In which Theo talks about the Stuckists

Although this blog is vaguely subtitled Arts, Opinion and Things Going Wrong, the amount of time I spend writing about Art is very small. The main reason for this is because the instant you write anything about Art, somebody comes along and tells you that you are quite wrong about everything. Much as I like a healthy debate (I’ll argue with myself if other people aren’t available), I’m far too lazy to look anything up and so cannot be certain that they will not be correct in their assertations of fact.
I am also aware that there are no right or wrong answers about Art. The first thing I was ever taught at art school is that a critique is never held subject to the artist’s original intentions. You may have painted the wall by the fireplace green because you thought it would add a nice bit of colour to the room, but we say you were making a statement about the destruction of personal identity and on some level, we can be right.

Of course, many people fail to understand this. I’ve lost count of the amount of journalistic hand wringing I’ve read over the years in which the absence of “proper” art is lamented and sly comment is passed about Michael Craig Martin or the YBA’s, let along the amount of people who take pride in not “getting” modern art. As far as I am concerned, they are on a slightly lower level as those who take pride in saying things like “Oh, I haven’t read a book since I left school!” If you prefer to spend your time on things other than literature, grand, but revelling in one’s ignorance is a good look for nobody.

Groups like the Stuckists, who abhor conceptual art and advocate a return to the figurative painting, are worse still and not just because of their particularly hateful website in which every option seems to open a new window. Maybe it’s some kind of statement about something which I’m failing to grasp due to my annoyance with it. It’s hard to be sure these days.
While it is all very well to rail against dead sharks and unmade beds and the emptiness and pretensions of postmodernism (although that actually is slightly the point), I’m rather underwhelmed by the work of many of the Stuckists themselves. To begin with, some of it just isn’t very good.
If artists who don’t paint aren’t artists (as specified by point 4 of the original Stuckist manifesto), surely it is necessary to have a level of understanding of why we are painting as oppose to, say, producing a photograph. The poster child of Stuckism, Charles Thomson’s “Sir Nicholas Serota Makes an Acquisitions Decision”, has many things to recommend it, but an example of a great painting it is not. For a start, it might as well be a print, or a computer graphic, or a collage; it would have the same impact. If a group is going to advocate painting as the only valid way of creating art, it would be nice if they could inspire with its possibilities as a medium.

Why painting should be held in higher regard than any other medium remains a mystery to me. I would quite like it if we could all just get along. After all, what is the difference between a readymade sculpture and a painting which has come from the studio assistant production line? Jeff Koons doesn’t paint all of his own work. Neither does Bridget Riley. This is how it has been for hundreds of years and how it will continue to be.

In order to have value as an artist, it is necessary to develop a brand. Some of this may depend on technical ability but that reputation takes a while to build up. Instead, it is easier to fast track a brand with media exposure. In order to get exposure, one needs a gimmick so we end up with things guaranteed to wind up The Daily Mail. It is just one of those sad facts of life that an exciting brush technique has a severely limited ability to generate column inches.

This is something else which narks me about the Stuckists. If painting is the One True Medium™ and you are the champions of all that is great about it, why are you better known for your publicity stunts than your paintings?
Who would have heard of S.P. Howarth if he had not been expelled from Camberwell for exhibiting paintings without any accompanying development of ideas? While I sympathise, because I am somebody who stopped keeping a sketchbook the second I stopped being marked for it, criteria marking is criteria marking. Either like it or else save yourself the tuition fees.

For me, any kind of art is at its best when there is dialogue, both with the viewer and for the viewer. A good piece of art should make you want to tell somebody about it. All I want to tell you about the Stuckists is that they do figurative painting a great discredit.

Stupidity Will Be Punished

It is always nice to keep up with trends so over the last week I, along with everybody else, have been suffering from ProbablyNotSwineFluistus. I had the cough, malaise and sore throat but lacked the fever, which I’m told is mandatory for Swine Flu sufferers. There is every chance it was Swine Flu, of course, but as I stay away from more or less everybody, I’m not sure where I could have caught it from.
Naturally, I am blaming Strider for my wasted days lying on the sofa with a mug of lemon and honey. She had MoreLikelyToBeSwineFluitus but as she doesn’t own a thermometer we cannot be sure. As she had the same cough and sore throat as myself, I suspect she gave me what was just a vicious summer cold along with my birthday card.

