old man like me.

It’s not only the pictures that will have to go. get rid of Wagner’s Ring for a start. Das Rheingold kicks off with water-sports as Rhine maidens frolick and tease a dwarf

Lolita, one of the finest of all 20thC novels must be for the burning, along with The Odyssey, featuring as it does Circe and the sirens, The Bible will have to be scrapped on account of its presentation of Samson and Delilah – to say nothing of Eve and her apple

Nymphs actually exist. They are part of the human psyche. Are we to refuse then to portray those bits of human experience that our resurgent academic Puritanism disapproves? If The Iliad and Rheingold must go, then Snow White will have to go too because it shows us a sweet little girl, no doubt underage, living with seven dirty old men. What’s the policy at the Manchester art gallery then: get rid of all paintings except those depicting middle aged women in dungarees working at the lathe?  

Look, Clare, you warped and twisted reincarnation of all the bowdlerisers and Missis Grundy’s there have ever been, the British public does not appreciate your censorious political prejudice

Why don’t you just climb back up on to your feminist witch waggon and drive off – a bloody long way?

29 Jul

Prescribing the disease as the antidote

Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned.

I’ve been reading about pop music again. To make matters worse, I have compounded my fault by reading a BBC preview about tonight’s “Bowie Celebration Prom.” Here is what it said:

“How to turn a David Bowie tribute from an evening of cover versions into something better? The key seems to be the Berlin collective Stargaze, a young group of post-jazz players who will be the backdrop against which a sequence of guest singers (including Marc Almond and John Cale) will perform Bowie classics. Earlier (7.30pm), veteran maestro Bernard Haitink conducts Mahler’s Third Symphony.”

I am having difficulties with some of the wording in that preview.

What is “post jazz”?

How can the word “classic” appear next to the word “Bowie”?

Blasphemously, the providers of this rubbish describe Bowie as a rock “icon.” In truth, he was an overblown representative of the trashy mass culture industry, which is not about music of any sort, but about advertising and money.

Remember H.L. Mencken: “Nobody ever lost money by underestimating public taste.”

I don’t mind – big of me, eh? – if those deprived of a decent education by generations of lousy state schooling and the dumbed down mass media want to get together to listen to trash.

But I do mind when the trash is imported into the realm of what formerly stood for quality. Classical music concerts are the antidote to the banal noises of pop music.

The devotees of pop music have hundreds of TV and radio stations which broadcast nothing but pop and rock.

Is it so unreasonable to ask that one station might remain clear of this disease?

(That review reveals very clearly the Beeb’s order of values: “Veteran maestro Bernard Haitink conducts Mahler’s Third Symphony” is appended as an afterthought.)

Furthermore, Father, I confess to being an elitist. But what’s the alternative – to be a mediocratist?

05 Apr

Music as junk food

The BBC call The Today Programme their “flagship news and current affairs” coverage, so we can confidently turn to it for serious comment and analysis of those things which matter most to the nation. And indeed The Today Programme does not disappoint: this morning, for example, they were discussing the burning cultural issue, “Which year was the best year ever for music?”

As a musical amateur I was captivated, turned up the volume and prepared to receive the experts’ learned assessment. Surely a contender would be 1727, when J.S. Bach first performed St Matthew Passion? Or perhaps  Mozart’s composing his last three symphonies – in E-flat, G-minor and C-major – inside six weeks in 1788. Another candidate would surely be 1805 and the first performance of Beethoven’s Eroica in Vienna? Chopin’s Twenty-four Preludes first delighted the world in 1839. Messiah given in Dublin in 1742. Schoenberg’s plunge into atonality in his String Quartet Number 2 in 1908 perhaps? Shostakovich’s Leningrad Symphony in 1941?

These are only a few memorable years from the abundant riches of European music, and chosen off the top of my head. Which year would the BBC experts choose as the pinnacle of musical creativity?

Nah, none of the above!

This is the BBC and its presenters faithfully represent the culture of the society in which they earn their daily ciabatta. So for them, “music” is pop music, aka crap, junk, rubbish, noise, fashion, trending, narcissism. Anything else is “classical music” – a niche for elitists and snobs. Tune in to any of the quiz shows and the category “music” will come up. But it will not be music as we know it. It will be “the charts.” The Corporation is in thrall to pop stars. Recall the way they cut short an interview with the Archbishop of Canterbury to prattle everlastingly about the decease of of the great fraud and self-promotion guru David Bowie. Some years ago, when one of their very own presenters of pop – John Peel – died, the entire half hour of the 6pm news was given up to the subject. When Michael Jackson snuffed it, the coverage went on for three days. I turned on the TV and heard that he had died. I went out to dinner and when I came back they were yet talking about him. Next morning the news was, “Michael Jackson: still dead.”

And even the BBC’s music station, Radio Three has been poppified. All gushing chat and golly-gosh as the presenter tells us how much some piece “made me tingle.” Everything reduced to sentimentality and me-me-me. No evaluation, no enlightening comment. No critical apparatus at all. All most unmusical.

