“Britain seen from the North”….”Art”. What is art for? Why does it exist? If it does, what ought it to do?

I have never written about art before here, but a great deal of guff and puff is talked about it. “Society” (which I think does indeed exist in an organic sense, but not in the way Margaret Thatcher was thought by the Communist Nazis and other fascists to mean that it did not) is impacted upon by the art that goes on inside it. To me and I expect to many libertarians, Art and Science have an indistinct border – the main degree awarded, after all, by various Universities, is called “Master of Arts“, even if the recipient was a “scientist” in the modern usage of the word. Art reflects what a civilisation thinks about itself.

What’s the point of art? It’s what real or ordinary people, not “Gods” (aka Matisse who is reputed to have once said he was one) use to depict stuff to each other. For me, “art” is how you show to others where you have come form and what it looked like. Now we are Six (as the book says) a lot of it can be Brian’s “billion monkey” stuff. Google Brian Micklethwait and  “billion monkey“. People can share art in real time about what they have done and where they have been. So in this sense “modern” Art is becoming truly representational again.  J M W Turner did art, with what he had. Leonardo da Vinci did the same thing.

Dictocrats, nazis and other similar kinds of socialists all realise the iconic importance of art. To them, it is monumental, hyper-realistic, airbrushed statuary of themselves – or else just take a look at any communist-era bank notes – the Czechoslovak pre- 1989 100-crown “greenback” was a particularly fine example of craggy nordic man, stern-featured headscarfed woman both gazing intently up Stage Right, past sheaves of corn and a middle-distant panorama of smoking chimney stacks  and cog-wheels. Here it is in all its glory! Who could possibly say that this ghastly, nazi inhuman stuff is not art?


Or any of the murals of the butcher-pig Saddam Hussein, or that other bugger hiding in North Korea. That Jim Livingstone Wally in London would do the same on posters if he thought he would get away with it: just look at him, he’s a dead ringer for a 50s Polish Commie or the Goracle.

Go to houses where I teach, and pretty much you find on the walls, if not vastly expensive and expensively-shot pictures of the children, with or without their parents and all sprawled informally all over a white floorground, you find JACK VETTRIANO. This has to be the most hated and reviled artist in the history of the modern world. The whole caboodle is very, very funny! I personally like his stuff for he has studied how to draw people, he puts them in emotional situations which ordinary folk instinctively understand and identify with, he titles them sensitively, and they sell and sell and sell and sell….Originals go now for up to a million, so get one if you can… (…also you will have to bear not to be invited to dinner in Islington ever again, or else don’t admit that you own one – keep it for your bust hedge fund.) His own attitude to his critics, that is most of the “Art World” in the West, is refreshingly insouciant. 

But about 100 years ago something awful and rather portentiously strange happened: almost as if”art” was portending the First World War. Art, instead of being a window on the past, showing us all where we had come from and what it had been like, tried to go into the future. Like the Kaiser did whe he “dropped the Pilot”. Like “computer models” of the future (and we all know where that leads as to global warm-mongering etc) which are always and invariably wrong, art when applied to the future is blind.

Art became the name for that sector of it that the prevailing culturati-of-the-day wax lyrically and opaquely about. They did this often in front of those Classes of people whom they despise. Art thus began a downward spiral of decreasing realism amid more and more contemporary PR-hype about less and less content, enabling its producers to hide the fact that they did not know or care about how to draw anything. (At the same time public buildings became increasingly monstrous and faceless, reflecting probably the attitudes of the Enemy Class towards “lesser” people, but that’s another story, about architects, for later. Corbusier – gahhhh…. “Mr Crow” – who’d give a job to a guy like that? – I’ve said enough already, and that thing in Nuremburg that was going to need, er, six billion bricks…? Er? Ummmmmmmm? With what labour would it be built….or need I ask?)

Picasso’s works evolved further into primary-school-drawings. Matisse’s “economy of line” became an excuse to almost not draw anything much at all. Henry Moore got to waste many tons of bronze, now happily being recycled progressively by friendly and ecological metal-dealers-of-the-night. As for Miro and Kandinsky, well, your guess is as good as mine, but I’d hazard a guess as to what they’d been smoking. And I would not even like to say what I think about such “in-your-face” “statements”, as made by, say, Tracy Emin, or that sadly-obscene and obscenely sad statue that got put up in Trafalgar Square the other year: one might be arrested for hate-speech under some law or other that we have not heard of yet.

