Anyone For Art? – Tom Shakespeare

I got up very early last Sunday morning – well, ten to nine is early for a Sunday! – so I was able to listen to A Point Of View on BBC Radio 4 while I cooked the Management her breakfast in bed. This is a weekly essay in the slot occupied for decades by Alistair Cooke’s Letter From America. This week’s point of view was by Tom Shakespeare. The programme was ten minutes long, but worth listening to all the way through. This extract is about a third of the programme:

“In an era of austerity, one way to share out our cultural treasures would be to do something about the thousands of art works that currently sit in the vaults of our museums. Usually what you see in the galleries is only a fraction of the total holding of an institution. The storerooms contain untold treasures such as the previously unidentified Van Dyck portrait discovered earlier this year in the vaults of the Bowes Museum.

“The BBC Your Paintings website tells me that there are 212,000 oil paintings in the UK national collection, 80% of which are not currently on show, but all of which will eventually be online. And, of course, there’s as many drawings and etchings stored away in drawers without even mentioning the sculptures.

[no title: p. 33] 1970 by Tom Phillips born 1937

[No title: p. 33] (From A Humument Vol. II) by Tom Phillips

Screenprint and letterpress on paper. According to the Tate site, you need to “View this artwork by appointment, at Tate Britain’s Prints and Drawings Rooms”

“When I was a student, I remember that Kings College Cambridge operated an annual ballot by which undergraduates were entitled to choose artworks from the College collection to hang on their walls. I was so jealous when I visited a friend and saw a Tom Phillips print on her wall. What a great sharing of an endowment! What a difference it makes to live with an artwork rather than see it on a single visit. You get to know it better. You notice more things in it. You develop a relationship with it. I prefer to have an affair with art rather than a one night stand.

“The first thing I unpack when I move to a new flat are my pictures. Now I’ve got a Tom Philips of my own. Only when the art is on the walls and the books are on the shelf do I feel at home. The print or drawing I’d most like to live with would be one of Vija Celmins’ images of the starry sky or the restless waves – pictures you can lose yourself in!

Ocean Surface Woodcut 1992 1992 by Vija Celmins born 1938

Ocean Surface by Vija Celmins – Woodcut, 1992

“At present, only government ministers have the privilege of choosing a piece of the nation’s art for their walls. Would it be too radical to ask whether we, the people, might be trusted to borrow, cherish and look daily at lesser works from the collections of Britain? Our art institutions might be funded to buy the best work from each year’s graduation art students both as an investment but also to enable the public to borrow it. No doubt, some pieces would go astray, and a few would be damaged, but folk could pay a deposit and it would do wonders for the insurance industry and, I think, it might turn out to be rather popular. Couldn’t a gallery be more like a library and less like a temple? …

“I firmly believe we could and should democratise not just engagement with art but also the availability of art. I we succeeded in this enterprise, we would end up living in a happier, more interesting land.”

Listen to the whole ten minute broadcast here. Well worth it!


About notes to the milkman

I'm a printmaker based in the North West of England, living in Bolton and printing at Hot Bed Press in Salford. Please visit my website
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4 Responses to Anyone For Art? – Tom Shakespeare

  1. Red Hen says:

    I`m glad at least that libraries loan out framed prints. It`s a start towards broadening the public`s interest in art. Also, here in Ireland, entrance to the national galleries is free. When viewed through the lens of history we can see in Ireland at least, that art engagement has become more democratic though it still has a long way to go.

    • In the UK the public collections are free too but seeing a piece in a gallery is, in the words of Tom Shakespeare, only “a one night stand”. Also you’re only seeing a fifth of the works owned by the big galleries. By ‘framed prints’ do you mean original prints or reproductions?

  2. What a marvellous idea!

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