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I, Philistine? December 2, 2010

Posted by markswill in Uncategorized.

Okay, having got my Indian Summer out of the way let’s get back to reality. Or at least my own bent version of  it. And I fear it may be terminally bent, as in not according with the high aesthetic standards I am hugely respected for. Thing is, I’m getting a bit worried about my artistic and cultural tastes and like it or not, I’m going to share my anxiety with you.

First off, I think it’s a given that as we get older we become more interested in art in its many forms. For me it’s always been movies, music and increasingly in the last couple of decades, traipsing around galleries and swotting up on the visual arts. Major shows at the big London galleries both ancient and modern have attracted my custom and city breaks to the Euro capitals done ditto and this, coupled with a near-compulsion to see every other movie that comes out based on provenance if nothing else, has filled up the time between gainful employment, eating, sleeping and relentlessly burning up fossil fuels. And then there’s books. Since the late nineties – and close personal friends may understand the darker reasons behind this – I’ve also had at least two and sometimes as many as three books on the go simultaneously, a reflection not so much of my immense literary appetite as my butterfly mind.

But culturally nourishing as though this may sound, just recently it’s all started to go tits-up. Fr’instance the last few films I’ve seen have all be dogs to me, and this despite the glowing reviews by generally respected reviewers (i.e. the one’s that aren’t 13 year-olds parachuted in by impressionable editors desperately hoping to snare the youth ticket). Examples: Mike Leigh’s Another Year (sentimental tosh with a plot full of holes and loose ends); Uncle Boonmie Who Can Recall His Past Lives (badly lit, shot and scripted sub-film school fantasy porridge); Winter’s Bone (gratuitously bleak Ozark Mountain crystal meth family drama); The Kids Are Alright (the flimsiest of family dramas only green-lit because the parents were lesbians). Apart from critics falling over themselves to outdo their peer-group’s plaudits, what all of these flics have in common are characters you could care less about and storylines amounting to sod-all.

But maybe it’s me? Maybe I’ve become cynical and insensitive, or even more so than I was before? Because it’s the same with art. Take the Glasgow Boys at the Royal Academy: a bunch of highly derivative (c/f Millet and Whistler) daubers whose relative deficits in originality and even craft were matched only by their alacrity to move onto more lucrative portraiture as soon as the pennies literally dropped. Then we have this year’s Turner candidates, and although at least there’s an actual painter up for it this time, namely Dexter Dalwood, otherwise it’s the usual pretentious assemblages of found objects, installations and arty-bollocks videos (oh, and Dalwood’s not much of a painter, either). However my worst outing this year was the British Art Now at the Saatchi, and if this truly exemplified our best  younger painters, sculptors and, oh alright, installers, then god help us. I couldn’t even bring myself to take in the latest Gaugin show at Tate Modern because I get so easily bored with his predictable self-indulgence. Indeed I’m sure my friend John James home-based summer show was a better bet if only for the simple and sad reason that although he’s been painting his highly evocative urban landscapes for three decades now, he doesn’t play the gallery game… which is why most of you haven’t heard of him. (www.johnjames.com)

White Night, St Petersburg - by John James

But I digress. Now onto books. Well since I rely more on friends’ recommendations than reviews and don’t want to upset any of them with my discursive dismissals, I shan’t list them, but only one of the dozen or so books I’ve read (and mainly failed to finish) this past few months has rocked my boat. As an aside here, I’ve just realised that digi-gizmos like the Kindle and iPad are an absolute gift to impatient readers like me, because when the downloads cost only 99p instead of a £7.99 paperback, we won’t feel so bad about giving up after 35 pages. And of course the publishing trade’ll be happy as pigs in shit because they haven’t had to print, store and distribute them. Authors, bookshops and libraries… well that’s another sorry matter.

Anyway, where I’m going with all this is here: Have I been subtly nudged into philistinism, a/k/a dumbed down, by too much exposure to the interweb? It’s a contention, already better examined by recent-ish reports, that brains can be re-wired by the way that information is fed to them online, but which I loftily thought didn’t apply to me. But in apparently failing to ‘get’ the Glasgow Boys, Uncle Boonmie, or a Ryu Murakami novel (oops, there goes discretion), maybe I now lack the necessary intellectual fortitude to try and appreciate their true cultural meaning and value? And am I alone in this?

Or maybe I’ve just become a tedious old fart too willing to slump in front of the box and watch endless repeats of Black Books?

