Art means never having to say you've got nothing to say

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The Independent Online

I hate art. I'm just trying the words out.

I hate art. I'm just trying the words out. I quite like them. I. Hate. Art. It sounds like an artwork challenging a last taboo. Artists often talk about "the last taboo". Death is the last taboo, they tell us, or incest or defecation or cannibalism. They tell us this before unveiling their submission for the Turner prize, entitled: Excreting Cannibal Eating and Sodomising a Family Member.

But these aren't taboos, let alone last taboos. No, the last taboo is hating art. It's the one thing you're not allowed to say. So let me try. What about: Art Vulgarises. Even the good stuff (I'm having to force the words a bit now), even Rembrandt. What about, for the religiously inclined, Art Offends God? It's specifically forbidden in the First Commandment (second half, read it). I don't think you're up on your Bible studies, are you? Islam also takes it seriously, hence the absence of religious portraiture.

Let's start with some knockabout stuff, as the Turner prize is in season again. This year, one finalist's work consists of large letters cut out of poly-styrene to spell DRUNK. The letters lean drunkenly against each other. There you are. Now you don't need to see it.

This is a relatively new development in aesthetics, art that is so conceptual you don't even have to look at it. This kind of art has gone through no process. It hasn't emerged. It hasn't evolved from the mysterious place where the mind can't reach.

I once asked my painter friend why she was so extraordinarily good in bed. Nothing surprised her; she adapted with ease to quite unusual suggestions that we don't need to go into here. She said it was because she spent all day in a "chthonic swamp" in front of her easel. She spent her painting days moving between her unconscious and subconscious. She was entirely used to the unknown; it was her element.

But what can art retrieve from the physical world except a poor, unexpressive, deadening generalisation of the reality? I was looking at my girlfriend's eyes the other evening, marvelling at their details, the variety of colour and texture. They were alive in a way that can't be reproduced. They were infinitely complicated in physical form, they were made infinitely more complicated by the time I spent watching them, and were infinitely complicated again by my observing them through a pint of Chardonnay.

Why do people want to try to capture these unknowable things and put them into a painting? It's like putting animals in zoos. There is an essential vulgarity at the heart of both these endeavours. No painting of eyes can match Rembrandt's and yet Rembrandt couldn't paint eyes such as those of my girlfriend across the kitchen table.

If, as they say, art is about looking, then why do we want someone else to do the looking for us?

Byers is not the only liar in this Government

It's bad news Stephen Byers has gone. We'll never be able to blame his successor Alistair Darling for anything (that's not literally true).

We have to remember, in the months ahead, every time the Prime Minister defends him, why he went. It was the Desmond revelation that scuppered him. It was the last lie that confirmed the controversial reputation he'd been building.

He had told us that officials had recommended the pornography publisher Richard Desmond as a "fit and proper person" to run a national newspaper. Then the officials revealed that that was exactly what they had not done.

The competition issues were no barrier to Mr Desmond buying The Express, but they said with deliberate firmness that they couldn't judge his moral suitability – that was a job for the minister. Tony Blair is also lying through his piano-key teeth. He knows very well what sort of magazines Mr Desmond publishes, however he denied it to Jeremy Paxman.

Corny? Admittedly. But wipe your eyes before you say so

I've been reading two books about the battle for Berlin and the last days of Hitler. God, it's been exciting. What a story. The whole sweep of military, political and human realities. The Nazi leader yodelling with insanity. As news of defeats came through, he'd scream: "Stop telling me this rubbish! The person who wrote this report should be in a lunatic asylum!"

By far the better book is The Last Battle, written nearly 40 years ago by Cornelius Ryan. An old-style American reporter who covered the Second World War, his factual plainsong probably influenced a generation of thrillers in the style of Frederick Forsyth's The Day of the Jackal.

The other book is Antony Beevor's sequel to Stalingrad. Berlin: The Downfall 1945 is a slight improvement on its predecessor, but only worth publishing for the money (of which there will be a large amount). Glimpses of the great events are visible only through thickets of detail.

Page upon page tells us things such as: General Hodge's Remagen bridgehead south of Mainz took the First Army left to encircle the Ruhr from the south, detaching Simpson's Ninth Army from the 21st Army Group which had taken on Field Marshal Model's Army Group while General Bradley's 12th Army Group augmented by the Ninth Army was to head for Leipzig and Dresden.

It's Beevor's method – enormous research piled on indiscriminately. People appear and disappear without explanation; we never know what's important, nor why we're being told these maddening things.

Ryan ends his narrative with a character we'd seen now and again, the zookeeper, who had struggled to keep his animals alive through the horror.

On the last page he's walking through the devastated zoo, calling for the animal he loved most of all. "There was a fluttering. At the edge of the empty pool was the rare Abu Markub stork, standing on one leg and looking at Schwarz. He walked through the pool and picked up the bird. 'It's all over, Abu,' said Schwarz. 'It's all over.' He carried the bird away in his arms." Corny? Admittedly. But you have to take a big breath and wipe your eyes before you say so.

Peter Pan film is sexy - and quite right too

The film of Peter Pan is being remade in the modern manner. There's to be quite a lot of sex in it. And quite right, too.

The descendants are appalled. They say JM Barrie was asexual. I don't know about that, but his delightful book reeks of sex. It's why we like it.

Did you know Mrs Darling had a kiss in the corner of her mouth that no one was able to get? That Tinker Bell's dress was cut low and square "through which her figure could be seen to the best advantage. She was slightly inclined to embonpoint." The meaning of that word may already have started to be "having whopping bazongas".

Do you remember that Wendy and Peter have a private language: a kiss is called a thimble? "'Funny!' said Peter gravely. 'Now shall I give you a thimble?' 'If you wish to,' said Wendy, keeping her head erect this time. Peter thimbled her."

Is everyone all right with this? Peter, thimbling Wendy in the nursery? Peter, incidentally, "was a lovely boy, clad in skeleton leaves and the juices that ooze out of trees".

On their flight to Never Never Land, juice-oozing Peter flies away from Wendy (instantly forgetting her name) to have adventures. "He would come up with mermaid scales still sticking to him, and yet not be able to say for certain what had been happening."

I'm glad I've never been in that position myself, but we all know men who have. Frankly, I can't wait for the new film.

*Madame de Brinon was the first headmistress of a school set up by one of Louis XIV's mistresses. She wrote a song of welcome for the girls to sing to the Sun King when he came to hear their school play. It went:

Grand Dieu sauvez le roi

Grand Dieu vengez le roi

Vive le roi

Qu'à jamais glorieux

Louis victorieux

Voie ses ennemis toujours soumis

Vive le roi!

When you sing the words to the familiar tune, you will be shocked to realise the provenance of our national anthem. Ungraciously we added verses to insult ghastly foreigners, confounding their politics and frustrating their knavish tricks, but the song, the jubilee song is implacably French!