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The Power and Politics of Art | Full Debate | Jennifer Scott, Colin MacCabe, Paloma Strelitz



the subject of this debate I suppose is a number of terms power privilege elite and art the relationship between art and the lease between art and power is extremely various across history and we'll be interrogating that am i extreme right if I might put it that way is Colin McCabe was a literary critic a film producer and author most recently I sue most recently a perpetual carnival essays on film and literature on my immediate left is Paloma Strelitz whose founder of a rather co-founder of the Turner Prize winning assemble collective and on my extreme left is Jennifer Scott who's the director of historic knowledge picture gallery so we're going to begin with : your three minutes okay in the late 50s Andy Warhol anway Lichtenstein in New York began to use consumer goods and comics as the material for their painting and in a way that proof that break between the elite and the popular was the practical example of what would become cultural studies and at the same time in England Raymond Williams was elaborating his view of culture came back into the 19th century to find an account of culture that would honor both his own working-class upbringing and the great virtue of solidarity as well as the elite texts which he had studied at Cambridge now there are that isn't the first time you get this breakdown you can go back both to the modernists and romantics and find a complication of the notion of elite and popular culture but it does mean that we now live in an era where it seems to me that that distinction means almost nothing and you wanted an example of that you could take the date in 1992 when the Sunday Times actually rebranded their arts section as culture covering every kind of cultural production that doesn't of course solve the problem of either value the value of particular artistic or cultural productions or the question of how art reaches its audience but I think I would find just end by saying that in my time at the end of my time as a cultural bureaucrat access was the key new label word to cover all art and the trouble about access is that it's extremely misleading as a word in the sense that it both means are very physical it's the ability of a disabled person to get access to something but it also means that in getting that physical access you get a set of entitlements and when Jimmy Wales says that you know with Wikipedia we now have all everybody has access to all of knowledge you have to really question for did you take the simplest you haven't got access if you can't read and it goes on there's question there's access always brings with it a further set of questions and it does not seem to me a useful word in discussing these matters Jennifer I think this is a really interesting topic for us to be discussing today I am fortunate enough to be the director of the UK's oldest purpose-built art gallery it opened to the public in 1817 and with that comes huge responsibility and the thing that I try to keep grounded about is the fact that ultimately Dulwich picture gallery is about great art and I like to think about the way that that art functions and the power that that art has for instance we have painting in the picture gallery which is a portrait of a lady called Winnie Stanly and she died in 1633 in 1633 her husband lost her a man lost his wife in 1633 nearly 400 years ago it happens to us all that we lose somebody but the man in question was so canal Digby so canal Digby was a member of high society of the elites he moved in circles that meant that he was familiar with an artist called Anthony Van Dyck who had come across from Antwerp to paint the royal family and in this early 1630s he was painting Charles the first and his family and so when Khanum lost his wife his first instinct was to call upon Van Dyck to come and paint her corpse in bed because that was his way of coming to terms with his loss now I think the point you raised Philip about patronage is so important because Van Dyck would have never had access the Canon Digby's grief had kinome himself not had the wealth to pay for Van Dyck to come and there is a certain amount of power and control that comes with a commission of that type but in my experience of it once an artist is there on the scene then they take control no matter what the limitations of a commission an artist has the ability within a certain framework but we all work within a framework and that is where correct creativity can flourish best the artist then takes control of the situation and can on Digby wrote about this painting after it had been finished and said he painted Van Dyck painted my late wife perfectly he got every detail right apart from he added a flower he added a flower on the bed that was falling apart that was dying Van Dyck took that moment in the privilege of going into an intimate grief ridden state a room and have that ability to go in and get close to calms late wife and then to paint her and add in some poetic license and there's something that I noticed when I look at our painting and come to Daleks picture gallery see it for yourselves the way that's the commercial I will but when you come in and look at that painting you'll notice that it's painted it's a very strange angle because what Van Dyck decided to do was to paint mrs. Digby as if he was leaning right over her and when I look at that and it's changed in the way I look at it over over the years when I look at that I think that actually Van Dyck has channeled the way that canon would have leant over her as if he was going to give her a last kiss and Van Dyck chose to do that and it is heart-stoppingly beautiful and means a great deal to me even more so since I lost somebody recently my mother the most important person to me and it means so much to me that painting so despite the wealth and the elitism and all of the the trappings around the creation of