Do Social Networking People Actually Want To Know?

I’m sure everybody has done this, we’re scrolling through our Instagram feeds enjoying the work of people we follow (largely), double-tapping to like, maybe reading the captions. Nobody reads all the captions. Then we find one which says something like “really enjoying the autumn weather on the beach, what are you all doing today?” and perhaps typed a comment saying what we’re doing.

Really though, do they actually give a shit what you’re doing? I don’t mean that maliciously, I don’t think they think enough about you to care or not. They have thousands of followers, if a tenth of them reply that’s hundreds of people telling them they’re on the beach too (!!!!!!!), or walking the dog, or painting fir cones or whatever they’re doing. Do they have time to read these? Or actually take any interest in what somebody is doing? So I’ve got two theories about what’s going on here.

The theory from The Good Place

They’re genuinely asking, because they’re that sort of person. They’re the person who chats to you on the bus about stuff, who works in a shop and makes you feel happy to be there when they ask how you are. Okay, so they then forget you instantly the moment you’re out of sight, but they’re sort of reflexively social.

The theory from The Bad Place

They genuinely don’t give a shit about you, but they’ve internalised that Zuckerberg and his algorithm pixies really like ‘engagement’, and comments count more than likes, so the more people they can get to actually write something the higher their post ranks.

I suspect it’s both / either of them – but I do know that when I have posted something in all but one occasion there was no reply or follow up. The only time I did get an acknowledgement was a blog post where this woman wrote a long post about how her method for creating engaging blog posts was the finest thing since soft loo paper and what did ‘we all do to plan our blog posts’. Well my method had some similarities to hers, but included software she didn’t mention, so I bothered to write a reply explaining this and why….and got a follow up saying she was glad I’d used the same things as her. I’m definitely going for The Bad Place on that one.

Creative Pursuits in Pursuit of Time

There is an episode of Frasier where Frasier and Niles are talking about age.  Frasier says that he’s only middle aged, to which Niles quips that would only be true were he planning on living to 110 (or some such, I don’t have the exact quote).  From my vantage point in my mid 50s it’s clear that there just isn’t time to fit in everything I’d like to do, especially as I’ve got a job to fit in as well. So…

  • I’m never going to go to art school
  • I’m not going to have an artistic career
  • I’m not going to be one of the people you see in gallery cafes clearly talking to other arts people about arts things
  • I’m not going to work on cool digital graphics projects for movies
  • I’m not going to…

Well you get the idea. There are lots of things it would be great to do, and if I was having my time over again knowing what I know now I’d probably do them. But I’ve got to face the fact that I’m not and in a way I’m sort of okay with that because I’ve accepted that in a way I can do all of the above as a hobby without the pressure of making a living off them. So my creative endeavours are really one vast personal project, with no pressure to please customers, art directors, critics or pay the mortgage.

What would Wren do

So, the battle lines are being drawn over the fate of the Mackintosh Library at the Glasgow School of Art after it fell victim to another and it seems even more calamitous fire. It’s restore v something new v something which is a bit of both according to the Guardian

It’s the curse of the modern age, the desire to preserve things in cultural aspic, or even worse to build a replica of something and then preserve that in cultural aspic. I remember the great fire at Hampton Court Palace, followed by the creation stone by stone of an exact replica of what had been burned down. Wren didn’t look at the smouldering ashes of Old St Pauls and say that it would be possible to rebuild it stone by stone, he cleared the site and put up something new and exciting in it’s place. After the old houses of parliament burn down we didn’t get a replica, we got (love it or loathe it) the gothic pile we have now. In the past it was accepted that buildings, even great and important ones, decay, fall apart or quite frequently burn down and you replaced them with something new and original. Coventry got it’s new cathedral at the end of the blitz, and it’s a city landmark in it’s own right. This is what for most of history, you did.

But now, in a UK terrified of both modernity and change, that thought process is an anathema. Now you have to create a replica of what was lost, which is not preserving our heritage at all of course. Nowadays there would be a ‘preserve old St Pauls society’, probably headed by the Prince of Wales, campaigning against the idea of a small version of St Peters in central London (so modern, so foreign) causing Wren to bugger off to seek clients in more forward thinking realms than this. Change is necessary, it’s part of life and of society. We have, sometimes, to let go of our vision of the past and not vote leave, sorry not seek to rebuild stuff.

