Posts Tagged 'art'

But is it art?

The girl sits on the bed, spine arched backwards, leg kicked high in the air. Dressed in denim shorts and black leather boots, her slim frame is tanned and lithe. She seems amused at her own audacity: her mouth is open in a cabaret gasp, her tongue licking her lips suggestively while wisps of blonde hair frame her face.

leg-up-lighter2This photograph, by Valerie Phillips, is one of 68 currently on show in Jaguarshoes bar, near Old Street. The exhibition, entitled “You’re so sexy baby – shut the fuck up” is made up of photographs of Lacy, a girl from Oklahoma, whom Ms Phillips met while researching one of her books and who has since become one of her most prolific subjects. What has caused controversy is that in most of the pictures, Lacey is between 13 and 16 years old.

The previously unseen images range from Lacey looking after horses on a farm to more controversial images of her in a glamourous dress posing on a table or wearing a bikini in a swimming pool. The images are possessing, attractive, and so all the more disturbing when a second glance reveals that the seductress is a nymphet in her early teens. Yet outright condemnation misunderstands the issue.

The exhibition, which takes its title from a conversation between Lacy and her boyfriend at the breakfast table, in which he said “You’re so sexy baby”, to which she replied “shut the fuck up”, has been met with mixed reviews. The bar reports to have received several comments from customers perturbed by the pictures, although no official complaints have been lodged.

Steve, a barman at Jaguarshoes, says that one of them was from a man purporting to be from the NSPCC, which has offices nearby. He says: “Yeah, he wasn’t too happy about it. But that’s art – that’s what it’s supposed to do.” The NSPCC say that they have no official position on the matter.

Ms Phillips, an internationally-recognised photographer who divides her time between New York and London, says she is baffled by the complaints. “I always think it’s really funny that something so uncontroversial could cause so much controversy,” she says. “People aren’t comfortable with portraying the natural process of growing up. People want to be alarmed by things that aren’t the slightest bit alarming.”

swimmingpool-lighter6As a professional photographer, Ms Phillips has published four books of her own work, as well as fashion shoots for British Elle, Nylon magazine and artwork for the single Indian Summer by the Manic Street Preachers. She believes that many people are uncomfortable with real-life depictions of teenage sexuality outside of the mainstream media.

She says: “I think it’s really interesting that people can deal with it when it’s a big celebrity on a poster in a bus shelter. Meanwhile I’ve got this girl who for all intents and purposes isn’t wearing anything particularly revealing who’s in her mid-teens and suddenly people are shocked.”

However, punters at the Jaguarshoes bar seemed unfazed by the collage of pictures across the walls. Maria, 23, from Old Street, says: “There’s so much art that’s more provocative than that. All girls try to be sexualised at that age.”

Rob, 24, who lives nearby, thinks people are only uncomfortable because of their own reactions. Pointing to one that shows Lacey dressed in a bikini lying in a swimming pool he says: “At first I thought: ‘That’s fit’. Then, when I saw how old she was, I thought: ‘Oh, that’s a bit wrong.’ But I think it’s excessive for people to complain.”

A spokesperson for Jaguarshoes says: “We have received no formal complaints and do not expect to.”

Born to be wild

I like to pride myself on being something of a time-wasting connoisseur. Give me an afternoon and I will show you how to do sod all, and take pride in it.

But today I realised that I was playing in the junior league compared to the world of academia across the pond.

According to a report in the Guardian, research by a team of American scientists has come to the astounding conclusion that the rise of the novel in the last eighteenth century “not only reflected the values of Victorian society, but also shaped them.”

Researchers asked 500 academics to rate the personality traits of characters from 201 classic Victorian novels and came up with this gobbet of wisdom:

“Archetypal novels from the time extolled the virtues of an egalitarian society and pitted co-operation and affability against individuals’ huger for power and dominance”

As an ex-English student, I am perfectly aware that I may have something of a chip on my shoulder, but this strikes me as the most ludicrous waste of time and money I have heard of since I read about someone sponsored to work out the equation to describe how a ball of paper crumples. middlemarch

Even the most mediocre of A-level student could have told them that. In fact, anyone who has ever managed the briefest flick through a Victorian novel – the examples named being Middlemarch, Dracula and Wuthering Heights – could have picked it up before the end of the first chapter.

