Letters: Hirst is no 'great', nor a craftsman

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Michael Petry misses the point when he counters David Hockney's criticism of Damien Hirst by citing other artists who used assistants to help create their works ("Assistants were always used by the greats", 3 January).

In stating that Hirst's use of assistants is "a little insulting to craftsmen, skilful craftsmen", Hockney is clearly implying that, unlike the artists cited by Petry (Bernini, Rembrandt and Reynolds), Hirst uses assistants because anybody could execute the work in question.

As your report indicates, by his own admission, Hirst created a production line for the completion of his spot paintings once he had sold one, because his assistants were "better at it than me" and he got "bored" with the exercise.

This could almost be Henry Ford talking about the manufacture of cars. It is certainly not the voice of a skilful craftsman who lights up a gallery with his technique.

Petry argues that assistants were always used by the greats. The problem is that Damian Hirst is not one of the greats, just someone who has the knack of making money from gimmickry by employing Fordist production methods.

Professor David Head

Lincoln

I feel your arts correspondents Nick Clark and Michael Petry have completely missed the point in their defence of Damien Hirst over Hockney's justified comments about assistants.

It is accepted that, throughout history, artists have utilised the talents of assistants to carry out the more laborious and repetitive procedures involved in the execution of large or repetitious pieces, but Hockney's point was to stress the unique talent of the craftsmanship element which the artist brings to the work of art in its totality.

Clark and Petry cite Michelangelo, Duchamp, Warhol and Gormley as examples but fail to mention that all these artists proved that they were consummate masters of craftsmanship, unlike Hirst who has yet to reveal any talent in this regard, something that should be regarded as a pre-requisite for every visual artist.

Hirst is typical of a great number of conceptual and multimedia artists, outrage and shock winning the rewards the fame academy affords with little or no intelligent creativity. These artists and the critics who defend them find that it is far easier to wear and applaud the Emperor's clothes than to expose profound inadequacies.

Bill Laslett

Bradford on Avon, Wiltshire

Non-white gangs of youths can be violent racists, too

I note the different treatment accorded by the Metropolitan Police, the judiciary and the media to the murders by teenage "racist gangs" of 18-year-old Stephen Lawrence in Eltham, south-east London, in April 1993, and 15-year-old Richard Everitt in Somers Town, Camden, north London, in August 1994. Stephen was of West Indian origin; Richard was white.

Both were attacked by gangs of teenagers who, before and after the murders, expressed violent racial hatred. Stephen was murdered by a white gang. Richard was murdered by a Bengali gang. Neither victim behaved in any way to provoke.

Massive media publicity, sustained over nearly two decades, followed Stephen's case. There was a visit by the Home Secretary to the murder scene where a public monument was erected. A public judicial inquiry was conducted in which the police were denounced as "institutionally racist". Money was found to fund a private prosecution, which failed.

Gary Dobson and David Norris have been convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment. The judge called for Stephen's other attackers to be brought to justice because they were engaged in a "joint exercise".

Stephen Lawrence has become a household name. Richard Everitt's name was never in the headlines for long enough for the public mind to retain it. Eleven Bengali youths (one man was aged 20) were arrested over Richard's killing. Only two came to trial, Badrul Miah and Showkat Akbar. There were no calls for all the attackers to be prosecuted on a "joint enterprise" basis.

Akbar was found guilty of violent disorder and sentenced to three years, of which he served 18 months. Miah was sentenced to life but let out on licence after 11 years, despite the trial judge describing it as an "unprovoked racist attack".

There was no visit by the Home Secretary to Somers Town, no public monument; no public judicial inquiry; and virtual silence from the local MP, Frank Dobson.

The Stephen Lawrence verdict should not be taken as proof that the white working-class of our country is getting justice from the police, the judiciary and the media, because they all subscribe to the notion that only white people and never non-white minorities commit race-hate offences.

Martin Webster

London SW15

The media have been full of stories about how the Metropolitan Police has changed since Stephen Lawrence was murdered. One of the conclusions of the Macpherson report was that there had been failings in senior officers' leadership.

It was therefore ironic that the comments on the guilty verdicts were made by Acting Deputy Commissioner Cressida Dick. She was in charge of the operation which led to an entirely innocent man being gunned down in front of horrified Tube passengers.

Most people would accept such a horror to be a failure of leadership on a grand scale. But she has never admitted accountability, and has only been promoted and honoured since.