The National Trust is seeking in the wake of the great fire at Clandon Park to ‘rebuild and reimagine’ and have invited various teams to make proposals. Some of these look more exciting and imaginative than others to my mind and it will be interesting to see which wins out. But what is not being proposed is just a slavish rebuilding. Personally I’d like to see something which stabilises the ruin and re-purposes the space as an arts venue in which not only will it be possible to see great contemporary art but also enjoy what is left of the original building. The country is awash with country houses, but few where you can see under the skin, so it’s a win win.

So, what about the Mackintosh library? Seriously? The building was gutted by fire and rebuilt, only to be gutted by fire again. So rebuilding wouldn’t be rebuilding the library, it would be rebuilding the rebuilt library. How about a solution which keeps the facade and then uses the rest of the space for an arts library for the 21st Century. For heaven’s sake, students weren’t even allowed to use the original one, give them one the next generation of Mackintoshes can use to learn how to be great architects and designers of the future.

Why Can’t We Have Rural ‘Cultural Hubs’?

Time for a polemic.

Seems to me that these days it’s common for depressed urban areas to re-invigorate themselves as cultural hubs (or whatever version of that phrase the people writing the bid documents and the press releases opt to use). Now, let me be clear on this, I’m not knocking this one little bit, I’m all for places focussing more on the arts, culture and creativity. Good for Hull, good for Stoke on Trent, good for anywhere which does it.

But, in this rush to re-invigorate city centres, we’re missing important places; we aren’t creating cultural hubs in our market towns and rural locations. When did you last seen creative companies with offices in Vancouver and Bandford Forum, or Shanghai and Bridport, or Berlin and Shrewsbury? Why is it always London, or Edinburgh, or Bristol, or Liverpool? Just doesn’t happen does it? I think it’s time that, as a nation, we seriously looked at tapping into the vast creative resources of what is, after all, the biggest part of the country. For all that cities are big, the part of the UK which isn’t cities is much bigger. This isn’t just a creativity blind spot, it’s an everything blind spot. For all the politicians of every flavour play lip service to the importance of rural britain, it’s rural britain which gets neglected. Go to London, or Bristol, or some such and you can see more than one bus at one time: go into the country and you’re lucky to see more than one bus a week. Libraries close. Schools get less money. Services get cut and people with money from the cities either retire here or just buy up properties as second homes at prices which prevent locals buying (or even in many cases, renting) which pushes up migration from the country and rural homelessness. So the fact that it’s cities which become creative hubs is just one projecting bit of a huge iceberg. Walk round any market town and you’ll see loads of premises for rent, shops which have closed down because the supermarkets have taken their trade, offices above shops, small manufacturing companies which have closed; look behind the pretty pretty tourist facade and you see market towns in something of a crisis. These premises would of course still make great shops, or small manufacturing units, but they’d also make great locations for creative businesses.

Not only do we have premises, we have people. Lots and lots of talented people, and especially young people. One of the big issues is the lack of opportunity for young people, there aren’t a lot of jobs and if you can’t drive then is pretty much there aren’t any jobs. Particularly, there isn’t a great variety of jobs. School leavers here often go off to college, and then don’t come back because to work in the field they want they need the employment tonnage of the big cities where they have to not only pay off their student loans but shell out for expensive accommodation.

Of course, the majority of the UK (and I’m going to now rather acidly call the bits which aren’t cities) has loads of creative businesses of all kinds. Small and successful design firms abound (a couple of friends of mine own one), and there are craft workshops of all kinds doing very well thank you. What’s more the Internet has allowed these small businesses access to a national, if not global, marketplace so they’re not just trying to sell to people in the same town. The very existence of all these creative firms shows how much talent and will we have once you find yourself in the land where every road has neither a pavement nor streetlights. So what’s my problem?