this painting ultimately it's something deeply human and that for me is a way in for people to great art the fact that it exists at all means that we can have a connection to a human emotion 400 years ago that can feel as current as if it happened just yesterday because we can all understand loss and we can understand great art and we can understand the poetry that moment when Van Dyck made those crucial decisions to create a painting that has so much power so the responsibility that I have on my team have at Dulwich picture gallery is to try and open that up in various ways to as many people as possible because then people can find those connections and can ultimately find themselves in great art paloma thank you um yes sir I was introduced I'm one of the cofounders of Istanbul and we really work across the fields of architecture art and design I've also just finished the design of the New Gods in a Center for Contemporary Art which is open this month in South London in New Cross as a sort of new free Art Center so maybe this is a kind of a code call out to coming to art centers in in South London having a nice day out and I think it's also it's why there's a topic of today I think really resonates as my interest so I you know culture of improvisation and hands-on making is a really important aspect of assembles work and to us it makes it possible to read and partake in the city bit differently so that it's no longer quite so opaque or an unmanned questionable and but instead sort of full of possibility for how you might take part in it and I think that you know that's a runs alongside our interest in creating spaces that really support Conte different context of sort of forms of art practice and that really has significance across the spectrum from the way we begin to play as children to the way we continue to learn as adults so I'm kind of interested in in spaces of our production as spaces of knowledge and the cultural value and tools that they can equip us with to begin to shape new realities so I'm gonna very very briefly talk about to assemble projects that kind of I so speak to the title of this conversation which is about how art can open the minds of the many so firstly I want sort of mentioned black horse workshop which is a workshop that we set up in Walthamstow and it really takes the spirit of building as a sort of collective activity and also I suppose the idea of a studio culture and turns that into a form of public library but you know at Black Horse the main resource is tools instead of books and the mate and the librarians are technicians and at weekdays that mostly serves the purpose of professionals but after hours on the weekends it really becomes a kind of creative space for the wider community and really it's based on the premise of public access and it's sort of mission is to create an institution where everyone is welcome and it kind of I feel echoes the words of sort of Awesome shows most notable historic resident William Morris which says you know when he said I do not want art for a few any more than I want an education for a few or freedom for a few secondly I want to mention Baltic Street adventure playground which was an adventure playground which we set up alongside children and families and play workers in in Dominic in East Glasgow and I was really sort of set up as an immediate and practical response to a sort of set of challenges facing the children in that in that neighborhood and it was really about creating a space that would give children agency and freedom to shape the world around them and so the adventure plane movement was born in the post-war period and it was really a sort of a space where children could do this to themselves in contrast to kind of increasingly over regulated environments and it's really about child led activity and giving children the space to experiment creating to take risks and they took the key materials are sort of tools and mud and water and campfires and you know children have this extraordinary capacity to take what I don't see as rubbish and to transform it through invention and so these spaces are really about about creating alternate realities and I will be one more second so I think we will understand that kind of environments which if in children's terms environments which contain loose parts kind of more exciting and stimulating than than static ones and it informs our understanding of I suppose the wider urban environment and so I think that like any discipline art practice really gives us all the tools to sort of shape and question the world around us and after all you know what sort of starts and childhood play ends in society and culture Colin do you want to respond do you think the the question you raised about access do you think everyone who goes to the Dulwich picture library has access to the Van Dyke there in other words they can stand in front of it but is that access well I think I think it at one level I think it is access and I think that but one I I haven't been to the museum but the majority of museums now produce a great deal more context than that for their paintings and I certainly think that the fact that that painting is available for people to go and see is a very good thing unfortunately no no I suppose what when Tate Modern opened and I was there on the opening night somebody very close to the center of it put his arm around me and he said because he was very drunk he said you know what we've invented he said we've invented the Alton Towers of the art world which I thought was very correct so the question is and I suppose this is to everyone does in an Tate Modern is 20 times more popular than Tate Britain is this a question that access produces a different kind of art and a different kind of context in which art is viewed it's sort of my living breathing life is thinking about these issues because for instance if we're putting on an exhibition at Dulwich we want visitors to come we want people to come and enjoy that exhibition