Furthermore, it is not only bad science, it is bad literary criticism. The article goes on to explain:

“They found that leading characters fell into groups that mirrored the co-operative nature of a hunter-gatherer society, where individual urges for power and wealth were suppressed for the good of the community”

So, society good, individualism bad, is that what we’re meant to learn from this insightful study?

Well, if the evolutionary psychologists in question had done their homework, they might have realised that history is, in fact, stranger than fiction.

While Jane Austen was carving her “little bit of ivory”, working on the first drafts of Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensiblity, two men were writing an introduction to a collection of poems that heralded a new era in how man understood himself.

The Preface to the Lyrical Ballads by William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge, is generally regarded at the beginning and manifesto of British Romanticism.

In it, they reject the studied artistry of their predecessors, arguing instead that poetry should be “the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings” composed by a man “possessed of more than usual organic sensibility [who has] also thought long and deeply.” rebel

That image of the haunted individual, isolated by his superior understanding, has played on our imaginations in its various forms ever since.

From the pages of Wuthering Heights to the James Dean’s Rebel Without a Cause, the image of the lone wolf has become the heart throb of generations.

Aspiration, drive, individualism – these are the features we admire most in today’s capitalist society. We may pay lip service to Mother Theresa, nod sagely at Ghandi, but if it came to the choice, how many of us would, really and truly, chose their lives of sacrifice over that of Warren Buffett?

To say that our genes have been writen by the pages of Middlemarch not only misunderstands fundamental traits of the human character, but also the literature of the period.

As Einstein put it: “The greatest scientists are always artists as well.”

Was it the Mail wot done it?

Russell Brand and Johnathan Ross have caused a storm of controversy rarely seen by the desensitised eyes of the MTV generation.

Their prank calls to Fawlty Towers actor Andrew Sachs have met with condemnation from the PM and the BBC have received more than 10,400 complaints from outraged listeners and Daily Mail readers.

While blame is still being bandied around like a hot potato, Brand has apologsied (in his own special way) on his Radio 2 show, saying “sometimes you mustn’t swear on someone’s answerphone and that is why I would like to apologise personally”. Although excusing himself by saying “it was quite funny”.

To many this apology-of-sorts may sound like too little too late. Ross’s quip that Brand had “fucked” Sachs’ granddaughter, Georgina Baillie, and that Sachs might hang himself as a result of the message was not exactly easy listening. But the fact is that before the Daily Mail launched a campaign to have them fired, only two complaints had been made about the show, neither of them related to the messages.

Brand is no stranger to disapproval, after receiving death threats for calling George Bush a “retarded cowboy” when hosting this year’s MTV Awards in the US. But in a country that spawned one half of Gilbert & George and which deems Tracey Emin’s condom-littered bed “art”, it seems bizarre that an adolescent prank should provoke such a conservative blacklash.

While the UK airwaves are held to account by industry standards and moral censure from the prudishness of middle England, offence is the virtual currency of the UK art world. British Muslim artist Sarah Maple, currently exhibiting at the SaLon Gallery, Notting Hill, London, is a case in point.

Winner of the 4 Sensations prize, awarded to the “most imaginative and talented artists graduating in the U.K” by Channel 4 and the Saatchi Gallery, Maple has become the darling of the art world by depicting Muslim women holding pigs, sucking bananas suggestively and a photo of herself wearing a t-shirt that says: “I heart Jihad“.

Maple said: “I’m questioning the way some Muslims interpret the faith…It’s a quite serious thing, and then I make light of it, and I think a lot of people find that unsettling. But then they grow to like it.”

While Maple’s work has been met with criticism from the British Muslim community, it has seen nothing approaching the condemnation surrounding Brand and Ross. Has free speech in the UK been so disabled by self-censure that we’ve lost the last bastion of Britishness: our sense of humour?


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