Dear readers, I hope your hearts will be gladdened by the imminent end to this marathon of spleen that has been my response to the 5 questions proposed by the Great British Art Debate. Here are some thoughts on the final question although I cannot promise that these will be my last words on the matter.
Is the idea of British art a British fantasy?
The British Isles is the most frequently invaded territory in the world and consequently we live in one of the most racially diverse countries in history. You don’t see many natural blondes in Tokyo.
Consequently, the idea of Britishness is nothing to do with race but class. I recently saw ex-Dragon’s Den entrepreneur, Doug Richard, give a keynote speech where he pointed out to us locals that Britain is the most laid-back, easy-going, inclusive country in the world. I’ve never heard anyone say it quite like that before, and especially not from a bloody foreigner. But he’s right, and here’s the warm and fuzzy crux of the matter: Britain is an incredibly diverse and welcoming nation, mainly because there is no such thing as Britishness. If you look at the names of the players in the British art scene, Serota, Kapoor, Ofili, you realize that most of them are not British at all, or at least not white anglo-saxon.
But who is? Am I? Go back only a million years and we were all learning how to make fire together in what is now South Africa. In the more recent blink of an eye that is the 10,000 years of human history, we have distinguished ourselves with artificial hierarchical divisions whilst kidding ourselves about the progress of our egalitarianism and democratization. How is it that the authority to judge the authenticity of Britishness of art is bestowed more readily on any random Polish orphan than someone with a racial history traceable back to pre-history, like my own?
If you listen to the accents of these people, or look at their biographies, then it becomes clear what is going on. The people who are obsessing about “Britishness” are the moneyed middle and upper classes who feel threatened by the emancipated working class who they see as no longer needing their guidance as we now get our education from the Discovery Channel, our culture from BBC iPlayer and our code of ethics from Bono.
My own parentage is more identifiably from this part of the world but you don’t have to go far back in order to find French, Danish, Scottish and God knows what other racial impurities sullying my apparently unimpeachable ticket-to-ride to the British National Party, that bastion of all that is “civically British”.
And here is an interesting diversion. Nick Griffin, leader of the recently humiliated British National Party, has no more idea of what constitutes Britishness than does the Great British Art Debate (GBAD), although they both seem obsessed with its elusive taxonomy.
However, I would not accuse the GBAD of the sins of that fatherless numbskull. Griffin is drowning in his own ignorance and I would be happy to see him transported back to his fantastical wonderland of the last ice age and witness him being frozen in his own vomit.
But is any of this real? If you were to cast someone as a white British Nazi you could look no further than the over-fed, smug and inarticulate cipher that is the leader of the British National Party. Maybe it is just a ruse by the comfortable liberals to identify an enemy to unite against. If his appearance on BBC Question Time is anything to go by he has progressed racial unity in this country more than any politician in history, not through inclusivity, but through hate. Not his hate of niggers, pakis and wops, but our hatred of him and his ignorant bunch of uneducated townies who blame people with different coloured skins for their own failures.
There are no words for my contempt, although I do try.
Perversely, I am reassured by the prejudice of the British establishment. The British people will not allow Nick Griffin to succeed. Not be cause he is an ignorant, fascist bigot but because he is not a toff.
It is a shame he was not door-stepped by the production company that has produced the promotional video and asked the dubious range of questions posited by the GBAD as I would have been fascinated by his responses.
What’s more, he is a nobody but at least I know which nobody he is. Whichever production company GBAD commissioned to make the online video on their website has the stupidity to assume that we know who all these talking heads are and then build on this inanity by putting them on the spot with vast, unanswerable questions and expecting some instant insight. It usually takes me a whole week to write a response to each question and this last one has take 2 months.
It’s more enlightening about the corporate video production company that produced the video than about the series of rabbit-in-the-headlights artists / curators / critics / whoever are interviewed for it. I recognize Jeremy Deller and Boris Johnson but who are these other nobodies? Deller looks genuinely bemused and more than a little irritated. No wonder, it’s probably a 21-year-old intern, straight outta the Home Counties, putting him on the spot with these ill-considered questions and nodding earnestly at his answers, not noticing his barely-veiled contempt. Are the commissioners of the video so wrapped up in the comfort of their own insider-knowledge to think that we should recognize these people? It’s no wonder no-one is looking at their website or joining their Facebook group. Even I have more followers on Twitter.
The only answer from the pundits that really satisfied me (because, of course, they generally agreed with my own) was when they were asked “Should art be good for you?”. Even Boris referred the to the question as “ludicrous”, and he should be very familiar with the meaning of that word. Johnson has shown us how a nincompoop who can barely string two words together can rise to occupy one of the most prestigious and influential positions in politics. Johnson is an imbecile and shown to be so over and over again.
Without the delay in the completion of this lengthy response to the Great British Art Debate, I would not have been able to include the most hilarious of Johnson’s critical insights, whilst unveiling the new sculpture by Yinka Shonibare.
For the foreigners amongst you, “bottle” is a British slang usage meaning chutzpah or spunk or attitude.
However, Boris Johnson went to Eton and is part of one of the most infamously self-protective cliques in the world, the British upper class. Boris and I were born in the same year although he appears to be a thousand years older and a hundred times more stupid. I have not reached his dizzying heights of influence but at least I am not a dizzy blonde. Check him out on Wikipedia (assuming it is accurate) and you will see that, despite his irritating posher-than-posh British accent, he is actually a multi-coloured swap-shop of genetics and cultures.
However, he is 100% toff, and that’s what counts. I could never be Mayor of London, not because I call a spade a spade, and not a cosse or a spaten, but because I am not from the moneyed classes, no matter how much more racially British I am.
However, there is hope. By using our brains and the currently devalued skills of literacy and numeracy we do not need the upper class any more than we need diphtheria, nuclear waste or experimental theatre. Art and culture are worth nurturing and fighting for if only for the pleasure of stealing them from the stuck-up dimwits rotting in their stately homes, bedecked in the grotesque excesses that were inspired by, and are a continuation of, the absolute tyranny of the ancient civilizations of Greece and Rome.
Arguably, it is better to keep the incompetent out of harm’s way by kicking them upstairs and maybe it is better, failing their extermination, that we simply put up with the upper classes, smugly congratulating themselves on their superiority, whilst the rest of us hoi poloi get on with things, reassured in the knowledge of their irresolvable anxiety in having to maintain their position.
This is the phenomenon suggested by Laurence J. Peter and Raymond Hull in their 1969 book “The Peter Principle” where “work is accomplished by those employees who have not yet reached their level of incompetence”.
Ignorance is the harshest of criticisms, but only if you have the balls for it. I say let the toffs rot in their crumbling mansions and spend every last penny of their slave-derived fortunes preserving the portraits of their forefathers whilst we plebeian masses accumulate the very riches of the world selling computer games, running online poker sites and pay-per-view humiliation TV shows. Once their money runs out they will stop fetishizing about Britishness because the only people in the world left with money will be either Swiss, Russian or Chinese.