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
Arts and Entertainment

Great British Bake Off
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    The long walk west: they fled war in Syria, only to get held up in Hungary – now hundreds of refugees have set off on foot for Austria

    They fled war in Syria...

    ...only to get stuck and sidetracked in Hungary
    From The Prisoner to Mad Men, elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series

    Title sequences: From The Prisoner to Mad Men

    Elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series. But why does the art form have such a chequered history?
    Giorgio Armani Beauty's fabric-inspired foundations: Get back to basics this autumn

    Giorgio Armani Beauty's foundations

    Sumptuous fabrics meet luscious cosmetics for this elegant look
    From stowaways to Operation Stack: Life in a transcontinental lorry cab

    Life from the inside of a trucker's cab

    From stowaways to Operation Stack, it's a challenging time to be a trucker heading to and from the Continent
    Kelis interview: The songwriter and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell and crying over potatoes

    Kelis interview

    The singer and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell
    Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

    Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

    But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
    Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

    Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

    Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
    Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

    Britain's 24-hour culture

    With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
    Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

    The addictive nature of Diplomacy

    Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
    Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

    Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

    Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
    8 best children's clocks

    Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

    Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
    Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
    Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

    How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

    Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
    Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

    'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

    In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea