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- Arts + Ents
Friday 15 June 2012
Letters: Don't you see the irony here?
"So, what does it say to you?" asks Laura McLean-Ferris about the Hayward's invisible art show (Arts, 13 June). How about "Nothing"? But not just any old nothing; apparently it's a special postmodern nothing to cure us of our visual indigestion following the richness of our current artistic diet. No word yet on when we will be ready for solids.
To put it more simply, this show is there to make us think about our expectations and assumptions about visual art, which, naturally, are all over the place. They're hoping that, if everything works out, we might see the light and finally be able to appreciate the towering stature of the next YBA show, instead of getting all worked up about there being no substance to it.
On the other hand, I suppose we should be grateful to be shielded like this from the white-hot creative forge that is contemporary art by those nice guardians of public taste. Wisely, they have understood that we might come over all faint and have to lie down if faced by another visual exhibition of visual art.
I don't know why the National Gallery doesn't take the hint and cover up all those terribly disturbing paintings they keep hanging there. They could put on yoga classes to help us recover in time for the next shockingly subversive YBA show.
Regarding the Hayward Gallery's new exhibition of "invisible art", I would like to ask how one can spot a fake.
Michael S Fishberg
Bushey Heath, Hertfordshire
Tory jingoism bodes ill for the 'Malvinas'
I wish the Argentinian ambassador, Alicia Castro, well in her desire to see meaningful negotiations between her country and the United Kingdom on the future of the Falkland Islands. ("For peace and reconciliation, we need talks on Las Malvinas", 14 June).
Unfortunately however, I think she underestimates the potential political value of the islands to an increasingly unpopular government. The jubilee celebrations unfortunately showed that British jingoism is coming back into fashion and serves as a distraction for many from the misery of austerity.
A pointless slaughter in the Falklands has already saved one lame duck Tory prime minister. Worryingly, the chances of history repeating itself grow greater by the day.
France, Australia, the Netherlands and Spain have external territories but no problem from the United Nations or legal challenges from neighbouring countries. We, in comparison, have issues in Diego Garcia, Gibraltar and the Falklands, all of which are in the news at the moment. Why do only our territories have issues?
I think it is because we have not incorporated them into the UK proper but have persisted with colonial status, which is outdated. Now that devolution has become established within the UK, we should invite our overseas territories to choose to either join the UK as devolved home nations or to become independent.
The enemies of social mobility
The theme linking recent letters on both monarchy and grammar schools is a general frustration with the lack of social mobility in this country. Primary responsibility for this lies with the comprehensive system, which has failed to equip its students with the means or desire to compete in the modern world.
My nephews have recently left a top comprehensive school, whose sole focus has been to get as many students as many GCSEs as possible, without fostering a love of learning for its own sake or a culture of intellectual ambition. Precious little advice was offered on A-level choices. All of this is in stark contrast to my state grammar school education 30 years ago.
This obsession with exams might be justifiable were GCSEs worth having. Already a pale imitation of O-level when introduced, they have been devalued by cynical grade inflation, resulting in young people leaving school with an inflated sense of their own educational worth, allied to an unrealistic sense of entitlement.
Until the state sector offers a mature culture of learning and achievement, wealthy parents will continue to send their offspring to private schools, bright children from modest backgrounds will continue to be shortchanged and the UK will become increasingly uncompetitive.
Michael Gove, Mary Ann Sieghart and various readers of The Independent tell me that social mobility has ground to a halt. On the other hand, more people than ever before are going into higher education (I teach many of them) and Oxford, Cambridge and other elite universities tell me, repeatedly, that they now recruit more students than ever before from state schools.
Who am I to believe? Ambitious politicians, journalists, the nostalgic – or boring old data which tell me that more and more people are being educated to the level they wish. The only thing I can see likely to stop social mobility dead in its tracks is a £9,000 tuition fee.
People who send their children to be privately educated do so for a very simple and very obvious reason: they believe that this will give their children a huge advantage over those children whose parents cannot afford to do so. Every statistic shows this to be true, and parents believe this to be far and away the most important influence they are able to bring to bear to secure their child's future, by buying this advantage over others.