but then if they come in there tens of thousands the viewing experience is not pleasant and yet it's good for us as the gallery because it helps to sustain us because then that ticket income directly goes into running the gallery we get no government funding it's a really important thing to get visitors in financially as well as opening up these subjects to people and I once had a boss who spoke to me passionately about how lovely it is to see an exhibition first thing in the morning before visitors come in and it was terrible for me because I was thinking no this isn't what it's about I don't want to be creating exhibitions so then we can get a group of curators to come and see it at 8 a.m. but then at 10 a.m. it's hideous and nobody can get close to the artworks so it's something that in museums and galleries across the world we're struggling with and I imagine we've all experienced it the queues for two and a half hours to see Leonardo DaVinci many went away so the answer is diversity not just taking the idea of one way of looking at art but finding different ways it isn't just having a gallery that's open from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. it's having different options different times of day late night openings drinks evenings jazz evenings it's having creative opportunities to come at times that suit different people is having weblinks it's having things online that help people to feel that they've experienced something even if they can't actually access it themselves and it's moving away from a traditional idea of what a museum looks like and instead finding a way to embed it in people's lives so it can feel like any other way of consuming information and having transformative experiences yeah I think that's a really interesting point my I have heard an anecdote about the V&A which may not be true but probably is that it was the first public um art space in in the UK which was open after hours and that they had it was the first space it had gas lighting so that people were able to come after hours and experience the arts really which meant in the way that kind of you're talking about opening up to a whole new audience I mean I'm I'm incredibly interested in how we look at art but I'm also very interested in how we have acts and access from that perspective I'm also very interested in access to the tools to create art and and really I mean they sit side by side and I think that we should be doing everything we can to broaden access and opportunities for people to be learning the skills to be producing different forms of art did the Turner Prize make a big difference to you to be blessed if that's the right religious metaphor on a Sunday to be blessed by the tate it must have made a considerable difference because that you know the the patrons of the 14th and 15th century are different from the patrons now who are often state patrons I mean yeah it has made a significant difference the one thing that we were really keen you know we really won the turnip rise because of the work that we done and Liverpool alongside the gramby for streets Community Land Trust I won't go into the story but but really what we then felt was a responsibility to that community to use surprise to spearhead projects in that area and that is really a story about kind of creativity and collective action and so we use that to set up gramby workshop which is an experimental ceramics architectural workshop in Granby and also the Granby Winter Garden which is a big community art space that's going to be opening this year in the neighbourhood so I think yes it has enabled us to do new things and I hope we've used that some of that sort of focus to channel it back to the place where the attention came from Hitler loved Shakespeare he really thought that Hamlet he interpreted it as a play in which Hamlet being denied his inheritance was like Germany being denied what it was denied after the first world war because of the force a treaty that suggests art doesn't necessarily open minds : well it's certainly a very arresting example but I mean you could equally say if you want an example of all art opening minds that if a fellow was by far and away the most popular Shakespeare play in the American South and endlessly produced and and put on um I I don't think one can argue for a straight efficacy of art it in the sense that you always come up with counter examples I think you can argue for one's own experience of that art and offer that up as a way of engaging other people in a discussion of what is valuable in that art okay but you're all being very good at telling me what it isn't so you can't argue the negative you can't argue for the director for Sookie what can you argue for just your own personal expense that leads to a kind of solipsism not just one's own personal experience a whole historical record and an interrogation of that historical record but I said I don't think you can produce value out of an act do you think you can good there's some obviously the way you work at the collective is to assume that working with communities that producing art with them and for them is a necessary good and I suppose the question is if you look at the historical record sometimes it is and sometimes it's not because there are times I used to run the ICA so senders are being pressured by the Arts Council to do good in the world whereas I was thought the only virtue of art is that it was bad for you that it really actually you know allowed you to imagine things you wouldn't otherwise imagine so your position is that it's largely socially good no it's not actually I think it is like I mean I like your your example of Hamlet Othello like any discipline and that is complex and varied and I certainly don't think the only point is is social good I think if you talk about the sort of the level of we talk about public arts I mean we're in in the context in UK where we have a big a lot of provision for public arts if you look at this post-war