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British Expat Newsletter:
27 September 2006

Hello, and welcome to those who have joined up since our last newsletter.

In this issue

  • This week: Art
  • Virtual Snacks
  • Bizarre Searches
  • Quotation and joke

This week

I started an online art course recently – a Foundation in Art and Design – and already it’s affected how I see things. I’m looking at things in a different way – shapes, textures, architectural detail – and noticing things I maybe would’ve missed before.

A lot of BE members are interested in art too. Several attend art classes. Personally I’m happy to do my course online. I can do it in my own time rather than every Tuesday or whatever. Sometimes it’s hard to make the time, though, so I can understand why people might like the discipline, or even the social aspect of going to a class.

But what is art? We have a few articles from Tate Online which are very interesting, but I confess that I don’t really “get” some of the modern British art. Tracey Emin is a case in point. I just can’t see how some of it is art at all. Those of you who read “Private Eye” will be familiar with the Young British Artists cartoon strip, which derides the characters (based on, er, typical YBAs) as shallow, cliquey and – perhaps worst of all – self-referential.

Perhaps it’s the Turner Prize that best sums up the “Yes, but is it art?” debate. It’s ironic that Turner – one of the British public’s best-beloved artists – should have had his name given to a prize which arouses so much public scorn and derision. In 2002 the then Minister for Culture, Kim Howells, described the work of the four candidates as “cold, mechanical, conceptualised bullshit”. (He had some claim to know what he was talking about, having studied art at university.)

Then again, Turner’s own work aroused just as much controversy during his own lifetime. (On hearing that the buyer of his famous painting of Fingal’s Cave – now recognised as a masterpiece – had complained that it was “indistinct”, he retorted, “You should tell him that indistinctness is my forte.”) And some of the defenders of the Turner Prize argue that in many ways the candidates for the Prize are firmly within the traditions of British art on the cutting edge – people like George Stubbs, John Constable and Turner himself took the same empirical, observational approach as Damien Hirst and Tracey Emin.

Of course, innovation in art has been controversial for a long time. For instance, in the early days of photography there was a major row about whether photography could be considered art – after all, isn’t it just the capturing of a scene by mechanical means? Well yes, it is, but that’s only a small part of the story. A skilfully composed photograph is as capable of stirring powerful emotions as any painting, and it takes a lot more than just pointing and clicking to get the composition right. There can’t be many people left who would reject the notion of photography as art.

The biggest debate over what constitutes art is probably the demarcation dispute over “fine art” – art for art’s sake – and “applied art”, which broadly covers the use of artistic skills for commercial, industrial or other utilitarian purposes. A lot of what people would consider fine art does have real-world purpose, whether it’s religious (there’s so many examples there that I’m not even going to bother mentioning any), political (Picasso’s “Guernica”) or social (the whole school of “Socialist Realism”, although obviously that could be said to be political too). And on the other hand, a lot of stuff which many people would class simply as design – a company logo, or a Central London office block – would be considered art by others. So it’s all a bit of a grey area (ha).

Art can be an expensive hobby. Given the price of materials in the UK, it’s perhaps no wonder that the cliche of the struggling artist, starving in a garret and spending all available funds on canvas and paints, is so persistent. Luckily for me, they seem to be remarkably cheap here – perhaps it’s all the artists painting for Western tourists that means there’s a ready market for them, keeping supply high and the prices low. Anyway, for the first time in my life I’ve been able to indulge myself and paint on canvas instead of having to make do with cardboard, hardboard or whatever I can find.

I tend to think that art is something powerful, or which evokes some emotion in the viewer – beyond bafflement, that is – or perhaps even just something I’d like to hang on the wall or display in our house in some way. It seems to me a massive con that someone can declare themselves an artist and that their work is adjudged to be art simply because they’ve produced it and they say it’s art.

Do you have anything to say about this topic? Does modern art make your blood boil, leave you cold, or float your boat? Are art materials expensive in your part of the world? Or do you have some suggestions for other issues we might discuss in our weekly email? Why not comment and tell us?

Virtual Snacks

Just a few suggestions if you have a little time to spare:

Tate Online is the Tate’s fifth gallery, alongside its four real-world galleries (Tate Britain and Tate Modern in London; Tate Liverpool; and Tate St Ives in Cornwall). Well worth a visit if you’re interested in the visual arts. They run an excellent free art appreciation course too.
Tate Online

There’s lots on Artcyclopedia, including links to online galleries worldwide. This is an excellent resource for anyone interested in art.

Bizarre Searches

Some strange search terms which have led people to visit British Expat recently:

  • shemales lincolnshire
  • trickers boots
  • long may your lum leak
  • lamb marinade vote
  • i like my bum smacked
  • butterscotch tart condensed school
  • weight of blue whale testicles
  • how to build a castle
  • how shall i tell my mum i want a bra
  • neeps and brown sugar

Till next time…
Happy surfing!

British Expat Magazine


“If more than 5% of the people like a painting then burn it for it must be bad.”

– James McNeill Whistler, US artist (1834-1903)


Artist Pablo Picasso surprised a burglar at work in his new chateau. The intruder got away, but Picasso told the police he could do a rough sketch of what he looked like.

On the basis of his drawing, the police arrested a Mother Superior, the Minister of Finance, a washing machine, and the Eiffel Tower.

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