Christopher Anton

Birmingham

The case of Stephen Lawrence has been given enormous coverage. The question arises about when similar coverage will be given into the horrific murder of Police Constable Keith Blakelock during the 1985 Broadwater Farm riots in Tottenham, and when in that case will the police, the CPS and forensic service mount a similar, intensive investigation.

This murder appears to have been forgotten, and the media should at least give some coverage.

P Morrison

Stoke Poges, Buckinghamshire

Michael Rolfe (letters, 5 January), uses his experience at a carol service to suggest that racism is still prevalent in England. I do not discount the problems that still exist, but I would suggest that a church is not the most representative arena to conduct research.

Whatever David Cameron might choose to believe, churches are becoming increasingly marginalised in modern secular Britain. Despite the positive messages of love and forgiveness that Christianity purports to represent, many of the religion's followers are, in my experience, prone to be bigots.

Perhaps Mr Rolfe should have visited the nearest public house to the London church he attended. If he had, he might have found a far more representative snapshot of local society.

Tim Matthews

Luton, Bedfordshire

Sadly, although one would like to think that "this was the case that put an end to all denial about racism in the UK", this is far from the truth. For example, in Liverpool, a city with the oldest-established black population in England (more than 400 years), out of its 6,031 council employees, 137 are black, with none of them in the top (PO10+) grades.

The Lawrence family had to wait 18 years for justice. How much longer does Liverpool's black population need to wait for recognition, access and inclusion in the city's corridors of power?

Professor Bill Boyle

School of Education, University of Manchester

It is tragically ironic that we have a race storm in the media the day after the convictions for the murder of Stephen Lawrence.

As a white Anglo-Italian, my first reaction to Diane Abbott's comments on Twitter on Thursday to the effect that white people seek to divide and conquer black people was one of offended and affronted distaste. But, looking at the root of these comments, I have always found the lazy and stereotypical shorthand of "community leaders", when used exclusively for people of non-Anglo Saxon or Celtic origin who address issues of concern where they live and converse with the media, as similarly offensive and distasteful. Is every white person who does the same a community leader or referred to as such? I think not.

This is nothing to do with political correctness for its own sake, but everything to do with even-handed courtesy and common sense. I want to point out that by sending this letter I do not wish to be given the epithet of community leader for Cornish Sicilians.

Angelo Micciche

Hayle, Cornwall

I am so happy that the footballer Luis Suarez has been forced into finally making an apology of sorts, in this week, of all weeks, when racial intolerance is at the forefront of British public affairs.

He may be a massively talented player but he is a deeply flawed human being. Who can ever forget his shameful behaviour after the Uruguay-Ghana quarter-final when, after being sent off for the goal-saving handball, he then rubbed Ghana's noses in it with his despicable "this was the real hand of God" celebrations?

I regard his present predicament as total karma.

Dai Woosnam

Grimsby, North-east Lincolnshire

Let's hear itfor the ladies

Watching the Viennese concert on the BBC last weekend, I noted that the harpist, as far as I could see, was the only female in the full orchestra. Then we had the Vienna Boys' Choir. Perhaps we should send Austria some of our "human resources people" to point out the error of their male-dominated ways. Then we could have a mixed orchestra and the "Vienna Children Under-11 Choir".

John Sharkey

Stafford

Tory guff

There have been a lot of "the people are now Tory" pieces ("Honours show the old order reasserting itself", 3 January), mostly centred on the TV programme Downton Abbey. These are lazy and complete guff. Two-thirds of the electorate did not vote Tory, and are unlikely to do so next time either. Since these election results do not reflect the British Attitudes survey, which is more believable? Millions of voters, or thousands of questionnaire answers?

Virginia CummingLondon N19

Absurd idea

A right to assisted suicide means another person or agency must have a duty to provide such assistance (report, 5 January). Yet how can there be an obligation on anyone to help kill someone else? This would be absurd. The existing legal guidance represents a reasonable compromise and does not need to be changed.

Gary Kitchen

Southport, Merseyside

What's the game?

People who were erroneously sold synchronised swimming tickets for London's Games are being offered alternative events instead, such as athletics and track cycling (report, 5 January). I applied for the athletics and cycling events in both ballots only to be told they were sold out. So either the report is incorrect or I wasn't told the truth.

Michael O'Hare

Northwood, Middlesex

Different stripe

In north London, I often pass a road sign that reads "Slow Zebra Crossing". What makes our local breed so sluggish in comparison with its faster cousins as revealed by your picture taken in the Serengeti (4 January)?

Neil Cooke

London E9

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