Category Archives: Blog

UK and the EU: Brexit as failed ideology?

Dr Tim Oliver posted on the LSE Blog a thoughtful item on the various ways to understand the negotiation structure of Brexit [link to item]

He puts forward four key ones, and what I want to do is briefly comment on each.

Neoclassical Realism: This is about power relationships. The UK’s position within the EU has been weaked  as a naysayer of much of the European agenda. Externally, it is a full member of the UN security council and a member of NATO but both of these are immaterial to the Brexit outcome. As a card to play, they carry very little weight in negotiations as for the UK to abrogate its security responsibilities or use them as a bargain chip would actually signal weakness. In response, NATO would see the UK as an unreliable partner who would trade collective security for self-interest. As a global power in its own right, I suspect the evolution will be continuing geopolitical decline and loss of global influence. While we may see new alliances, for a realist, the international anarchy of inter-state relationships will become a factor in dealing with the EU and the UK will be the weaker for opting out of power relationships, for a delusional view of national power.

Constructivism: This is about norms and rules. The Brexit leave logic is that the UK can forge new relationships more productively outside the EU than within. Trade is a proxy for the power of nations to abide by norms or construct rules. As a nation among many, trade migrates to the larger blocs and the single actors take what they can get. The UK will become a rule-taker outside the EU. The test will be the deal with the EU. If the UK can’t agree a good deal with the EU, that would signal the UK can’t be negotiated with unless they get their way. This is of course silly logic at one level since the UK is leaving a trading bloc where it was a rule maker. Only fools and deluded politicians believe rule taking is preferable.

Bureaucratic politics: This is about the behaviours of bureaucratic systems. The UK has viewed the Brussels bureaucracy in some respects as a distraction from domestic affairs. The EU relationship was managed through the “Foreign and Commonwealth Office”, a strong clue on how the EU was viewed (viz. foreign). In terms of civil servants building careers, postings in Brussels were not seen as career enhancing (unlike working for the Home Office for instance); this led to very good individuals pursing careers at the Commission to the detriment of their domestic career progression. Indeed, expertise in European matters was frequently dismissed. This sorry state of affairs of course played out through the removal or departure of key individuals with expertise in European affairs. That they might have gone ‘native’ is a concern all governments have and is one reason diplomats are routinely rotated. But the EU requires deep expertise both because it is a unique body of law but also because the UK was a key actor in that system. I suspect that the current negotiations are being handled badly partly because the UK team lacks the ‘native’ understanding; this may explain why the government is afraid of civil servants with strong EU views; like Orwell’s 1984, this doesn’t fit with the mind set in government. The consequence is more about failure for the UK from incompetence than from bad bargaining.

Cognitivism: This is about ideas and mindsets. The UK has seen the EU as simply a trade arrangement, consistent with years of free trading. The EU sees itself as an idea, in the same was the US sees itself as an ideology. There is nothing wrong with that. The weakness is the UK sees itself defined through trade and not as a national idea called the UK; indeed it not sufficient to argue the UK’s ideology rests on notions of sovereignty and taking back control as this flies in the face of the fact that all nations are constrained by treaties of one sort or another should they choose — what Brexit does signal is the UK can abrogate a treaty obligation and may be prima facie unreliable. The Brexit debate has shown how poorly prepared the UK politicians on the government side are, and who actively avoid discussing the social dimension of the EU — indeed look very uncomfortable discussion the rights of 3 million EU citizens within the UK. Social Europe is made up of academic networks amongst research institutions, or families brought together across borders, of young people experiencing another culture through Erasmus exchanges, even of duty free wine and beer, freedom to travel, enjoying the security the European Health Insurance Card brings and so on. As an ideology, the UK dismisses this as a ‘project’ and emphasises that all things about money matter more than people. Barnier and colleagues emphasise the primacy of people. This is consistent with the ideological basis for the EU’s bargaining position. The result is incomprehension by the UK of the EU position, while the EU knows the UK position well as it has played out over 40 years of opposition to social Europe.

From a decision making perspective, I concur with Oliver that each in some way is being played out. The salience of the various issues is rising for those who voted in the referendum and showing the problems that were indeed well-known beforehand, by experts of course. But rising public salience will constrain politicians’ actions as technical issues evolve into political ones. For instance, cross-border access to healthcare (1708/71) is full of technical details, but the public salience will be loss of healthcare when they travel. The departure of EMA from the UK looks like a technical issue of moving offices, but its salience lies in drug companies deprioritising the country for launching new medicines, with possible diminution of research infrastructure. Inside each technical issue that can be hammered out by civil servants, lurks a political issue that can only be resolved through public discussion.

 

Chromophilia

My solo exhibition, Chromophilia, is being held at the Evegate Art Gallery from 3 to 24 December 2016. Works are on paper and wood. The gallery is open from 1000 to 1500 Monday to Saturday (but not Sundays).

repurposing history 2

repurposing history 2

Evegate Art Gallery is in the Evegate Business Park, which includes retail shops and restaurants. It is located off the A20, East of Ashford, Kent. For the GPS, the postal code is TN25 6SX.