To think that people who have paid very significant sums to secure this advantage might be cajoled by a "fairness" argument to favour social mobility, is utter nonsense. Who within the elite at the higher end of the social order seeks mobility for their child? Mobility to go where?
While the ability to purchase an advantage for a child through private education exists, social mobility will remain extremely elusive, which is exactly what the elite wish and insist upon. They're looking out for their children after all. What do you expect?
There'll always be a Britain
There are many problems with English identity (Letters, 12 June), not least of all confusion between Britain and England on the part not only of the English, but also of a large part of the world. A further problem is that few people seem to have a clear idea of their history.
About 10 years ago on a walking holiday in the French Jura I was asked what language was spoken in England before the Romans. My answer of "Welsh" truly shocked. Somehow my questioners (all educated professionals but lacking a sense of historical sequencing) had been sure that Anglo-Saxon was the basic pre-Roman culture. They could not believe that Britain pre-dated England.
What does it mean to be English? Am I English? I was born in England of English parents. Apart from a few years at university in Wales and a year teaching English in Germany, I have spent the whole of my life in England.
But a little bit of research into my ancestors reveals a more complicated picture. Of my four great-grandfathers, one was born in Ireland, one in Wales, one in Scotland and one in England. Does that not make me more British than English?
West Wittering, West Sussex
The beauty of wind turbines
I am at a loss to understand people's objections to wind farms (Letters: 9, 12 June). I find the turbines visually graceful and attractive, even when viewed from directly underneath.
I saw many while in Amsterdam a couple of years ago. They appeared in streets, mainly near industrial estates; I also saw them in Rotterdam in the harbour area. I cycled along many roads and passed many (turning) turbines; there was no noise from them. If the folk in Amsterdam can live with them, why can't we, here in England?
For me "wind farms" embody everything that is wrong with man's relationship to the natural world. The fact that a turbine is arguably a beautiful object does not mean that a landscape dominated by them remains a beautiful landscape. In fact a prospect of these monsters churning away endlessly transforms the landscape into a depressing industrial panorama – why wind-farms, not wind factories?
What we lose is the spiritual uplift we feel in the presence of the wild, of ancient landscapes made in sacred time or of landscapes made by man working in harmony with nature before the era of advanced technological exploitation. No material value can be set upon these quickening experiences.
R W Chaplin
Crazy money for football
The new £3bn deal for the English Premier League TV rights beggars belief, especially as we are in the middle of a deep recession. Perhaps this result, which surprised even the chief executive of the League, shows, in the immortal words of Bill Shankly, that football is not a matter of life and death, but much more important than that.
Be that as it may, it is to be hoped that the extra money will not be squandered by the clubs on players' over-inflated salaries, but invested in grassroots football, and that fans will also benefit from this windfall in the form of reduced ticket prices and better facilities for watching the games.
Professor Ian Blackshaw
International Sports Law Centre, The Hague
Now that Murdoch can no longer corrupt British society through his dominance of politicians he's going to corrupt at least part of British society through his dominance of football. Plus ça change...
J E S Bradshaw
Make way for the torch
For nine minutes next month, the Olympic torch is scheduled to be trotted through our village. For over five hours beforehand, the roadsides will be cleared of parked vehicles to allow the sponsors' convoy and torch entourage space to strut their stuff. Residents along the route are "encouraged to decorate their frontages". Will a nice brooch or a carnation buttonhole suffice? This week, the local authority has organised road-resurfacing and pothole filling. Coincidence?
I'm hoping that on old McDonald's Olympic farm I'll at last be able to see some real live hobbits. It'll be a first for me. (But will they be frightened off by all the noise?)
Just ignore them
Amid the revelations about politicians debasing themselves to curry favour with the media barons it may be useful to recall how Clement Attlee dealt with them. He ignored them. He only read The Times and then only for the crossword and the cricket scores. If modern politicians had behaved like that the media would not have acquired the overweening arrogance demonstrated by the Murdoch empire.
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