Anyway. From time to time I like to apply myself to the problem of how the world can be improved. That way, when I am declared Queen of Everything (as I one day shall be) I will be well prepared and able to put my diabolical schemes into effect more or less instantly.
For a start, I would send every member of the BNP to live somewhere like Nigeria for a while to see how much they enjoy it, only letting them back into the country if they can pass the citizenship test (You have to know what a quango is and “a great scrabble word” is not an option). That done, I would make any young man with a souped up car who thinks it is big and clever to bomb around the backroads at 100mph have a portrait of a My Little Pony tattooed on his forehead. Try and make that look cool and desirable, lads.

The third thing I would do is instigate a law to the effect of: If you are too stupid to have it, it shall be taken away from you until you can prove otherwise.

We all have stupid moments. Strider, for instance, cannot be relied upon to know what a Philips screwdriver is. He Who Knows Everything once drilled through a gas pipe and didn’t notice. Even I, who am extremely good looking and clever, realised after an embarrassingly large number of months of ownership, that my Sigma lens has a button on the side which turns it into a Macro lens. These are all small stupidities which can be forgiven.
What I cannot forgive are people who send thousands of pounds to con merchants.

We’ve all had the email asking us to help smuggle ten million US dollars out of Burkina Faso by just giving our bank details here. In recent times I have received a number of even more entertaining ones purporting to be from the director of the FBI, congratulating me on winning a lottery he had kindly entered me in (without my knowledge) and telling me that once I have sent a two hundred dollar handling fee to this address in Zimbabwe, my thirty million dollars will be dispatched at once. He Who Knows Everything was sent the one which Jack Straw’s office fell for, which claimed his email address was being cancelled unless he filled out the form they provided a link for.
My Myspace inbox is deluged by men telling me they don’t normally do this kind of thing but that they could see the goodness in my eyes and had to send me a note because they were convinced I was an angel. Their wife has usually died in a plane crash as well, so I feel a little mean ignoring them all but I’m sure they will get over it.

I had always assumed that everybody who received these notes laughed at them as much as I do, but astonishingly, they don’t. They believe them.
For the right amount of money, it is possible to procure a so called “Sucker List” of names and addresses of people (usually pensioners) who will send money in response to unsolicited mailings in the belief they have won millions. There was the case of one man who received something like 500 letters in three months and who sent an estimated total of £50,000 to the scammers. He is by no means the only one.
It isn’t just unsolicited mail either. I’ve heard dozens of accounts of modelling agencies who want £500 for the cost of putting you onto their books (and of dozens of people who have paid up) only to disappear into the night. I have a friend who went for an interview for what she had been led to believe was a sales and marketing position in an expanding company, only to find it was a commission only, cold calling job and everybody who physically turned up for interview was offered a position. The most shocking thing about it was that the 16 year old my friend was interviewed alongside was all ready to take the position, believing the OTE quotes of thirty five thousand a year to be true, until my friend quietly took her to her to one side and explained that it was a total scam.

It’s terrible that there are people who make their living deliberately exploiting people who are too desperate not to believe them. It is worse that there are people who would charge forty UK pounds to burn a candle claiming it will ensure the Voudou spirit guides will bring a person good luck. It is unbelievable that Derek Acorah gets paid to be on TV, communicating with rabbits, much less that it isn’t half as entertaining as it sounds.

The worst thing of all is that, when so many people are so desperate and have nothing, there are people who have plenty but who are too stupid to hang onto it.

What I propose is this; If you have money you are intending to send to somebody in an unstable African nation in the belief you will get millions of dollars in return, my people will come to your house, seize your assets and give you a very small amount of money to live on until you understand how stupid you are. Until that time, your assets will be invested and the profits used to help families living below the bread line and who are never going to have enough money to behave as thickly as you do.

Begin your applause… now.

Go Shorty

It’s my birthday. Or rather, it was my birthday. Time’s relentless march forward rather ensures my birthday only lasts the same length of time as all the rather more mundane dates in the year which are not my birthday. This strikes me as being a trifle unfair especially given that a wet Sunday afternoon is able to expand into the same length of time traditionally given their own designation by palaeontology departments.
In retaliation for this time based injustice, I like to stretch my birthday as far into the surrounding days as I can get away with. Strider, who lacked the foresight to be born at a time of year when nothing much else is happening, rolls her eyes at me and asks sarcastically if I am still a birthday princess, little realising that if she is going to ask, the answer is will always be yes.

