Art of persuasion

Matthew Collings has put down his brush to present a new TV series in which he shares his love for modern art

Matthew Collings, the presenter of a new series about modern art, has little time for many of the people in that milieu. "The art world is full of people who aren't very intelligent," he sighs. "In conceptual art galleries, from the receptionist to the curator, there's not a brain- cell between them - which is ironic, as conceptual art is supposed to be about the brain. I have most battles with those zombies who think that they must believe everything about art. They're the equivalents of the Eleanor Bron character in Women in Love, that rather too arty person. The art world is full of people like that, and they're unbearable. They make you hate art."

Those feelings have not put Collings off art all together, though. He has just made This is Modern Art, a thought-provoking new six-hour series for Channel 4. It demonstrates his enthusiasm rather than his contempt for modern art.

With the explosion of interest in artists such as Damien Hirst, Sarah Lucas, the Chapman Brothers and Tracy Emin, this is a timely series. "Modern art has become something people want to hear about," says Collings, himself an artist with a studio in Bethnal Green who has specialised in "target" paintings. "There has, for instance, recently been an amazing shortage of articles saying that Jackson Pollock is rubbish. In the 1970s, critics would have said that anyone could do Pollock's work and that it was all run by the CIA. There were various degrees of cynicism about it. Now it's swung in the opposite direction, and there are various degrees of advocacy."

Collings sees his role as giving people the tools to debate the subject. "Suddenly people want to express an opinion about modern art, but find themselves unable to do so. When they go to the Turner Prize and look at an exhibit of a few grains of burnt cocaine, they don't want some disembodied voice telling them it's important. They want to make up their own minds. I'm just laying out arguments for them - 'Here are some things about modern art. You can go along with them if you like.'"

The first episode of This is Modern Art homes in on the lasting influence of three giants of the 20th century: Pablo Picasso, Jackson Pollock and Andy Warhol. "All stand for radical breaks with the past, ugliness instead of beauty, America instead of Europe, irony instead of anguish," Collings says. "We like modern art because we don't know what it is. The reason it keeps changing is to make sure we never do."

But Collings has no desire to be seen as prescriptive. "I never feel I've got a duty to tell people what's what. I don't have any interest in saying what modern art is or in preaching its history. It's a question of telling a story which isn't definitive. Art is about having faith in your own mind. I'm not the Vicar of Art, or Mr Urbane, or Mr Mellifluous Phrase, or Mr Clever."

Nevertheless, Collings does a pretty good impersonation of a wised-up presenter. His skill is deconstructing the cliches of television programmes about art. After an introductory whirl about his studio in the first episode, the voiceover playfully announces: "Now it's going to be me talking. I wonder what I'm going to say?"

Later, he praises the Pop Art book, Andy Warhol's Philosophy from A to B and Back Again. As the camera prowls around the aisles of an American supermarket to the accompaniment of bland musak, Collings's wry voiceover intones: "I expect I'll be coming round one of these aisles and reading extracts from it at any moment - if this ironic, easy-listening soundtrack is anything to go by." Cue shot of Collings coming round an aisle reading extracts. He has made an artform out of the act of TV presenting.

The funny thing is that painters aren't normally this articulate. Collings admits that he is that rarity: an eloquent artist. "Painters tend to be inarticulate because they don't spend their time braying and trying to impress people at dinner parties," he says. "They just sit alone in their studios thinking about red."

'This is Modern Art' starts on C4 tomorrow at 9pm

James Rampton

Arts and Entertainment
Kathy (Sally Lindsay) in Ordinary Lies
tvReview: The seemingly dull Kathy proves her life is anything but a snoozefest
Arts and Entertainment

Listen to his collaboration with Naughty Boy

Arts and Entertainment
Daniel Craig in a scene from ‘Spectre’, released in the UK on 23 October

Arts and Entertainment
Cassetteboy's latest video is called Emperor's New Clothes rap

Arts and Entertainment

Poldark review
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Arts and Entertainment
Katie Brayben is nominated for Best Actress in a Musical for her role as Carole King in Beautiful

