Category Archives: Arts

Transformation in 5 ideas

The UK’s Guardian has an article on 5 things from other countries that could transform the NHS and presumably offer lessons for other countries, too.

The approaches while each in their own way are worthy, also reflect cultural thinking. At root, these ideas could have emerged if there were mechanisms in the NHS for instance to encourage disruptive or non-conforming solutions. However, risk aversion, bureaucratic overhang, dogma, doctrinaire thinking, fear of making changes, and an overwhelming need for the NHS to keep ministers happy dominate.

But as long as the taxpayer is funding the system, the government will claim the right to pre-empt good ideas, to ensure the continuing politicisation of care, to the distress of the patient. The “5 year forward view” was presented as a set of ideas to galvanise decentralised thinking; instead fearful NHS managers turned it into a blueprint. The problems stem from there and lead to the current crisis.

This approach will only ensure feet of clay.

But let’s look at each in turn.

New Zealand: integrated health and social care

The NHS has been saddled with the failure in 1948 to resolve the disconnect with social care. Integration, though, is a good idea, but is hampered by the fact the NHS is free and social care is means-tested. However, other countries have succeeded in payment integration across health and social care through the use of co-payments, which remove the arbitrary fault line that dogs the UK (of course, Northern Ireland has integrated health and social care but in England, who pays attention…). The aversion to any type of copayment in part blocks new thinking as it challenges the ‘free at the point of service’ principle. As other countries achieve better outcomes, less waiting while having co-payments suggests that the government is willing to sacrifice service access for equity.

Of course, the real blocker is that the hospitals in the English NHS cannot extend their services without running into arbitrary barriers either from the Treasury (about intermingling statutory monies) or legal barriers that box NHS providers. There is no reason for a hospital not to work with social care providers to develop proper referral protocols and care pathways that extend across organisational boundaries and developed shared case management; it can be done, but not if doctrinaire rules lock providers into these boxes from which there is little chance of escape. Vanguard trusts opportunities to develop novel models of care according to the NAO has been what one might characterise as a spectacular waste of public money and probably frustrated a large number of people. Will Manchester be able to pull the rabbit out of the hat?

Solution: Remove all responsibility for social care from local authorities and allow charities, independent care providers and NHS organisations to simply build the necessary structures in whatever form is needed in their local area. Pool the money and let providers move money, people and facilities around as they see fit and if a hospital wants to buy a nursing home to deliver intermediate care then let them. The regulatory regime is probably unfit for purpose. This should also enable the emergence of more intelligent thinking from the insurers to develop suitable policies to enable people to buy appropriate supplemental insurance. How will people pay for this, though? That solution is to unbundle a component of the National Insurance and remit it back to taxpayers to be used to buy the insurance, but with an cost-inflater to ensure there is a reserve in place for inflation.

Sweden: paediatricians on the frontline

The use of gatekeeping blocks patients from direct access to specialists and is seen by some as a serious barrier to patient-centred care. All social insurance systems provide for much easier access to specialists.

NHS hospitals are monopoly suppliers of specialists as that is the only place they work and the only way to get to them is through a GP gatekeeping referral process. And one of the major reasons for a child being admitted to a hospital is parental anxiety because the paediatricians are only available through a hospital. Indeed, the UK is at the bottom of the league table for numbers of children’s doctors, and at the top of the list for inappropriate hospital admission of children.

It isn’t so much putting paediatricians on the frontline, as removing monopoly control of access, to free up specialists to work more flexibly. Areas where similar unbundling would be of immense value is cardiology, oncology, ophthalmology, rheumatology, physiotherapy, golly, this list will cover everything. Yes. A design flaw in the NHS logic is the use of hospitals to warehouse clinical specialist expertise and services. NHS hospitals are also monopoly suppliers of lab tests; GPs account for about 50 tests provided by hospital labs and about 40% of their workload, so community labs are a good idea. As for imaging services, the same applies; for example, an outpatient can wait ages for a CT/MRI whatever, only to be bumped at the last minute by an urgent inpatient imaging requirement. Better to have community based imaging, as this will have the added benefit of keeping people out of hospitals, as GPs will be better able to manage their case load with community based radiologists.

Solution: Enable freer access by patients to specialists and have specialists to set up their clinical offices in the community for direct patient access. Same for labs and imaging.

Israel: single patient record

This is not hard, but is complicated by the way the NHS approaches IT. Flexible patient centred solutions are very hard to achieve, when the bureaucracy spends vast sums on failing IT projects, indeed billions of pounds have been wasted. Solutions exist but not when you approach the problem from the top.