My problem is that this pool of creative talent isn’t recognised and it’s not supported in growing. These are self employed people and small firms operating often on tight margins. I’m sure they’d love to be able to offer places for apprentices and internships for the creatively motivated young people leaving schools and colleges but it’s not really an option for them. What if there was financial support for businesses to expand, with grants for premises and equipment, and adequate public transport to allow for young people to take up the apprenticeships and internships? What if not only did we attract production companies to do their locations shoots for tv and movies in small towns, but to base themselves here as well? Then we’d also attract the companies who provide support for them as well and then there would be opportunities for local people to work in them without moving away. If we were serious about affordable housing (rather than putting a token few homes on an another domitory executive housing project) people leaving university who wanted to work in the creative industries could move back home out of the cities instead of them. With all these folks the town centres could become thriving places in the evening with all the jobs in bars, restaurants, theatres and cinemas that would create.

You could well say my dream of seeing a feature in a magazine where they visit a major digital effects company based in Bridport, or an international design studio based in Fakenham. or hearing about the Sussex Cultural Hub is just dream. But then again, 20 years ago you’d have laughed at the idea that you’d have trendy cafes in Shoreditch or that one of the big players in the film industry could be New Zealand…..

Decorating: Small Changes and Big Ones

My 18 year old has decided that he wants to redecorate his room. Not that it was in any way childish before, it has two blue walls and two green walls which was the colour he picked before our major house remodel when he was 3 and just had done again after the builders left when he was about 10. It was a courageous colour choice but it really worked. Well he was sitting there the other day and decided he wanted a change; the new scheme is going to have the wall opposite the windows brilliant white (none of this ‘white, not quite’ stuff) and then a dark Oxford blue on the two side walls. Again, it’s really dramatic but based on the early look with the tester pots it’s going to be impressive. Given that he likes a really minimalist look to his room (he’s not big into teenage clutter) it may be the most stylish and ‘homes and gardens’ room in the house. When it’s done I’ll see if I’m allowed before and after photos to post. Big changes, massive impact

At the other end of the scale, I re-mastic sealed the edge of the bath. Now this is a really small change, but given that the old mastic was clear and the new stuff is white it’s a difference which shrieks out every time I go in there (and not just because I did a somewhat ropey job). I wasn’t ready for how much of a change not being able to see the line where the tiles meet the bath was going to be. Small changes, big impact.

On the profusion of artistic braiding accounts

There are a lot of instagram accounts devoted to braiding, and otherwise styling, hair; an awful lot of them. I follow a lot of them, though not all as I want some balance in my feed, though I could easily find several more to follow if I so chose. Many are Scandanavian, which seems to have become the spiritual home of braiding. We’re not talking your bog standard left over centre, right over centre and repeat here, nor the French braid which seemed to take the planet by storm in the 80s. No we’re talking Dutch Braids, Waterfall Braids, Fishtail Braids, Lace Braids, braids with any odd number of strands (I’ve seen a youtube video with 11 strand braiding), and indeed with four strands. We’re talking combination braids, braids with updos, combinations of the above…

And you know what, it’s art. It goes way above finding a way to keep your hair out of the way for school or sports. It’s creative, imaginative technically skilled and visually stunning. It’s everything that painting or sculpture or architecture has, but done by young women at home and it looks different every day.

And maybe that’s why we don’t call it art. I’m not riding a gender hobby horse over this, much as I think the Riot Girls had point, and possibly still do, I don’t think that the reason braiding on this level isn’t thought of as art is because women do it, or even that women so young do it so brilliantly. I think we don’t think of it as art because doing your hair is fundamentally a domestic act done for fun. It’s the same way that nobody would deny that high fashion design is art, but when somebody brings a pattern and some fabric home from the shop, alters it to suit their idea we call it ‘dressmaking’.

So next time you’re behind somebody in the shop, with braided hair, just remember, either her, or one of her friends and family, is an artist.

Gothic, what…


Seldom has a word carried such a range of similar, but really quite different, meanings than that one. Somehow, we all think we know what it means, but try to tie it down and it’s slippery. Pointy arches? Ivy covered walls? Vampires? Victorians? Languid long haired girls in black frocks and chokers? Anything black? Anything brooding? Pugin? Would Pugin have wanted aforementioned young ladies draped over his architecture? And what happens when ‘gothic’ turns into ‘goths’? Whole new can of worms to open there.