landscape and and the foundation of the Arts Council and I and I think that there is an onus at that scale to be providing for and reflecting all of society but I mean I'm sort of not I don't I don't think that I think that creates a varied and interesting field I don't think that means it's either good or evil and I suppose it means what we mean by art we could all have different definitions of art and Minecon changes constantly on the tube on the way here a lady came in sat next to me and she started laughing and she said I'm so sorry my saddlebags get in the way and I laughed and said oh me too and we we just had that moment on a grumpy soggy Sunday tube of laughing about a visual thing that she'd made about her own body and it was funny and it was creative and it was Sparky by saying saddlebags she was self-deprecating and it was fun and it strikes me that's as kind of creativity that for me is what art is it's that human spark it's that not getting as completely burnt out or overwhelmed by things that happen but being able somehow to express yourself individual expression that for me is what art is it's just that we happen to have also buildings that we can put in those expressions and then with that comes a sense of some sort of hierarchy that's always tied in with it many ask you a question Jennifer the Van Dyke is a beautiful example it's a great painting but if you take a Pusa for those of you don't know Pusa 17th century classic we've got a whole room of them yes no was one of the reasons but you know if you don't know classical mythology yeah religious biblical topology you don't know about French court painting I don't mean you need to know a lot about but if you know think about that god knows what you're looking at when you're looking at the boosah is that unfair I think that's I think it's really exciting because there is and I'm always learning about this somebody the other day said in front of one of our Gainsborough paintings was looking this beautiful painting of two sisters in the 18th century and she was from India and she was looking at this painting her friend came over and said isn't Gainsborough marvellous and her friend said I don't know who it is but that makes me think of my sister and I think that's the starting point that's a way in if you're looking at a Poussin of a classical story but it's a love story it's a story of drama or of loss of war then you can have a way into it and then as an art gallery we have that responsibility to have layers of information so that then people can find out more but the first way in is that that recognition or not liking it people often can come in I love the best way of looking in art galleries go anything I don't like that don't like that all that one's pulling me it's a it's got a sort of magnetic pool I'm interested in it and that's fine that's completely valid what do you think about the layers of interpretation that galleries increasingly produce oh I think I think they're valuable I mean I think that the problem is of course that more and more weight gets on them I mean I went round a gallery in Japan recently where the context could have been written from the Imperial playbook of 1945 and presumably I don't know what the Japanese visitors thought but it it was a very good example of how how difficult that kind of thing is to do and I'm not suggesting you you're going to get an ideology free account but that was a a ideology full account of a very misleading kind just to pick up on I mean I think the tape becoming Alton Towers is great if you mean that they should Barnum and Bailey art what what I'm less less happy about but this may just show my age is the tendency of modern galleries to give up the historical as the fundamental form of explanation is something that I personally just find very difficult because I find it impossible to understand and these paintings outside the history of the social and economic orders in which they were produced yeah it's really important so we just don't know display at the gallery where we're testing this idea because we never write you never have completely right in the way you display things so we're trying one room a 17th century Dutch room where we're calling it the Dutch at work and we're leading it by the trades that were happening so we've got a shepherd we've got a farmer we've got actually an innkeeper and we've got people just being drunk as well we've got sort of things that people in the Netherlands were doing and all the labels start with a description of what's happening and then we've got a map that shows where the brewing centres were and where the main cattle farms were and then at the end almost as ii thought its this is by audrey and brewer this is by young stain this is by jakob and rice dale and it's just a different way of presenting it and it's really interesting seeing how people then relate to a different way of storytelling that is embedded in history but not just always being the same in the way we present it but there's so much more work to do around that paloma I never know what to call us you know I don't know if you're an architectural practice or what but you're an interesting because you know a large amount of 20th century art was made for the museums they needed to be though you need at very large spaces in which you could host a Rothko or a Jackson Pollock or whatever 13th century painting was made for the church it's not made for the museum's do you think the future of art and let me just cast you as an artist man the future of art now is going outside the museum again as it once was yeah I mean I think the museum is is you know traditionally a space of collections a Contemporary Art Gallery is a sort of reflection of the art at the time but there's always been as you say many spaces outside of the museum or the gallery which are spaces of kind of art display and production so I'm particularly interested in different forms of public art I think there's and also in how art centers can be