While regression models may have been appropriate a decade ago, new computational risk models (artificial intelligence) should be the preferred route for identification of patients at risk, including trawling through EHRs that do exist to find misdiagnosed and undiagnosed individuals (a common problem with 6% of patients with rare conditions).

Way back, Enthoven suggested the HMO model for the NHS. Perhaps Manchester is channelling that approach, which had the government taken Enthoven’s advice at the time, would have removed much pointless NHS reform, and heralded integrated care in the early 1990s.

Of course, this might be a small plurality of systems, but integration of information, portability of records are now much easier to do, and don’t require a massive public bureaucracy to achieve.

However, the fault line between public and private care and between medicine and dentistry and other therapies needs to be closed. Dentists account for perhaps 40% of antibiotic prescriptions yet where do we see integration of medicines prescribing here? And while the Department for the NHS may not like it, there is a large private healthcare sector, and patients move between the two over the years. Records must be agnostic with respect to who the provider is, otherwise all sorts of gaps don’t get filled. The ill-fated electronic prescribing plans of the past studiously ignored private prescriptions because the civil servant involved didn’t take a whole system approach to healthcare.

Solution: Take a whole system perspective on healthcare information that is agnostic to the type of provider. Ideally, the patient should own and hold the health record, as the patient is the only person who actually has an experience across the whole care pathway, so having data follow the patient integrates the information flow across disparate providers of care.

Canada: innovation procurement

The clue here is engaging industry with care providers to work collaboratively. Canada’s somewhat fragmented system (the article refers to Ontario) is a public and private mix, but providers can develop close working relationships with industry.

Relations with the healthcare, medicines and device industries is managed by the Department of Health and whatever it is called today, and not by the Department that deals with industry. Over the years, there have been ill-fated efforts to build relationships with industry, but these will fail if the NHS itself remains hostile to industry engagement. Seeing industry simply as a supplier won’t do. Value added procurement processes ensure that industry has ‘skin in the game’ and therefore will put its best plans forward to collaborative and even risk-shared approaches to solving major problems.

Solution: Re-think the prejudices that hamper adoption of innovation in the NHS as this may be the clue to improving care through a wider committed stakeholder community. But this is a mind-set problem for the NHS and is how value based healthcare will come about.

What Cognology would say.

These solutions all seem very ‘industrial era’. While each in its own way is instructive, what we are not seeing is the embedding of intelligence within clinical and managerial systems.

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.

What Cognology would say.

Intelligent application of game theory in complex areas such as Brexit would have revealed that perhaps there are/were more options than assumed. The driving anti-intellectual logic of “red lines”, which signalled boundaries within negotiation, is always a bad thing. In the case of Brexit, it probably guarantees a bad outcome at least for the UK. I think smarter negotiating would have done a better job early on modelling or gaming the likely scenarios. What we are left with is political egos, hardly something noted for intelligence.

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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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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The digital future of 21st century arts organisations

A debate started on the Arts Journal on Leadership/Followership raises a number of challenges for arts groups.

In my view, the simple lead/follow dichotomy is not helpful as arts organisations are both repositories of a society’s culture (on behalf of people) and a way to placing before the public new ideas in way that engages and informs (on behalf of new ideas).

Bruno Frey has commented that people may not need to see the original piece of art itself but perhaps a print would do.

You are there!

Taking that notion further, why are exhibitions not online?  An opening could be a simple ‘app’ instead, and the show curated with additional content and searchable features, individual pieces could be zoomed and viewed in the round.

It would not cease to exist when the exhibition closed — a problem for exhibitions in the real world, and poorly captured in the exhibition catalogue. Few people can actually make it to many openings, and moving art around can damage the art itself. The modern world is increasingly location-independent with the use of smartphones and tablet computers making where we are less important when accessing information, people or events; this is likely to evolve further. Thinking past the current fad for social networking (and something will follow Facebook!) leads to a world where intelligent software ‘agents’ can help individuals find and view the art they are interested in, alert them to new shows.

Perhaps some people may be in a position to attend in person, but generally this is not true.

Digital technology allows time-shifting, so I can view the exhibition when I want and probably reduces my carbon footprint at the same time. The openings can be teleconferenced, so people can attend in real-time or listen to later. If I instead choose to attend, then the app becomes my personal guide, which I can annotate and keep.

Ah, but imagine a gallery of giant video screens, the real art protected. It does challenge us to reflect, as Frey does, on what it really is we want to see when we view art: is the experience of the art object itself (if so, why bother buy the catalogue or art books), an experience few really can have, or is it the art (in which case the sale of posters is explained).

It seems to me that arts organisation leadership might benefit from a dose of ‘disruptive’ thinking to embrace modern possibilities. We now have, for instance, galleries with searchable online catalogues, and we find some degree of interactive art itself, but this is a feature of the art not of the art experience. I wonder if today, the “2 second advantage” (to take from a book of that name) for arts organisations offers a clue on how to move beyond the collection idea to something rather different.

The notion of capturing artistic interests in ‘real time’ would enable a ‘video-enabled’ gallery to be able to anticipate art interests (though mindful that much needs to be made of the random ‘shock of the new’ that accompanies the joy of discovering a new artist), and assemble art for the individual in a way that helps them experience the art more personally. I miss not being able to visit some galleries which house art I like because I simply can’t afford the airfare to visit them — the ability to be telepresent in these galleries would be wonderful and at $£€4.99 worth a lot more than the book.

As I’ve said elsewhere, there’s an app for that.

Just a thought…….

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Censorship and Arts: a commentary

"Study drawing shows the allegorical figu...

Do we applaud the reading or censor the nudity? A censor’s job is never done!

In Art of England magazine (Issue 78, February 2011), I wrote an opinion piece exploring arts censorship in the context of WikiLeaks.

The WikiLeaks saga is important for a number of reasons I have explored on my policy blog (The Cognologist) in particular what I call ‘digital exceptionalism’. This simply means that for arts, an art show in a bricks and mortar gallery is not the same thing as the same exhibit on the Internet — images in a gallery can be pulled from the wall, while once on the Internet, they are there ‘forever’. Authorities and lawmakers are grappling with this distinction, which in my view is fundamentally specious, but which is driving a considerable amount of excessively intrusive conduct by governments and enforcement authorities. Of course, there are sensible reasons for this: mainly the ease of access to the material, frequently by vulnerable and impressionable or young people. But such illiberal conduct in the past has been justified on similar grounds.

The real reason for concern lies in an observation by Nicholas Negroponte in his book Being Digital: the Internet facilitates the one to many relationship between an individual and the rest of the world. Individuals have much greater social reach and with appropriate search engines, just about anything can be found within a reasonable period of time. Contrast this with the pre-Internet world, of bookstores which stocked only so many books and you had to specially order some, or libraries with paper-based card catalogues — if you didn’t understand the Library of Congress or Dewey Decimal filing system, you might not find what you were looking for.

So in this brave new world (Huxley said it first) the censors have found new energy. The real problem is that in the Internet WikiLeaks type world, it is becoming harder and harder both to hide and to keep secrets. It is almost like living in the film The Invention of Lying, or Liar Liar. It used to be much easier to be duplicitous — the chances of being found out have escalated considerably.

In the article I note that the arts have always attracted the attention of officials particularly during times of crisis (now, perhaps?). Artists in the UK during the 1914-18 war were viewed with considerable suspicion — marine painters were virtually banned as the paintings of ships might aid the enemy, as might a landscape painting reveal the relationship between buildings and the lay of the land. We are perhaps a bit beyond this today, but the censorship of artists remains a real concern in some countries where freedom of expression is curtailed.

While I have always held the view that some artists seem at a loss for something to say, and produce appropriately poor work, other artists express deep political and social commentary, threatening to regimes depending on terror and repression. And some art is just socially challenging and fall foul to political correctness, a socially enforced form of self-censorship.

We are not yet free — even Mark Twain’s book Huckleberry Finn, the most banned book in the US, has had a rewrite to remove his use of certain terminology which today is seen as unacceptable. The Soviet Union used to rewrite history like this and were justly criticised. While the faces have changed, the objectives remain the same.

Hinge-point: the social media and technology revolution in the art world

“Hinge-point: the social media and technology revolution in the art world”

Originally published in Art of England, Issue 65, 2010. Reproduced with permission.

Recently, I went to an exhibit of a friend, who with colleagues, produced a piece called “Cases” using iPod videos as an installation probing the nature of health and the senses – son et lumière for the iPod generation. Their work resonated with thoughts I’d been having of the impact of new technology on art. Art and technology have always been linked, but it seemed to me as I looked at the iPod videos and listened to the eight different ‘cases’, that something potentially more disruptive might be on the horizon.

What interests me is that new and emerging technologies enable art to be made by a wider range of people, through a social-democratising, accessible and open process. “Who is the artist?” becomes a very interesting question.