Time will perhaps tell, but if you’re living in my neck of the woods and fancy a culturally challenging night out, and the sight of yrs. trly. proving he can neither act nor sing, the Presteigne Player’s Les Mouserables runs at the Memorial Hall on Dec 9th, 10th and 11th at 7.30pm. It’s another of writer/director Mary Compton’s unique pantos based ever-so-loosely on local characters… but with a wider topical resonance, i.e. while students revolt on the streets of our cities, underneath those streets it is the mice who are revolting against the fat cats.

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1. Alex Ramsay - December 2, 2010

Sympathise with your views on the Kindle, though you might add poor bloody authors to the list of those who mostly see the downside – 5 per cent of 99p, anyone?

2. markswill - December 2, 2010

You’re right of course, and I will!

3. WTK - December 2, 2010

Mark, I admire your tenacity chasing most of the trash art looking for a nugget of gold among the rubble. I long to have the time for such pursuits. I am too busy buying and selling human flesh to break my stride. Juat back from Puerto rico and of a dozen readers poolside i saw only 2 paper-based books among the majority of iPads and the lone Kindle. WHat is this world coming to…

markswill - December 2, 2010

Blimey Mr T, there must be a lot of well-heeled folk down Puerto Rico way, but to answer your vital question: a total shit-storm is where we’re headed.

4. George Snow - December 2, 2010

Hi Mark, As someone who stopped reading reading the press at least a decade ago (celebs, female journalists, lifestyle trash) and as someone who finds all art (apart from my own) boring and pretentious, I’m now beginning to think that the entire history of art didn’t really have that much to say for itself. (A lot of good technique but only one Rembrandt). Culture has been my life you know, and now I am trying desperately to find something to get excited about- to get involved in. it ain’t art. It ain’t books. It ain’t film. It may be music. It may be wine and women (but never to excess). I feel like a lost soul. As spritely as shot of alcohol free whisky.

But I am beginning to find myself again.

As a recent arrival in London only one thing has got me genuinely excited. That is a wonderful TV show called the X Factor. Now that I like. It is a work of true genius and I am deeply jealous of its creator.

My next installation project is going that way…… but before that takes its glittering shape I suggest one of us calls up Simon Cowell to see if we can get tickets- if you fancy a night out. That is such an exciting prospect.

linda stokes - December 2, 2010

perhaps stand-up comedy? you’re a hoot!

misstokes - December 2, 2010

Sounds like yer ripe for a stint of stand-up,
to me!

markswill - December 2, 2010

Nice of you to say so – twice in fact – but I can’t tell a joke in public to save my life… Even though to some jaundiced views, life itself is but a joke.

5. misstokes - December 2, 2010

Of course I agree with you on all this, and I love yer snitty presentation.
Whether we can judge these things accurately is another matter. After all, its all relative..and by this time (advanced age/deterioration…), how could anything not look derivative of the stuff it came after…to us? Anyway, thas just something I wonder about when I’m not impressed with ‘cultural’
offerings. The stuff that seems new and exciting to me is made by nutters at home, and uploaded to a website..which, to me, is a faint light in the dark n bleak for-profit sea that spawns our ready-to-be-spoonfed ‘arts’.

markswill - December 2, 2010

Well Ms Stokes, I of course can’t judge anything “accurately” because of course art is in the eye of beer holder, which I often am. However the Glasgow Boys were lauded centuries before I clocked them, and the movies I mentioned were all, or mostly, from directors whose work I’v previously admired/enjoyed. As for web-based futures… well you’re an artist and I’m not, so you’ve got a better take on that than I.

misstokes - December 2, 2010

dont try to confuse me with the facts

6. Gus - December 2, 2010

We do seem to be becoming re-wired to accept only soundbite sized chunks of information, and to regard any TV programme that lasts more than 30 minutes as a chore.
So it’s not just you.
On the other hand ‘art’ does seem to be becoming more and more pointless and pretentious.
But then again, who said you had to like, or even appreciate art for it to be valid ?
Maybe we’re all just getting old.

markswill - December 2, 2010

But it USED to be ‘me’… and I miss the old ‘me’ ! Well a bit. As for us all getting old, well that, sadly, is undeniable. (Sigh)

7. Andy Tribble - December 6, 2010

Simple maths. If you’ve been going to films and art shows for years the pile of stuff you’ve seen gets bigger. It’s easy for new stuff to look good compared with the output of say 3 years but hard to compete with the best of 40 years. What are you going to see that matches The Mission or Pulp Fiction or Out Of Africa or The Life of Brian. Aagh.
However is it me but are bad films getting actually worse? I went to see Jackass in 3D. God forgive me. Pleased to see cinema almost empty. However this is a different topic and it’s your blog.

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