spaces of production so don't have people of familiar with places like Drysdale or wise in art centers but those both – uk-based art centers where really there's a there's a much greater emphasis on those spaces of production as opposed to just spaces of sort of visual consumption I think that's a really interesting direction for art spaces to take I'm also in organizations like situations in Bristol there are a public art production company and they've just written a kind of a new set of rules for what they think public art should be and it and I think and I think how arts can kind of how art mixes with everyday life I mean is critically important I think it's going to continue to be a space where there's kind of a lot of emerging art practice do you think patrons and the patrons of this public art are often local bodies city wide body sometimes they're national bodies sometimes they are the Arts Council do you think that's the way patronage will work because of cause even the British Museum now is only fifty percent funded by the public and I remember speaking to Martin Roth bless him who's died who was the director of the V&A and he and I work to take the V&A to China and he said stop using the word public Philip hope he doesn't mind wherever he is that I'm telling this story he said stop using the word public Philip all the word private about museums he said no museums are public now no museums are private all museums are entrepreneurial the truth is the private for Gordon for bad is driving a lot of change if the 20th century was an an era of kind of public the 21st century increasingly looks like and they were a private patronage yeah and it's I mean but it's always been so if you go to the arena chapel in padua and you see giotto's masterpieces they are because a very rich man paid him to do it it's always been private has always been an artists have always been entrepreneurial gains for a set up his studio and his sister had a hat shop underneath so that he could say to people coming in to have their portraits painted oh your hat is a bit out of date why don't you go downstairs and then they would share the profits it's always been so you have to be entrepreneurial in this in the museum's haven't always been private I mean that I mean what Philip is is talking about is there is a a clear shift I don't know how far it will go certainly you know when I first worked in the in the art sector which was 1985 almost all money for museums galleries etc came from the government and they over the last 40 years that's that's changed considerably yeah it does make a big difference so for instance in Norway all the arts are completely funded we're doing an exhibition with the National Museum of in Oslo in the spring and it's very different talking about a country where the arts are fully funded and they don't have to think about fundraising I must say as an institution that gets no government funding and has been open for 200 years and has always been ticketed for 200 years it actually sharpens you up it makes under I'm not saying of course I mean I would love to but they come in defensive go on no I'm not becoming defending I'm not saying that I wouldn't love more government funding is what I was going to say Philip but it keeps us really sharp it means that you are accountable for every single penny that you spend at the gallery when we come up with a new project one recently we did to link up teenage refugees with elderly socially isolated women we had to think really carefully we thought that was a really good project to do but we had to think carefully about every single penny that we spent and then how that was going to be accounted for and how we could build on it and it's hard it's really hard but it means that when you test me on it when you push me on it I know those figures through and through and I can tell you with absolute clarity why we made certain decisions it's tough but it does mean that you have greater transparency I think when you have to fight for the money I can't believe I'm saying it please government give us more money I think that I mean I obviously as you said undoubtedly there's been there's a there's a long history of patronage and I think it's really interesting to look today at where you know where the money is in places like Silicon Valley and see the see kind of tech entrepreneurs as the new art patrons and seeing what sort of art is being produced there but I mean it what this of conversation is maybe slightly depressingly for me setting up a sort of a tone of which is that you kind of you need money in order to produce art which is just not true you actually need very little to start producing arts but what you do need are you know a bit of skill a little bit of knowledge and a bit of confidence and that's actually really for me this of the flip side of the conversation which comes back to education and access because art isn't something that you need a rich patron to hand to you or to enable art is something that we can all do all the time but actually you know there's I think too much an atmosphere that it is something that is unattainable and I think I do think that comes back to education and access yeah I'm not so sure about access but I completely agree with you about production the fact that uh if I was to discern any trend it is for example in the university people don't want to study literature anymore they want to study writing they don't want to study film criticism anymore they want to make movies and that you're going to get an immense push towards production as an an absolutely necessary part of appreciation and consumption as well and you think that's a good thing yeah I think that's a good thing is mmm interesting on that melancholy notice the Sun comes out or maybe just the light can I thank our three panelists and thank you two more debates tops and interviews subscribe today to the Institute of Arts and ideas at IAI TV you

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