So which year did they nominate for the great accolade, the best year ever for music?

Was it The Beatles’ first LP? Or the year when The Rolling Stones chucked all them tellies out of the hotel window? Or the memorable year when Bob Dylan decided that henceforth he would always “sing” with a peg on his nose, so to elevate his pretentiousness to a height previously un-scaled even by that prince of doggerel-mongers? How about the year we were given the shuffling nihilism of John Lennon’s Imagine? An offering from Freddie Planet of the Apes? The Boomtown Saver of Africa? Or something by the most suicidal pop-junkie ever to smash a guitar?

Actually, I can’t tell you. I’ve forgotten. 

20 Feb

The death of the American dream

The death is announced of the American literary divinity Lee-Harper Salinger, author of The Mockingbird in the Rye Sh*thouse, aged 487. In Harper-Salinger, also known as Dylan “Adenoidal” Bob Kerouac and, in some southern states, Martin Luther Ginsberg, American littricher achieved its greatest right-on-ness. Ms Ginsberg-Burroughs – who occasionally liked to be known as Malcolm X (and on Sundays Christopher Hitchens) – was the only American fraud never to have been interviewed by John Humphrys who commented on hearing the news, “S/he was truly iconic, like where it’s at, right on and the true spirit of the millionaire American protest industry.”  Once, when described by some fawning media groupie as unique, Ms Mailer-Vidal replied with characteristic modesty, “No way. There’s f****** millions like me in the States! That’s what makes America the greatest nation on earth. Goddam! I did not have sex with that coyote.”

S/he also enjoyed the approbation of her distinguished contemporaries. The long dead Ernest Hemingway was distraught upon hearing the news and went out and shot himself – again. The young Tom Eliot was so overcome that he simply put his head in his hands and exclaimed, “Oh the moon shines bright on Mrs Porter – and on her daughter!” Henry “Circumloction” James was last heard saying, “If, peradventure, Miss Salinger-Dylan-King had never existed, and the issue, even in the great chain of serendipity, must remain in doubt, for perforce, even the elements which men mostly ascribe to chance have their own inner momentum towards necessity, then I myself, in a fit of syntactical periphrastics. would have been obliged to invent her.”

Through her tears, Norman “Napalm” Sontag issued a statement, “ Hey! Little Rock, Easy over with grits. I have a nightmare, the civil rights movement, where it’s all at, tell me about it at this moment in time. Put your pecker away Bill and – Hey, right now – pass me that joint brother Barak.”

10 Aug

What a piece of work is man!

“I don’t use social media and I’d really appreciate it if you did tweet, blog, hashtag the shit out of this one for me. I don’t mind this, this is part of it, photographs, whatever, outside — fine. But Inside I can see cameras, I can see red lights in the auditorium. And it may not be any of you here that did that but it’s blindingly obvious. It’s mortifying. I don’t want that to happen,”

So spake Benedict Cumberbatch outside the stage door to fans who had been filming his performance in Hamlet.

It does give pause for thought. What is going on in the heads – I don’t say minds – of people who would so distract an actor? More to the point, what were such morons doing at a performance of Hamlet in the first place?

I venture it’s because Cumberbatch is their pin up boy: a man they are accustomed to seeing on the telly in parts that are a million miles from Shakespeare.

They weren’t there for the bard but only for the theatrical crumpet.

I may be right if Kate Maltby, writing in The Times is correct. She says, “This production is Hamlet for kids brought up on Moulin Rouge.”

I can believe that Kate: I’ve sat through Hamlet designed for kids brought up on The Flowerpot Men and Macbeth for those raised on Sabrina the Teenage Witch

I usually assume that some actions are simply unthinkable – such as deliberately driving on the wrong side of the road or slipping rat poison into your little sister’s orange juice. Flashing red lights in the eyes of an actor going about his trade is such a thing.

Not these days. Not in the dumbed-down, infantilised, gadgeteered phantasmagoria that passes for real life. Here there is no room for etiquette. It’s worse: I bet those gormless fans were – as they would put it gobsmacked – when their favourite actor took them to task. They wouldn’t have dreamed they were doing anything wrong.

There is an ever-increasing section of society made up of people who are not fit to be let out, because they are so ill-equipped for social life and maladjusted to it.

And it’s not just the kids, addicted as they are to their phones and Facebooks and Twittering. You can’t go to the theatre or pictures unless it’s to the accompaniment of people of all ages talking, giggling and eating and drinking noisily and ostentatiously throughout.

Sometimes it’s the so called grown up people who are the worst.

Two old ladies behind me at a concert in Eastbourne – and talking all through the Haydn slow movement.

What a falling off there has been! What words are there to describe the public realm these days?

A foul and pestilent congregation of vapours. Sound and fury signifying nothing, but spoiling everything. O brave new world that hath such people in it!

31 Jul

Rite me a poim, Megan

“Now then Megan, I want you to write a poem. And when you’ve finished, please compose a forty-part motet, cook me a cordon bleu supper and show me your designs for a new cathedral.”