The image is an example of the work. This is acrylic (sfumato technique) on 450 GSM paper, 56x76cm. Available fully framed.

Turps Art School Correspondence Course 2016-2017

300px-Pyrrole_Red_Dab

Go!

Departing from my usual commentary on arts subjects, I would like to let folks know that I have been accepted into the 2016-17 Turps Art School Correspondence Course.  This will be a challenging opportunity and I look forward to working with my mentor/tutor. At this time, I don’t know who the other artists are in the course but I am sure we are all interested in each others’ artistic journeys and sharing of perceptions, perhaps through joint activities.

As a painter of abstractions, I focus on the materiality of visual perception, by giving physical presence to ideas. This has been the drive of human creativity since the first marks on stones or we made the cave paintings, and has inspired artists to consider alternative realities. Cubism for instance is the materiality of Einstein’s relativity theory. Malevich understood this as did the Futurists. Exuberant exploration is found in the Abstract Expressionists and thoughtful work since then, not just in painting but in sculpture (despite some distractions along the way when artists lost their way and their voices).

No doubt I will post further as the course proceeds.

20 Seconds to overcome fear

rothko at Seagram

Marion Milner, a celebrated child psychoanalyst wrote of her own creative anxieties in her book On Not Being Able to Paint (Heineman, 1950, but still available). Fear is embedded in much of the writing on creativity, mainly because creativity is a public expression of internal life. It is a form of exposure, and ever mindful of judgemental others, we often are more afraid of what this exposure, than the actual creative results themselves. In most cases, despite self doubts, we are proud of our creativity, but know where it is deficient — we’re just nervous about hearing that from others.

Milner’s point rested on various assumptions about preconditions for the production of a work of art itself, namely technical mastery of materials. This is obviously in contrast to whether the creative results are personally satisfying, or articulate well what we are thinking. Art is form of expression, not just a meander across a canvas or a lump of clay deformed by idle hands.  This despite some art being of this form, of course.

Henry Peacock, in his excellent book  Art as Expression (Whalesback, 1995) observed that of his art students, the ones that drew well were the least creative as artists, as they were more intent on replicating the form of what they saw, whereas those who drew less well were more inclined to engage with and interpret the external world. Peacock’s book is important as it is provides inspiration for people to explore their creativity without the fear and anxiety of mastering technologies first (like pens and ink, and paint or clay).

All these issues are well-addressed in Art and Fear (Image, 2001) an excellent tonic by David Bayles and Ted Orland.

Taken together, the fear that drives many to avoid creativity is actually self-imposed and has no bearing on whether we are actually able to express ourselves through various artistic approaches.

I would like to encourage creative souls to shrug off their attachment to what things look like and think about how to let your inner perceptions work. The art world has its cycles, from loving the realistic paintings, with figurative precision through to inscrutible abstract constructions which for many may bring on a headache. Abstraction is the true form (sounds like a mantra…), it excites and challenges the mind, is obviously much harder to do, as it requires real honesty and elegant presentation of complex inner thoughts. For others, it is easier to paint the vase and the flower and I accept that for many people this is enjoyable and satisfying. I’m only saying, there can be more.

Art methodologists and historians may see artistic periods like the tide — new ideas come in and wash away the old. Once done, it can’t be done again. Some think of it as the shock of the new, as all art history must be constantly rewritten from the perspective of current artistic tides. That does not mean that these perhaps passe modes of expression have nothing to say, otherwise why do we keep them on show in art galleries and museums.

You need to look at a work of abstraction for a least 20 seconds in order for your brain to decide that you are really interested and then it starts to process in detail what you’re looking at. Sometimes you have to lose yourself to find yourself.

 

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The Magpie revisited

The Russian “United Art Rating” is an artist rating service of the Artist Trade Union of Russia and which uses the following scale for rating artists

artist at work

(nationally and internationally) [source here]

  • 1 – an artist of world fame, tested with time (for more than a century).
  • 1A – a world famous artist.
  • 1B – a high-class professional artist with remarkable organizational skills, who is popular and in demand.
  • 2A – a high-class professional artist with a bright creative individuality.
  • 2B – a high-class professional artist, recognized and in demand with the art-market and public.
  • 3A – a professional artist with a recognizable individual style.
  • 3B – a professional artist, recognized and asked for in the art market and by the public.
  • 4A – an established professional artist with creative potential.
  • 4B – an established professional artist, who is in demand in the art market.
  • 5A – a formed professional artist with creative potential.
  • 5B – a formed professional artist.
  • 6A – a forming professional artist with creative potential.
  • 6B – a forming professional artist.
  • 7 – an amateur artist with perspective evaluation of specialists.
  • 8 – an amateur artist.
  • 9 – an artist-beginner.
  • 10 – an artist-scholar.

I like the fact this scale enables me to distinguish between artists qua artists and artists that focus on the market. The categories also distinguish creative aspects (A) and one category higher than the same artist with a market focus or popularity (B). This helps distinguish between the pull of the market from the push of the artist.

What they don’t give away is how they assess creativity, innovation, but perhaps that is best left to them, but I would dearly love to look inside this assessment ‘black box’.  I think the Artists Union would approve of my notion of magpies, and may even agree that there are vampire artists.