I don’t traditionally do much for my birthday. I demand presents and attention and cups of tea I haven’t had to make myself but other than that it is a quiet affair. Obviously, with Strider being as stingy as she is I can be flexible on the presents and with the Cat as noisy and demanding as ever, attention is often given to her rather than me and while He Who Knows Everything is happy to make me a cup of tea, most of the time I prefer that he doesn’t.
The only thing I do demand, with no exceptions given, is cake.

Cake is important and birthday cake is doubly so. Without a cake setting off the smoke alarms, a birthday would just be any other day but (hopefully) with added receiving things. As cake is so important, I refuse to settle for any of the Tesco bought nonsense however much in the shape of an 80’s icon it is. I also refuse to settle for a cake purchased from the local bakery as they tend to have an obscene amount of aerosol whipped cream in the middle. Instead I request that Mammy bake me one from scratch.

Mammy is a very lovely woman whose talents are myriad and varied. Unfortunately, baking is not one of these talents.
Mammy is not a terrible cook. She can be a very good cook. It’s just that much of the time she grows bored half way through the process and wanders off leading to a house full of firemen and an indelible stain baked onto the bottom of the oven. At other times she will become enthusiastic about a recipe but omit and substitute ingredients according to mood or immediate availability. An inadvertent noodle and stilton soup was once created from a recipe originally entitled Goats Cheese and Sun dried Tomato pasta sauce.
Much of my childhood was blighted by Mammy’s insistence that a piece of bacon and a tin of plum tomatoes was a balanced meal, that we would all die instantly of salmonella should any food be served without a coating of charcoal and that aubergines are the perfect vegetable for adding cheese to and baking for three hours. If it hadn’t been for the E numbers in the coatings of Findas Crispy Pancakes, I would never have made it out alive.

The first year I demanded home made cake, Mammy did what any other person in the world would not. She went to Marks and Spencer, purchased a tub of chocolate coated mini swiss rolls and spent a constructive half an hour with a box of matches strategically melting them into a pyramid.
The second year I demanded home made cake, Mammy attempted a Victoria Sponge. I know that is what it was meant to be because I had a look at the recipe. What it turned out to be was an 8 inch square suitable for board games.
A year or two later, I requested a rather marvellous cake Strider and I made in our childhood called a Chocolate Mayonnaise Cake. Mammy obediently dug out the recipe and, upon finding that half of the instructions had stuck to another page and become illegible, opted to make them up instead. The result was so good, I chose to enjoy my piece next to the bin.

Since that time, I have remained silent on the subject of what kind of cake I would like baked in the hope that Mammy will not attempt it. Instead, she has fallen into the yearly routine of attempting to perfect the Victoria Sponge. It hasn’t gone well.
A Victoria sponge is a very basic cake but it is also a very difficult cake. It is the cake that sorts to bakers from the pancake makers. If you can bake a Victoria sponge, you can bake anything.
As it happens, I can bake a Victoria Sponge. People ring me up to let me know they will be dropping by in the hope I will bake a cake for them. Everybody thinks my cake is wonderful although personally speaking, I can take it or leave it. My cake ability does not help Mammy feel better about her failures.

This year’s cake was rather black around the outside. As a backup cake, Mammy attempted a different kind of sponge but, failing to realise a cake tin is different from a sandwich tin, ended up with a mushroom.

Still. Despite the hatred of the task and the constant failure, every single year Mammy attempts to get it right. I don’t mind that she creates things other people would require a lightning rod to produce, she makes the effort to get it right and that, my friends, is worth far more than cake.

In other news: I have received a perplexing amount of hits from a variety of people using the search terms Alright, Constable and Please Be Gentle. Now I’ve managed to use the terms obscene and whipped cream in a post, I anticipate even more popularity.

Best. Farmers Tan. Ever.

To be honest, as this is the 100th post, it ought to be a little bit special and I had half a mind to leave it for some reflections on being 28 on Wednesday but as I haven't yet given up all hope that I will be lying half cut in a gutter somewhere by then, you shall just have to have this instead.

Ladies and Gentleman, I give you, He Who Knows Everything....


Dad from

Maybe it is the jaunty leg pose, maybe it is the enourmous belly, maybe it is the rather distressing fact that this is the front garden...

Whatever the reason, you can see why all the girls love him.

Theo: Killing the Music Industry since 1989

I’ve been debating for a couple of days now about whether or not I should write about the death of Michael Jackson and how much his loss has affected me. As his loss hasn’t affected me in the slightest and anything I wrote about him would include the observation that insisting we only remember him for the music, not the less than savoury aspects of his personal life, is a little like insisting we only remember Hitler for his efforts to tackle childhood obesity, I’ve decided that it is best all around that I don’t.