“Interpretation” is a buzzword often associated with the pretentious prose that “critics” and frequently artists themselves use, as a sort of affectation. The purpose must be to loft the importance of the “installation”, while obscuring its total lack of meaning as much as possible. here is a recent example – this is not art, it is a collection, expensively collated, of trash;


British-born sculptor Tony Cragg (°1949, Liverpool) left his native land in 1977 to work on the Continent. He now resides in Wuppertal, Germany. This work, entitled ‘Britain Seen From the North’ (1981), is typical of a period when Cragg made floor and wall reliefs out of broken pieces of found rubbish.

It features the shape of Great Britain, oriented so that east is up, north is left. At that left is the figure of a person, possibly the artist himself, ‘seeing’ Britain from the north. Because of its components, the work has often been interpreted as a comment on the state of the nation at that time, when it went through considerable economic hardship – especially in the north.

Cragg was British representative at the (43rd) Venice Biennale (in 1988), where he earned a menzione speziale. In the same year, he won the Turner Prize. In 1994, he joined the Royal Academy and in 2002 he received a CBE. In 2007, he won the Praemium Imperiale. Not bad at all for a bloke who started out as a lab technician at the British National Rubber Producers Research Association.

Jantien van der Vet alerted me to the existence of Cragg’s strange wall map, acquired by and exhibited at the Tate Modern in London.

This is by no means the most extreme example of what we face; I merely had it to hand. You could cite the famous “Tate Bricks”, which I was told off by a Tate zoo-keeper for walking on in 1980, as I just thought it was a slightly raised bit of floor which I was crossing. It was globally praised to the rooftops at the time, although thankfully enough normal people were still left alive to say that it was, er, just a couple of layers of bricks.

Of course no Libertarian ought to criticize another person for his/her taste in art, or in theory in anything else, subject of course to natural rights being honoured. What I object to is another aspect of what Sean Gabb calls the cultural hegemony of the tastes of one Class, and almost always a tiny minority at that. That same Class currently likes to publicly rubbish Tesco and MacDonalds, in its media (to which it believes it owns rights of access) possibly thinking that those same masses who don’t appeciate “art”, nor who want to read utterly unreadable novels by narcissistic nobodies, also patronize these establishments.

I’m not a prejudiced old bumpkin, honest, please believe me. Perhaps if education of students AND teachers was finally taken out of the hands of the state, some of this unspeakably innapropriate nonsense-on-stilts posing as “art” would simply disappear, and the problem would go away.

8 responses to ““Britain seen from the North”….”Art”. What is art for? Why does it exist? If it does, what ought it to do?

  1. Pingback: Msense

  2. I strongly recommend Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s Nobel Prize Address “One Word of Truth…”


    The BBC Russian Service’s translation.

    It’s wondrously beautiful!


    Tony Hollick

  3. Thank you Tony, I did not know about it and will have a look. DD

  4. Can’t make the link work, Tony – can you send it again? DD

  5. Sure!





  6. Art”. What is art for? Why does it exist? If it does, what ought it to do?
    Oh My God, !!!!Do you have any idea of the principles of creating?
    Take the seat you sit on (should you be indeed sitting whilst reading this) , pray tell me , was it not an artist who designed it and further more the building (should you be at present residing in a structure of some description) was that not an Architect who designed that also.
    To put an idea into practice and produce something substantial of the benefit of human kind surely this is “What Art is about” , to create something asthetically pleasing is that not also “What Art ought to do”.
    In your blog you seem to simplify the aspect of the word “Art” which is in total context a multitude of skills.
    Narrow minded views are for those who have an inability to produce or create something pleasing for others to admire.
    To name oneself as “An Artist” relates to a being who decides that they want that stigmata attached to them.
    Someone who doesnt wish to be labeled “Artist” who is creative shows the adaptability and emmensity of the truely gifted person, Art is for all , Art surrounds us, we cannot escape its marvel we can either Love it or we can hate it, but which ever we decide subjectively, it is with us for a reason.
    “To Invent the uninvented”,”To help us decide”,”CHOICE and REASON”.
    Thank you.

  7. You might be interested to go to:- http://www.anptrust.org.uk as Anglo-Nordic Productions Trust made a film dramatisation of Solzhenitsyn’s Nobel Prize Lecture. The 28 minute film, “One Word of Truth”, which covers a third of the lecture, and which is narrated by Tom Courtenay off-screen, is available now on DVD. The multi-langauage DVD has the original soundtrack in English, as well as dubbed soundtracks in 15 other languages. The DVID has also recently had optional Arabic subtitles, as it is deemed to be relevant to what is happening in the Middle East. The film won several prizes including best film of the year award for a member of he Royal Photgraphic Society. Feel free to contact me – 01223 (Cambridge) 276504 or through the website.
    Patrick Colquhoun