The OED defines Gothic as:

1. relating to the Goths or their extinct language, which belongs to the East Germanic branch of the Indo-European language family. It provides the earliest manuscript evidence of any Germanic language (4th–6th centuries ad).
2. of or in the style of architecture prevalent in western Europe in the 12th–16th centuries (and revived in the mid 18th to early 20th centuries), characterized by pointed arches, rib vaults, and flying buttresses, together with large windows and elaborate tracery. English Gothic architecture is divided into Early English, Decorated, and Perpendicular.
3. (also archaic Gothick) belonging to or redolent of the Dark Ages; portentously gloomy or horrifying: 19th-century Gothic horror.
4. (of lettering) of or derived from the angular style of handwriting with broad vertical downstrokes used in western Europe from the 13th century, including Fraktur and black-letter typefaces.
5. (gothic) relating to goths or goth music.

Well, bad news for the Goths but nobody seems to consider them when they think of Gothic, which is a bit sad really given their impact on the shape of post Roman Europe, but that’s how it is, we’re ignoring them. Future blog on the art of the Goths: promise. Not really sure the popular imagination is really down with number four either. Lettering and typography isn’t really featuring much. Which pretty much leaves us with a mixture of two and three with a smattering of five; architecture with added portentous gloom. Which sort of really does sum it up if you think of all the aforementioned women in black dresses as being gloomy.

What rather, I think, throws the candelabra in the coffin of the Gothic, as seen on Instagram, Facebook and so forth, is that much of it seems to via away from the portentiously gloomy and into a kind of romanticism; pre-Raphaelite dark if you will. It’s an aesthetic which is as much about long curly hair and long victoriana dresses as it is about any sense of gloomy foreboding. Then, these days, you also get some overtones of it in Steampunk; when that alternative reality nineteenth century meets the supernatual, you can pretty much see the ‘Gothic’ in it.

Of course, and this is really the point towards which I was rambling, this whole gothic meets romantic meets PRB is actually a great combination visually.

It makes for great photos and paintings.

Art – or ‘art’?

Yeah, it’s cryptic title time, only this time not because I wanted a cryptic visitor-hooking title but because I actually couldn’t come up with something which said what this post was about any better than that did.

I found myself today looking at a website of art by somebody I sort of know, I knew she did art but had no idea what it was like – she’s called Bryony Aston and the site is here if you want to take a look. I think it’s good, in fact I think it’s really good: I’d have one of her paintings on the wall any time (this one if I could pick). So that got me thinking about all the amazing artists we’ve never heard of, which got me thinking about why some artists sell for millions at auction, which got me thinking about all the artists who don’t even exhibit. What is it about some art and some artists which suddenly makes them, if not famous, then at least well known. When does somebody’s art become Art?

Now there is a part of me which has always thought that art really shouldn’t ever be monetarily worth more than the materials and time involved in its creation. Let artists be fairly recompensed for their creativity and effort, and gallery owners for their work in selling the art on, but they should be the ones who benefit, not somebody who really never even knew them years down the line, not people who buy art as an investment. Think how much more visually interesting the world would be if that were the case, nobody would buy pictures as investments and stick them in vaults where people can’t see them, public galleries would be able to build their collections easily without having panic funding drives to keep something in the country. What’s more with low values on the stuff it might be easier to borrow and exchange works (dunno about that though). People who owned art wouldn’t be forced to sell it off to cover taxes, and folks could take their pictures along to the antiques roadshow without the risk of finding it’s so bloody valuable the they can’t really have it on the wall of the living room any more due to the risk of theft. So yeah, I’m opposed to investment art in general. I’m in favour of art because the more art you have the better civilisation you have, your world is a better place.

So what about all the unknown art? What about all the hundreds of thousands of creatives like Bryony out there? What about the art you and I have never heard about? Well, I reckon without Art there would be more respect for art – Joni Mitchell said ‘he knew they’d never been on their tv, so he passed his good music by’ and that’s the lot of a load of artists out there, they make stuff which immeasurably improves our world, but it doesn’t get shown. Frankly, if I had a choice of a reproduction Old Master and one of Bryony’s paintings I’d take hers any day, because a reproduction isn’t the painting, it lacks everything which makes the painting worth looking at. I’d rather have a picture by somebody unknown which I loved on the wall any day. Okay, I have a lot of prints of pictures, including one I’m not ever going to take down, but that’s going to be a future blog post (‘spoilers, sweetie’).