Anyway. Like many people born in the 80’s, my youth was a happy blur of sitting on the floor of my bedroom, listening to tapes. It wasn’t just Tracy from Coronation Street at it, we all were. We didn’t all go on to murder people quite horribly with a small piece of decorative art but I, for one, would never totally rule out such an option especially in provocative circumstances.
As I believe I have probably mentioned on countless occasions, as youths, Strider and I didn’t get pocket money. We were offered the grand total of 50p for cleaning He Who Knows Everything’s car, which was a trifle unfair as it was a huge white Vauxhall Carlton Estate and I was too short to reach the roof and so subsequently never got paid. We were also given to option to line our pockets with a whole 20p each for cleaning Mammy’s brass Art Nouveau fire surround. I suspect this is one of the reasons I no longer drink. After of years of inhaling Brasso in a confined space, no legal substances can ever come close to those happy sensations.

In those far off days, it was not possible to thieve music from The Man via the medium of interweb as it is today. Instead, we found ways around it by recording from friends or, particularly if you were me and didn’t have any, from the radio. The result was a tape with the second half of every Phil Collins song ever recorded and a learned oblivion to impacting furniture at speed.

These days, of course, it is so much easier to create collections of the music you want. For a start there is Spotify which is essentially a giant jukebox. It is free a handful of countries (although adverts will be played periodically) or an ad free subscription can be taken out anywhere in the world for the price of ten euro (or your local equivalent) a month. I tried it for a month and it is very good for mainstream music, I just felt I didn’t listen to it enough to warrant spending the money on it.
There is also interweb radio. I recently found a useful site ( which links to all the European radio stations streaming onto the net including Vatican radio “One-O-Five” Live and Radio Liechtenstein. I’ve never listened to Radio Liechtenstein before. I can’t promise I ever will again but it is certainly proving an arresting diversion and demonstrating that I managed to sit in German classes for two years yet learned nothing of the language. I hope you are proud of yourself, Frau Straub-Lee (although to be fair, we did spend much of our allocated German learning time throwing paper at each other. We didn’t want to learn German. We used to chant “Two world wars, one world cup” at the exchange students).

Something else I have usefully found out is that if you use Real Player to stream the radio station, you can record a portion of the stream. It is my childhood returned with a computer and this time I don’t have to fling myself across any rooms or have Doctor Fox on the Pepsi Network Chart talking over the last 30 seconds of everything. As some kind of magic bonus, presumably a reward for not learning German, when I hear a song I like I can rewind the stream to begin recording from the start of the song rather than having only songs that start from the end of the first chorus. It’s brilliant.

Of course, even back in my day it was argued that sharing music illegally and home taping would be the death of the industry and I can sympathise. If I have a copy of a song I have recorded from the radio, I can play it as many times as I like without paying the artist. They are correct to be narked at me. If somebody distributed copies of any of, what I laughing refer to as, my Art to their friends, I would naturally be rather peeved at being denied the opportunity to overcharge people for something.
However. Like many others, I offer free licences on some of my work in the hope that, should they ever wish to pay somebody for something, I will be the person they turn to. While there are many who abuse this system, the people in it recognise that this is one of the best ways to gain the exposure we need. It doesn’t pay the gas bill but if that’s what you want, McDonalds are probably hiring.

It’s not a good system. If you are not able to juggle your time between the day work and what you love, it is a sad fact that you will probably have to drop the creative unpaid parts of your life. The people who don’t drop it are the people who are willing to omit television, the pub and sleep in pursuit of their craft. If that sounds too much to give up, you are probably better off out of it.
I’ve lost count of the amount of times I have heard “Oh, I’d love to paint/write/glue noses back onto Lepers in Africa, but I just never seem to have the time”. I’m not sure why people say this because all it tells me is they are probably the kind of person who wants to be a painter/writer/gluer of noses back onto Lepers in Africa but who doesn’t want to put the effort in to learn how to do it. It is time heavy and you will fail a lot but if you persevere for a couple of decades you might produce something not everybody agrees should be burned. Oh, and while I’m on this, don’t tell people they are talented, it negates their hard work.

Anyway. Home taping and free distribution is not going to kill any industry and this bleating insistence that it does can only continue to be proved wrong. Give a little love, industry. We are not all file sharing crims. If we don’t have to spend out money on CDs, maybe we will spend it on a promotional T-shirt instead.