If it weren’t so depressing, it would be risible to note that anyone – borderline illiterates included – are expected to be able to write poetry. What is a poem? I recall C.H. Sisson’s definition of its meaning today in the schools: “A composition in which the words do not quite extend to the margins.”

But never mind the dumb schools, this is what The Spectator offers us as an example of a poem:

“None of the teachers who taught us

Were around that final afternoon at

Grammar school – probably frightened

Of being assaulted after giving us so

Much grief for five years, no more of

That though. We sat around unsupervised

Playing cards and smoking a bit and then

It seemed so simple, so absurdly easy to

Just walk down the drive and out of the front

Gate for the last time.”

I thought it must be by poor Megan who is troubled by learning difficulties and dyslexia issues, but it turns out to be by Paul Birtill, a contributor to The Morning Star. Before we get started on thinking about your “poem”, Paul, do you mind if we just deal with something pretty basic? I mean it’s not frightened of but frightened by. It’s afraid of, as any poet no. They don’t teach you that at grammar school – ‘cos it’s grammar, innit? And, while I’m at it, none takes was not were. 

There’s no call for dogmatism when it comes to saying what counts as poetry. There is room for all sorts: for Homer, for Alexandrian metre, Augustan austerity, lyrical ballads and Uncle Tom Eliot’s inability to make connections on Margate Sands. And the sentiment doesn’t have to be hifalutin or sham antique, as in gay Hesperion’s golden whatsit. It can be slight, light-hearted, whimsical. Let me cast the net as as widely as possible and say that a poem is just a few words in a particular rhythm.

Birtill’s poem has no discernible rhythm. Dare I suggest that a poem should also be about something? It doesn’t have to be the Trojan wars or the salon of Madame Sosostris but, for crying out loud, it shouldn’t be utterly banal. Birtill’s poem doesn’t say anything except the blindingly obvious. It’s a ten-lines cliche.You go to school for a few years and then you leave.. There is no insight, nothing produced by an actual imagination, no verbal facility. In fact, it isn’t a poem. It’s prose pretending to be verse – and lousy prose at that.

Poetry is not, as the modern educashernists vainly believe, about expressing yourself. You have no self to express until you have ingested something, until you have been taught something. The true poet is usually to be noticed with the works of the great  poets of the past in his hands, not filling notebooks with verbal trash. The composition of poetry requires also concentration and, above all, practice.

You can no more write a poem without at least some understanding of what will go into ordinary English than go out and score a century against the Aussie pace bowlers when you’ve never wielded a cricket bat in your life before.

17 Apr

Dumber still and dumber: the infantilisation of Britain

What is a “quality” newspaper? The Times long since gave up any pretence to that virtue and in recent years it has been followed by the Daily Telegraph. The six pages after the leader page are invariably the most monstrous drivel, a cavalcade of ignorance and illiteracy. This is where philosophical disquisitions are entered into on subjects such as face paint and the school run by journalists who, it seems, have to share the same five brain cells and who have never strayed within a Sabbath day’s journey of the English language. “Trivia” is too holy a word to describe what appears there.

This morning – under the heading “Arts,” what else? – there is a whole page given over to a silly photograph of some phantasmagorially-dressed young people with the question; ARE THESE THE WORST DRESSED POP SINGERS EVER?

Certainly it is the most pressing question of the day.

We know why the paper goes in for such blatant trash: because they know that it’s what “the punters” – as they offensively refer to their readership – want. Yes, well, it was Lord Reith in the 1930s who said, regarding the BBC, “We mustn’t give the people what they want; or they will start to want what they’re being given.” But there are already more than sufficient outlets for rubbish in the tabloids and the myriad gaudy, TV channels. And it seems there is no longer so much as a niche for quality. If you say this, you will be accused of “elitism.” But what’s the alternative? I’d rather be an elitist than a mediocratist. And “mediocre” is putting it more than a bit on the high side. They say it’s “only a bit of fun.” But who could possibly raise a laugh at this dreary, repetitious stuff?

Unfortunately, the sorts of things that one finds interesting defines who and what one is. O brave new Britain that hath such people in it – people who can gorge themselves on fatuity

I shouldn’t pick on the Daily Telegraph for it’s not the only place where there has been a massive falling off. But I do pick on it, more in sorrow than in anger – because I used to admire and enjoy the DT. Now it makes me retch.

The best bits of writing in the DT  are the obituaries. The paper might as well write its own.

Where else might we look for quality? Fifty years ago, at its founding, we were told we would find it in BBC2. Subsequently, even the BBC admitted that BBC2 had become so dumbed down that they would remedy the lack of seriousness by giving us BBC4, which they described as “a place to think.” But think about what? Now it’s full of rock music. Thursday evenings are hours on end of old editions of Top of the Pops. The Arts Channel Number 1 is all noise and froth and the sort of entertainments we ought to have grown out of by the age of twelve.

Thus we stretch the folly of our youth to be the shame of age