Now, how can we apply this to art education to ensure that the ‘vampire’ art schools are distinguished from truly inspirational educational environments. Then I’ll be even happier!

For those so inclined, it is known that there are historical chains of connection between Nobel laureates and innovative research work. Would it be possible to chain link the artists together (apart from the traditional approach to grouping artists in schools as such) to identify particularly productive chains of innovation and association.

 

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And from a child … true abstraction

Aelita Andrea is very young and yet she is showing us what goes on in the mind of a child through her art. See her website here.

No pictures for this one. You just have to go and enjoy the insight and enthusiasm she shows for her work. Likened to a young Jackson Pollock, some describe her work as a combination of Absract Expressionism and Surrelism. Perhaps more of the former, than the latter.

And let’s reflect on Picasso who opined that he spent a lifetime trying to paint like a child.

What is just a delight is her chosen form is abstraction, some further evidence that the natural, unsocialised mind is comfortable with the abstract. It is only through the destructive process we call primary and secondary education, that our natural creative inclinations are stilled, in some cases forever.

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Artistic Plagiarism: a commentary

Learning to steal?

Learning to steal?

I wrote an opinion piece in the Art of England (issue 77,  January 2011) on the issue of artistic plagiarism called “On Learning to Steal”. I start by musing on the usefulness of students learning art by copying works in art galleries. You know the story, littered around the floor are art students busily copying, sketching some work or other. As I note in the article, they seem more like a piece of performance art to a failing art education system, than serious learning. I make the point that this only encourages further theft: “bad artists copy, good artists steal”. They are learning how to steal.

But more worrying, of course, is artistic plagiarism, and I draw attention to a recent high-profile example in Australia. I come down hard and negatively toward artists who maintain an atelier where their job is signing finished works of art (I call them signaturists). I observe that these artists themselves sense this is a con, otherwise, why would one well-known artist preface recent work by saying the work was done personally.

Plagiarism in all its forms is not to be trifled with. In the visual arts, copying is rife, not helped by the ease of cut-and-paste off the internet.

Nevertheless, we must be vigilant of artists who fail, as one artist put it, to adequately reference their sources.

Should art have footnotes?

Want to know more?

An overview of artistic plagiarism by Denis Dutton

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The Vampire Art Schools: a commentary

Main entrance of Ringling School of Art

An art school: I wonder what goes on in there?

I wrote an opinion piece on failing art schools in the UK in Issue 75, November 2010, of Art of England magazine.

Are students in art schools actually getting an education worth paying for. Considering the stresses in higher education funding, and the appalling career opportunities for many art school graduates (upwards of 90% never work at their core art competencies after graduation), that some art schools appear to be failing, not just their students, but also in the quality of the work they do, is a clear waste of money.

One of my suggestions is that some university art schools be downgraded to non-degree colleges, with a sharper vocational focus. The other is to widen their appeal to support the learning needs of older folk, to attract later-blooming artists, of which there are many. The problem for the universities is that at some level art-making is essentially vocational; university art studies really are less on the practice of art-making as on the scholastic study of art (an often confused and obscure activity with its own obfuscating terminology, but that is another matter). If artists are to enjoy the benefits of academic positions, they should be contributing to the advancement of knowledge at some level.

No doubt these failing institutions will argue that they offer value, by way of research, but research-led institutions are fine but not if the students are trying to build practical careers in which case you have a serious mis-match. Research in art in my view is important, but is not advanced by students spending the bulk of their time in studios. We need people who understand and can research art as it contributes to civilisation, and how art is made as a function of brains at play. As I wrote in this opinion piece, if students want to paint, they can keep a studio at home. This would eliminate, perhaps to much acclaim, the graduate art shows of frequently pointless academic art.

While not a heathen with respect to universities, I have a doctorate and have been a senior lecturer, there are some things better done for the learner in more accessible and less puffed-up learning centres. The current educational system doesn’t incentivise them.

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Dirt! a commentary

Vermont dirt, up close.

Now dig in.(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In an opinion piece, “Dirt” in Art of England, July 2011, I explored the problem, issue, challenge of artists who do not actually make their own work, but hire others to do the work.

I am concerned that the authority of the artist is becoming simply the act of the creation of the thought, and not the execution of the work itself, a bit like having your word processor start your sentences.

A book by Michael Petry, The Art of Not Making, approvingly examines the artists who don’t actually make anything.

The creative process isn’t just about having a good idea, indeed having a good idea isn’t good enough, any more than a writer with a good idea can hawk the idea around for a few thousand dollars. (Ah, but they do apparently sell tag lines in Hollywood, which may explain why many of the films are so bad!) With art, there is the need, I suggest, for the authority of manufacture, if that is the right word, something that says “I made this”, full of agency and intent.

The downside fear is this. Imagine you only need to put some whatever into a computer software programme and out comes something. Think of 3D printers, and whether they can actually produce art. Then again, maybe someone will eventually invent a word processor that starts sentences.

Keep in mind that only human faces can smile, and only brains and minds can create.

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