TV review: Great Artists in Their Own Words, BBC4

Bankers, BBC2

"Sometimes I see wonderful and beautiful things on television, which I like and which interest me... but sometimes it's appalling." You and me both, Pablo.

Fortunately, Great Artists in Their Own Words, which featured the interview in which Picasso revealed he only got a television so that he could watch the marriage of Princess Margaret, is a lot closer to the first judgement than the second. Wonderful and beautiful? Well, that might be pushing it a bit.

But the idea of cutting together a history of modern art by drawing on the BBC's rich archive of artist interviews is an excellent one, even if the resulting narrative feels a little distorted by the availability of clips. Would you figure L S Lowry as one of the giants of the pre-war 20th century? No, me neither. But he's quite jolly and distinctively Northern on film, so he looms rather large in this account of Modernism than might be consistent with artistic merit.

It's also true that not many of those featured have anything very direct to say about the artistic process or their own work, an omission made good here by the contributions of critics and commentators. But even so, there were real pleasures for anybody interested in the peculiarly modern relationship between great artists and the media, a wary tango in which one partner is trying to lead and the other is often attempting to wriggle free.

Was it great fun, a hopeful interviewer asked Man Ray about Paris in the Twenties. "No," he replied sternly. "It was very tense, it was very bitter and there was no humour in it." He was in more puckish spirit a little later: "Looking back at your life, what would you say had satisfied you most?" asked the interviewer. "I think... women," Man Ray replied, with a teasing pause.

Nick Tanner's film ended with a kind of cautionary tale – the vision of an artist so seduced by media attention (and money) that the art withered away almost entirely. Where greater artists played with their public persona or kept it closely guarded, Salvador Dalí simply sold his to the highest bidder. A startling Alka-Seltzer ad, in which the Spanish Surrealist spray-painted brightly coloured pain relief on to a cat-suited model, offered proof that there was nothing he wouldn't do for a cheque. Not for him the touching unworldliness of Matisse, who told a French interviewer: "I was happiest when I couldn't sell my paintings."

Nor, one suspects, for the subjects of Bankers, several of whom can afford to buy a Matisse, having persuaded the rest of us that their vivifying genius could only be nurtured by salaries that Dalí would have drooled at. What's really interesting about the scam that the bankers pulled is that even as we sit in its wreckage, with families buying food on credit cards, there are still those telling us what a great deal they offered.

"You can't have vibrant economies without a vibrant banking system," said one contributor. Oh, what a world of woe is contained in that word "vibrant", which came to encompass the amoral rapacity that persuaded bankers it was perfectly all right to lie and cheat and fix the figures.

A certain amount of breast-baring was on show here, but nothing like enough, and a lot of residual admiration for Bob Diamond, one of those masters of the universe who congratulated themselves for cleaning up in a horse race where every runner was a winner. "Something went wrong with the culture of Barclays investment bank," said Lord Turner sagely. Yes. And with the FSA, Lord Turner.

And with every other institution that was supposed to be ensuring that a saving modicum of ethics was preserved in the rush for profit. And still not one of those culpable for this global act of vandalism. Sometimes I see wonderful and beautiful things on television. But sometimes it's appalling.

twitter.com/tds153

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Minchin portrait
For a no-holds-barred performer who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, Tim Minchin is surprisingly gentle
Arts and Entertainment
Clara takes the lead in 'Flatline' while the Doctor remains in the Tardis
tvReview: The 'Impossible Girl' earns some companion stripes... but she’s still annoying in 'Dr Who, Flatline'
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Joy Division photographed around Waterloo Road, Stockport, near Strawberry Studios. The band are Bernard Sumner (guitar and keyboards), Stephen Morris (drums and percussion), Ian Curtis (vocals and occasional guitar), Peter Hook (bass guitar and backing vocals).
books
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Harris in 'The Goob' film photocall, at the Venice International Film Festival 2014
filmThe Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Streisand is his true inspiration
Arts and Entertainment
X Factor contestant Fleur East
tvReview: Some lacklustre performances - but the usual frontrunners continue to excel
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Tuttle's installation in the Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern
artAs two major London galleries put textiles in the spotlight, the poor relation of the creative world is getting recognition it deserves
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman
film
Arts and Entertainment
On top of the world: Actress Cate Blanchett and author Richard Flanagan
artsRichard Flanagan's Man Booker win has put paid to the myth that antipodean artists lack culture
Arts and Entertainment
The Everyman, revamped by Haworth Tompkins
architectureIt beats strong shortlist that included the Shard, the Library of Birmingham, and the London Aquatics Centre
Arts and Entertainment
Justice is served: Robert Downey Jr, Vincent D’Onofrio, Jeremy Strong and Robert Duvall in ‘The Judge’

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Clive Owen (centre) in 'The Knick'

TV

Arts and Entertainment
J.K. Simmons , left, and Miles Teller in a scene from

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Team Tenacity pitch their fetching solar powered, mobile phone charging, heated, flashy jacket
tvReview: No one was safe as Lord Sugar shook things up
News
Owen said he finds films boring but Tom Hanks managed to hold his attention in Forrest Gump
arts
Arts and Entertainment
Bono and Apple CEO Tim Cook announced U2's surprise new album at the iPhone 6 launch
Music Album is set to enter UK top 40 at lowest chart position in 30 years
Arts and Entertainment
The Michael McIntyre Chat Show airs its first episode on Monday 10 March 2014
Comedy
Arts and Entertainment

Review

These heroes in a half shell should have been left in hibernation
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Flanagan with his novel, The Narrow Road to the Deep North
books'The Narrow Road to the Deep North' sees the writer become the third Australian to win the accolade
Arts and Entertainment
New diva of drama: Kristin Scott Thomas as Electra
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Daenerys Targaryen, played by Emilia Clarke, faces new problems

Sek, k'athjilari! (That’s “yes, definitely” to non-native speakers).

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Polly Morgan

art
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

    Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

    Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
    British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

    British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

    Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
    Let's talk about loss

    We need to talk about loss

    Secrecy and silence surround stillbirth
    Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

    Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

    Women may be better suited to space travel than men are
    Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

    'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

    If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
    James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

    The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

    Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
    Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

    Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

    Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
    Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

    Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

    Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
    How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

    How to dress with authority

    Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
    New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

    New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

    'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
    Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

    Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

    The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
    Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

    Tim Minchin interview

    For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
    Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

    Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

    Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
    Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

    Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

    Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album