You ask the questions: Brian Sewell

(Such as: are you a snob, and does it worry you that you're completely out of touch with contemporary culture?)
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The Independent Culture
Brian Sewell, 67, is a broadcaster and art critic for the Evening Standard. Born in London, he studied at the Courtauld Institute. His controversial brand of criticism (he once described Whistler's Portrait of the Painter's Mother as "a wretched picture, ill-balanced, haphazard and clumsy") regularly infuriates sections of the art establishment. Sewell lives in west London.

I would tune into any programme in which you feature but would never buy the tabloid you write. Who understands you among the paper's readers?

Hilda Peach, Skegness

From my correspondence I gather that readers make considerable efforts, dictionary in hand, to understand what I write. I learned from teaching for a decade in Brixton Gaol that one should never patronise, never talk down, never adjust one's standards on the assumption that the men there were too ignorant and stupid to comprehend the general drift, and too lazy to follow it through afterwards: they were none of these.

Would you rather be preserved for posterity by a portrait in oils, or in a tank of formaldehyde?


I'd prefer to be a desiccated corpse in a Sicilian crypt.

I've heard you are a painter as well as a critic - is this true? Do you ever exhibit your work and, if not, why not?

Johanna Melvin, East London

Yes. No. It would be unfitting to take the bread out of the mouths of painters by selling my pictures, and boastful to exhibit them in the hope of adulation. The pictures are useful exercises in understanding the work of other painters - no more than that.

Does it ever worry you that you're completely out of touch with 20th- century contemporary culture?

Felix Woolf, Camberwell, London

No. And I am not.

Do you consider yourself a snob? Also, what's your idea of fun?

Zeren Wilson, Chingford

No. I am more at ease with the dustman than my fellow critics. Fun? Walking dogs, opera, the fine flow of conversation with close friends.

Which 20th-century artists or movements do you suspect will be deemed significant or relevant 200 years from now?

Colin Ankerson, Greenwich, London

I don't understand the word relevant in this context. Almost everything that has happened in art in the course of this century will be in some sense significant. Whether that significance will be a match for Michelangelo and Bernini is another argument.

Like many of my friends I consider football to be art. Do you agree and who do you think will win the league this year?

Richard Radisson, London SE20

No. Don't know. Don't care.

Whose portrait would you like yours to hand alongside in the National Portrait Gallery?


Painted portraiture in the late 20th century is outmoded and inefficient: a photograph of me and my dogs next to that pompous ass Germaine Greer might amuse the odd visitor who got the point.

So little in arts seems to please you. Will you name some artists whose works you really enjoy?

Robert Cook, London

Titian, Michelangelo, Bernini, Poussin, Gainsborough, Caspar David Friedrich, early Kandinsky, late Mondrian...

Do you revel in your role as the clown of art criticism who bravely exposes the pretentiousness that is so insufferably pervasive in the art world?

Hemant Solanki, Birmingham


Do you think your hysterical anti-gay ranting convinces anyone you are a heterosexual?

T Bird, London

I don't understand the question: it seems to be based on at least three misapprehensions.

What do you understand by the phrase "Post-Modernism"?

Phred Farret, Salford

Very little.

Have you always appreciated beauty or were you "taught" to do so?


I was exposed to it as a very small boy and gradually grew to understand that it is neither absolute nor permanent.

You seem to be "mellowing" these days, would you argue?


I have several times in recent years looked over the edge at death: I suspect that it has had some mellowing effect on my behaviour, but not on my aesthetic and political/social views.

Do you feel sorry for the aesthetically impoverished?

Julie Ramsden


You do not understand whole movements of painting such as Abstract Expressionism yet you earn a living as an art critic. If I was a literary critic whose appreciation of literature ended with Dickens I wouldn't be in great demand, so what's your secret?

David Godfrey, London

Your assertion is in error. Your question is thus unanswerable.

Can you recommend anywhere in the London area to buy and support art without encountering the snobby hangers-on that seem to frequent most galleries?

Neil Tyson

No. Open your own gallery.

Why do you object to people with academic PhDs calling themselves "doctor"?

Graham Lewis, London

The academic doctorate is an academic achievement within a very small compass. Within those academic purlieus it has relevance, but nowhere else. Its use by politicians is boastful self-aggrandisement and misleads a non-academic public accustomed to the title only in a medical sense. Call a doctor in a theatre and get Mo Mowlam? What use could she be to the victim of a heart attack?

Could you, or anyone, explain in a few words what makes Auerbach such a famous name?

NV Stanger, London


How do you deal with criticism? If called pompous and boring to your face, how would you react?


Turn on my heel. In open country, I justify my position in serious debate.

How did you acquire such an extraordinary collection of plums in your mouth?

Sam Reeve, London


Why do you dismiss Roger Fry (1866-1934) as ignorant?

Penri Morgan, London

He knew far too little about far too much and believed nothing worthwhile, apart from the work of Durer, was ever produced east of the Rhine.

Hitler once said all art should depict green grass and blue sky - he banned any form of abstract art in Nazi Germany - you would probably be of the same opinion. Doesn't that say rather a lot about your less than liberal tastes in art?

Rupert Harwood, Epsom

Hitler also believed the Germans to be the direct descendants of the classical Greeks. Why ask a question based on a false premise?

Why does modern art offend you?

Simon Ellis, Blackpool

It doesn't.

I have never heard English spoken like yours. Are you foreign?

Charles Copthorne, Cambridgeshire

Irish mother, Welsh father, Edwardian inheritance

What was your waking thought this morning?

Selina Hunter, London

Lordy, I'm up to date with my columns. What on earth can I do with the day?