See, frankly, I’m not convinced that Art is actually any better than art. Certainly much of it is brilliant, though a lot isn’t I think that great – I’m not doing the old master v modernism thing here, it’s got nothing to do with the type of art, some is just better than others. I accept that ‘better’ is a personal opinion thing though. For example if Millias had not painted after Ophelia I’d have been happy, it would have saved us from mawkish dreck like Bubbles. We clearly can’t think it’s all good because it’s famous because if you watch anybody visiting a gallery they wander the rooms and stop at some paintings because those are the ones which engage them. You know what? I reckon if you took one of Bryony’s paintings and put it in an exhibition of art by well known abstract painters as many of the public would stop to look at it as they wander the rooms as those by famous painters in the same genre. Because deep down art lovers, real art lovers (it’s my blog, I can be as polemical as I like) look at and enjoy art which engages and captivates them. The Ecstasy of St Theresa doesn’t captivate because it’s by Bernini, it captivates because you swear that if you reached out and pushed on one of her feet it would swing.

The Cass Arts chain says “lets fill this town with artists” – they’re actually wrong to say that (though I totally applaud the sentiment), it already is full of artists, we just need to realise that everybody who paints, or draws or sculpts, or scrapes, or prints is an artist, even if they’re not Artists.


Victorian Fan Service

Last week I was in Bristol, and took a turn round the City Museum and Art Gallery, which I’ve not visited in years – very good it is too, in the foyer look up and marvel at the replica Bristol Box-kite (made for the film Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines, at Vickers when my dad worked there).  But this post isn’t about early aircraft, though a future post might be if I can find a way to work it in.

No, this post is about Victorian paintings of somewhat less than totally clad women, of which the City Museum has a few. I was walking away from them when I found myself musing about the fact that really they’re an excuse to show women with less clothes than the respectable Victorian lady might wear under the guise of putting them in a classical setting. Then the phrase popped into my head…

“It’s just fan service really”

And once it was there, it stuck there.

For those not familiar with the term, ‘fan service’ is an expression to describe young ladies with no clothes in Anime and Manga, generally they take their clothes off for no apparent reason, or they’re somewhere clothes aren’t required. They go with the whole Anime/Manga territory. But really, apart from a century or so, there isn’t as much clear blue water between chaps like Alma Tadema and the illustrators of manga like Battle Vixens. At this point I’m going to say that you can go off and google for images if you want, both of them feature heavily on the Internet and by not posting images I can’t be held responsible for doing NSFW stuff. Just don’t google at work or college, that’s all I’m saying here…  You might well say that Alma Tadema is by far the superior artist, and I’d say if you’re talking about painting then yes he is – but Manga and Anime artists have to produce a whole load of graphic images in short order so the skill set is different. Though I admit it’s not likely that pages from High School of the Dead are going to be hanging on gallery walls in a few decades. But they’re art of their time, and they both in some way serve to provide images of unclothed ladies under the guise of a storyline which somehow requires that.

So, there you are, a brief ramble on based on an idea which made me giggle in the gallery.

It’s not about the camera

One of the great sayings about photography is that it’s not about the camera. Actually, sometimes it is, if you’re shooting for Vogue then using a £50 point and shoot probably isn’t going to hack it. In the broadest sense though it’s always true, if you watch the Cheap Camera Challenge on Digital Rev you get to see top pro-togs (their phrase) using the direst cameras and getting great results. If you haven’t watched this series then I’d really recommend it. The camera is the tool: the skill and experience of the snapper is what makes the difference.

Personally, I’ve realised how right this is.

After years of shooting film we got our first digital camera, a Fuji Finepix S5000, not top of the line by any means. Took adequate photos, though I never felt that happy with the results. I’ve taken photos for years but a few years ago I decided to take it seriously and, you know, practice and be more self critical. After a while I found myself in a position to upgrade to a DSLR and got an EOS 450d which is much better than my Fuji and which I’ve used a lot. Last week I was up in London and took the Fuji because it’s small and light, and if something happens it’s not a significant loss (though having seen the second had price of the 450d on EBay that’s not as big a concern). It’s got really slow autofocus, and low resolution by modern standards, and a really crap digital viewfinder. But when I was looking at my results I realised something.

I’d taken better photos on my old Fuji than I was taking on my EOS when I first got it

Clearly I’d improved as a photographer far more than I realised I had – as a result of my own “cheap camera challenge” I’d proved it really isn’t about the camera.