Arts and Entertainment
Israeli-born actress Gal Gadot has been cast to play Wonder Woman
Top Gear presenter James May appears to be struggling with his new-found free time
Arts and Entertainment
Kendrick Lamar at the Made in America Festival in Los Angeles last summer
Arts and Entertainment
'Marley & Me' with Jennifer Aniston and Owen Wilson
Arts and Entertainment
Jon Hamm (right) and John Slattery in the final series of Mad Men
Arts and Entertainment
Arts and Entertainment
Place Blanche, Paris, 1961, shot by Christer Strömholm
photographyHow the famous camera transformed photography for ever
Arts and Entertainment
The ‘Westmacott Athlete’
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv Some of the characters appear to have clear real-life counterparts
Brooks is among a dozen show-business professionals ever to have achieved Egot status
Arts and Entertainment
A cut above: Sean Penn is outclassed by Mark Rylance in The Gunman
film review
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in I Am Michael

Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the movie 'Get Hard'
tvWill Ferrell’s new film Get Hard receives its first reviews
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: David Cameron (Mark Dexter), Nick Clegg (Bertie Carvel) and Gordon Brown (Ian Grieve)
tvReview: Ian Grieve gets another chance to play Gordon Brown... this is the kinder version
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the first look picture from next year's Sherlock special

Arts and Entertainment
Because it wouldn’t be Glastonbury without people kicking off about the headline acts, a petition has already been launched to stop Kanye West performing on the Saturday night

Arts and Entertainment
Molly Risker, Helen Monks, Caden-Ellis Wall, Rebekah Staton, Erin Freeman, Philip Jackson and Alexa Davies in ‘Raised by Wolves’

TV review
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    War with Isis: Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria's capital

    War with Isis

    Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria
    Scientists develop mechanical spring-loaded leg brace to improve walking

    A spring in your step?

    Scientists develop mechanical leg brace to help take a load off
    Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock: How London shaped the director's art and obsessions

    Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock

    Ackroyd has devoted his literary career to chronicling the capital and its characters. He tells John Walsh why he chose the master of suspense as his latest subject
    Ryan Reynolds interview: The actor is branching out with Nazi art-theft drama Woman in Gold

    Ryan Reynolds branches out in Woman in Gold

    For every box-office smash in Ryan Reynolds' Hollywood career, there's always been a misconceived let-down. It's time for a rethink and a reboot, the actor tells James Mottram
    Why Robin Williams safeguarded himself against a morbid trend in advertising

    Stars safeguard against morbid advertising

    As film-makers and advertisers make increasing posthumous use of celebrities' images, some stars are finding new ways of ensuring that they rest in peace
    The UK horticulture industry is facing a skills crisis - but Great Dixter aims to change all that

    UK horticulture industry facing skills crisis

    Great Dixter manor house in East Sussex is encouraging people to work in the industry by offering three scholarships a year to students, as well as generous placements
    Hack Circus aims to turn the rule-abiding approach of TED talks on its head

    Hack Circus: Technology, art and learning

    Hack Circus aims to turn the rule-abiding approach of TED talks on its head. Rhodri Marsden meets mistress of ceremonies Leila Johnston
    Sevenoaks is split over much-delayed decision on controversial grammar school annexe

    Sevenoaks split over grammar school annexe

    If Weald of Kent Grammar School is given the go-ahead for an annexe in leafy Sevenoaks, it will be the first selective state school to open in 50 years
    10 best compact cameras

    A look through the lens: 10 best compact cameras

    If your smartphone won’t quite cut it, it’s time to invest in a new portable gadget
    Paul Scholes column: Ross Barkley played well against Italy but he must build on that. His time to step up and seize that England No 10 shirt is now

    Paul Scholes column

    Ross Barkley played well against Italy but he must build on that. His time to step up and seize that England No 10 shirt is now
    Why Michael Carrick is still proving an enigma for England

    Why Carrick is still proving an enigma for England

    Manchester United's talented midfielder has played international football for almost 14 years yet, frustratingly, has won only 32 caps, says Sam Wallace
    Tracey Neville: The netball coach who is just as busy as her brothers, Gary and Phil

    Tracey Neville is just as busy as her brothers, Gary and Phil

    The former player on how she is finding time to coach both Manchester Thunder in the Superleague and England in this year's World Cup
    General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

    The masterminds behind the election

    How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
    Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

    Machine Gun America

    The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
    The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

    The ethics of pet food

    Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?