Some food for thought…

Commuters crowd many corridors across the city during the morning rush-hour, all is hustle and bustle. Their sighs, words, movements, are captured by sensors, and translated into real-time images which animate the otherwise naked walls. The work is called “I’m thinking of you right now”.

My hand flicks, a gesture in space, and a coloured beam races across a wall embedded with nano-particle sized LEDs. I toss the Wii-Art wand into the air and another light curve spreads across the ceiling. The room will remember what I have done, but I can always change it later.

The 3D printer buzzes on the table beside me, chunks and bumps while a 3D sculpture takes shape made of polymers, resins and colouring. I have created a probably impossible object from samples of space that I bundled together with my smartphone camera and downloaded to my computer.

Slouching in my comfy chair, I put on the headset to have my thoughts read. I call up the latest issue of Art of England on my Plastic Logic e-reader. The computer records what I am thinking and produces a picture which I can play with later, or print out on canvas. Apparently, some people still use paint – how yesterday!

The artificial intelligence, called Alicia, shares my likes and dislikes. Alicia is my writing buddy and editor as I work on my next novel; she has a real instinct for narrative. My friend’s AI, he calls his Boris, is a painter and together they are an artist collaborative. Alicia apparently wrote Boris a poem. Should I be jealous?

One hundred people link their smartphones and flash-art a sunset, capturing what they see and collectively producing a single painting from 100 different perspectives at the same time. The image appears on YouTube and is viewed by 100 million people. 100,000 people buy the image for a pound.

I am less concerned with how artists today are using technology. Artists always adopt and test out new technologies, e.g. watercolour, acrylic paint, plastics, video, computer animation, digital printers, PhotoShop or GIMP, and so on.

What is significant is that new and emerging technologies lower the costs and time of art-making, and reducing these hurdles increases accessibility for people who in the past found the existing technologies (of paint, canvas, stone, clay) formidable. I think we’re at a hinge-point in art and art-making because of this and which could radically alter what we think of as the ‘art world’.

In the end, anyone can be an artist. Technologies will facilitate creativity to enable more people to have artistic expression. The Web and social media make collective art-making possible as we move beyond individual authorship. There will be implications for art schools – whom and what they teach; commissioning bodies — whom they support; galleries – what they are like; and artists – what they are for.

And the meaning of art will change. Art is often thought of as special, in public places, commissioned, housed in galleries where you can’t touch, exclusive, remote. Art can be obscure, requiring specialist interpretation; it is often inaccessible and mute to the majority of people. Through technologies, art will become embedded in the fabric of our lives; it will be ambient and ubiquitous. It will be social and shared as much as individual. By democratising art and art-making, new technologies and social media will make it more important and relevant.

Please touch the painting.

Flowers are not the only late-bloomers…

“Flowers are not the only late-bloomers…”

Originally published in Art of England, Issue 64, 2010. Reproduced with permission.

We live in an ageing society. There are for example more people are over 65 than under 18. But many baby boomers, a factor in this, are still in their 50s, so imagine the social changes to come over the next 10 or 15 years. What if they all wanted to become artists?

A recent report (“The Future for Lifelong Learning” by the National Institute of Adult Continuing Education, and chaired by Sir David Watson) has found that 86% of the £55 billion annually available for public funding of adult education is actually spent on people in the 18-25 age group, leaving the growing numbers of ‘older’ adults with very little. The report observes that our priorities are confused and that the resources should be oriented more toward the post-25 age group, and perhaps more importantly toward those closer to retirement and older. I would add that with increased pressure on the public purse, the best use of this money is also a new imperative.

Without falling into ageism, I believe the art community is trapped in a constellation of assumptions about the origins of creativity and when artistic talent can bloom. Clearly not all important creativity comes from the young. That much is indeed obvious. Could this be seen as a ‘cult of youth’, or of the worst sort of ageism?

I was feeling pretty depressed at this point when Art of England surprised in the August 2009 issue with an article, “Second Life”, on the painter Nasser Azim, , who is renewing himself through art, following a career in the financial sector. Nasser is not alone in his endeavours, as many people are similarly motivated to do what he has done.

Indeed, with the ageing of the population, increasing numbers of older folk may be late-blooming artists. What I wonder about is whether the art community is ready to embrace them, despite stories such as this about Nasser Azim?

In education, art programmes are built around the needs of younger, first career artists, not adult learners. Serious part-time programmes are limited, while many adult education programmes approach art recreationally and do not offer opportunities for late career development. Grant programmes can be selectively discriminatory. Art galleries are looking for that special new (young?) talent, and the art community feasts on the “graduate art shows” with their often inscrutable products, despite evidence that very few graduates actually pursue careers in art. And so it goes.

I was interested to watch the new television show “Design for Life” which has no contestant over 35, yet the host, Philippe Stark, the real genius is clearly older, and apparently more creative, insightful and energetic than the “designers” (I’m being polite) chosen to be on the show. Indeed, one of the first contestants to be sent home hadn’t even finished his university studies. Of course, television isn’t about the real world, is it, and perhaps design isn’t art?

So how are we to make sense of the late-blooming artist? For such people, they may be seeking an opportunity to put away the career choices they made as a younger person, and embrace what might have been a lifelong artistic desire, never fulfilled. But a late-blooming artist is not an oddity of nature. I think they could be a major source of renewed vigour within the art community. I see these older artists providing challenging alternative artistic perspectives, as they put mature ideas and images before us. Such art may speak to us in ways that much art now fails. Is the art community prepared to listen?

Where do you go to my lovely when you’re alone in your bed?

“where do you go to my lovely when you’re alone in your bed?”

(title from the song with lyrics by Peter Sarstedt, 1969, listen to it here: )

Originally publised in Art of England, Issue 76, 2011. Reproduced with permission.

Fantasy, imagination and dreaming have been acknowledged sources of artistic inspiration as well as scientific discovery. Dreaming is particularly interesting as we all experience it, doesn’t require a university degree, or that we consort with the assorted wildlife in the art community.

Many artists have drawn on dream states in their work. In Deirdre Barrett’s The Committee of Sleep (2001) we learn:

  • Albrecht Durer’s 1525 watercolour of a storm came to him in a dream;

  • William Blake’s “Young Night’s Thoughts” (1818) is a dreamscape as is his “Man Who Instructed Blake in Painting His Dreams” (1819);

  • Edward Burne-Jones’ pre-Raphaelite paintings frequently depict dream states, such as “The Rose Bower”.

The Surrealists were consummate dreamers – Paul Nash’s “Landscape from a Dream”, Dali’s “The Dream”, Max Ernst’s “Dream of a Girl Chased by a Nightingale”, and others. According to Barrett, Dali developed specific methods which he encouraged artists to use to facilitate entry to and exit from sleep in such a way that the dreams would be remembered – the trick here is to wake up before you go into REM sleep.

And not all dreams are pleasant. Goya’s paintings frequently document nightmares; “The Sleep of Reason Begets Monsters”, in his Los Caprichos (1799), is one example as are his lesser appreciated ‘Black Paintings’. As dreams these provide an additional layer of meaning, extending on the more rational interpretation that he was depicting the state of man. However, these works were originally painted on the interior walls of his house, as though he were creating an immersive environment for his mind – perhaps to live in his dreams rather than the real world. They were subsequently removed (placed on canvas) and hung on walls in the Museo del Prado, but this is the vandalism of art historians and their failure to grasp the subtlety of their genesis.

As someone who prefers the abstract, dreaming is particularly interesting as our dreams are pure creations of our innermost self. The brain (the bit our minds live in) likes to create patterns, likes to play, and do this much more than people realise.+

We all wonder what dreams mean, and whether they carry messages to us from ourselves, like we were whispering life’s little secrets. But beneath, or above, all this sits the mind itself, quite independent of degrees from art schools, or social status. That we all dream bestows democratic creativity on everyone and not just the chosen few.

Despite or perhaps because of this, we can be mystified at the sources of artistic creativity when we get to journey with it. Charles Saatchi’s television and artistic disaster School of Saatchi (remember?) showcased chronically insecure self-promoters failing miserably to produce anything of anything, but perhaps that is the point that Saatchi was making – and in the end the joke is on us for taking all this seriously.

Do we think differently about art if we knew the artist were documenting a dream, or were instead probably insane like in Wittgenstein’s later work? In such cases, do we become mere voyeurs of madness, safe in our own smug sane little worlds?

But many of the ‘dream’ artists, do challenge us with the sensitive and intelligent translation of inner visions into outer thought-provoking imagery. The Dulwich Picture Gallery show “Twombly and Poussin” illustrates the contrast between the abstract and the figurative. And we are left wondering what dream Twombly was suggesting in his The Mathematical Dream of Ashurbanipal, but mathematicians offen solve problems in their sleep so why not the rest of us?

And so, underneath all the analyticity of so many figurative artists, or the safe critiques of well-grounded critics, lies the murkier and far more interesting idea generator at the centre of our own being. Finding our way into ourselves is always harder and perhaps scarier and that is perhaps why art today can be often be so uninteresting.