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Australian Culture

there’s a bit of a debate going on at Samizdata about high and low culture and the like. So I thought I’d see what the Australians could contribute. I found this at The Appalling Strangeness. It’s Rolf Harris singing “I touch myself” by the DiVinyls. It knocks a concerto for car alarms by someone “challenging” into a cocked hat. This is culture. Enjoy!


  1. Paul Marks says:

    Clearly Australians should try to be less quiet and introverted.

    Seriously this does not knock the whole “self esteem” nonsense into outer space – it also shows that irony can be useful (rather than just the habit of upper class people talking down to everyone else).

  2. NickM says:

    “Clearly Australians should try to be less quiet and introverted.”

    I hope not!

    What is the epitome of “high” culture? Let’s say Shakespeare. Oh, that’s so elitist Nick! Is it? No, Shakespeare was an showman. He’s very accessible. Perhaps the funniest thing I ever saw on stage was a production of Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Barbican in 1996. That is Shakespeare’s greatness. It is clever but got the bums on seats or standing in the pit of the Globe drinking and whoring for a groat. Shakespear is actually fun to watch. Most modern “challenging” stuff is like root canal work. You feel “better” for it at the end but the actual process is dreadful. So po-faced and humourless. So dreary and nasty. Tells ya a story. When I lived in London there was a production of “Rosenkrantz and Guildernstern are dead” by Tom Stoppard at the National.

    Well, it’s brilliant and I’d only seen the video so I jumped at the chance and me and some pals sauntered off. They’d buggered up the booking but said, “Sorry, we’ll rebook you and as a freebie we’ve still got kick-ass seats for “Mother Courage” by Brecht. Might as well. It were awful. It’s a musical about the 30 years war. It contains basically the profound concept that war is bad. Well, yes, on the one occasion I was shot at I didn’t find it particularly fun.

    One might wonder why the Stoppard play was over-booked but they still had seats in the stalls for the Brecht. Well by the time I’d sat through both I didn’t.

    Paul, do, if you can see the via 4oD the thing I saw last night on the nude in British painting. I’ve got the link on the Samizdata thread on Ken Loach. Jacobson makes a good point that can be distilled down to: if art no longer celebrates beauty then what is the point? Let’s instead (and this is what the PoMos have done art that says “Life is shit and then you die” and it’s all the fault of George W Bush. No jokes, no wit, no beauty, no sensuality, just your five-a-day and your ecological compost heap.

    Here’s another way of looking at it. Lowry is known for of course his painting of matchstick men and dark Satanic mills but I’ve seen the big collection in Salford. His other stuff (which of course makes no political point and was therefore seen as worthless) includes magnificent landscapes and seascapes and just coming up (it was on the local news tonight) he also drew dancers and they’ll be exhibited in Salford for the first time just nowish. I’m going. The idea that deliberately ugly paintings are more worthy than something Joe Public can look at and think “She looks rather foxy” or “That’s a beautiful landscape” or whatever pisses me off. These are people with no soul who think a bed Tracey Emin (who can actually draw very well) got pissed in and forgot to lamentable effect to use a tampon is “art”. In that case art has to touch the universal. “My bed that ought to go in a skip” or Emin making a tent and embroidering the names of everyone she ever shagged is solipsism of the highest order.

    This is not a tirade against modern art as such. Some is brilliant – Graham Sutherland’s “Crucifixion” in the Tate is awesome and the likes of Rothko and Pollock are brilliant but a tirade about the culture which defines the value of art in political rather than aesthetic terms. Or just fun. Yes, there is role for that too. Pete and Dud’s National Gallery sketch says it all really.

    Or to put it bluntly (and back to the Samizdata thread) did anyone actually enjoy anything by Ken Loach more than 300?

  3. Paul Marks says:

    Of course R. Harris would agree with you.

    His song was mocking not just obsessive self love – but also some of the conventions of “new music”.

  4. davydai nikolenko says:

    Nick… this Roger Scruton docu is well worth a watch if you ain’t already seen it.

  5. davydai nikolenko says:

    btw… what artistic yardstick are you applying, when you mention T Emin “who can actually draw very well”???

    I could draw better than that shite when i was at primary school!

  6. NickM says:

    I actually think some of that is technically not that bad. But I’ve seen her do life drawing which is better (not great but…) and I think saying and I think saying she’s wasted her reasonable artistic talent by exhibiting a council skip mattress is fair comment. That was part of my point. The wilful rejection of artistic tradition in favour of anything that makes a Daily Mail reader blow a gasket. It is the nihilism and the snide in-joke going on.

  7. RAB says:

    Rolf has been a national Institution all my life. He is an entertainer, has a terrific sense of humour and has made his name and money doing comic and or sentimental songs, and knocking off a few cartoons live for the kids on telly. And more power to him!

    Ah but when he got handed a programme on proper art, the coshes of the Arts elite really came out. Wojek Anagramme of the Sunday Times was up first with a knee to the groin, probably AA Gill in next…

    What does this mere children’s entertainer know of that precious thing called art? He daubs cartoons and sings funny songs! Picasso didn’t do funny songs, Mondrian didn’t daub!

    Well they obviously didn’t want to know that the reason Rolf came to Britain in the first place was to study at the Royal Acadamy of Art. He knows about art.

    But the Elite will never accept that kind of crossover in a million years. A Populist?!! Argh…

    Tom Wolfe nailed it years ago in the Painted Word (he was much better at journalism than he is a novelist wasn’t he?) the basic premise of which is…

    It’s the words to describe what you are looking at or experiencing that matter, not the object itself. In fact without the words, the artwork is meaningless ( I would go so far as to say they could be interchangable myself).

    Let’s take Daimon Hurst’s famous half a shark, in a perspex box. We have all heard of it, but do we know what it is called?

    Well it’s called something like, “The impossibility of the idea of death, in the mind of someone living…”

    Now that might seem profound as you stagger in from the pub after a heavy night and write it on a fag packet, but when you get up the next morning?

    “Ah there’s that bit of profoundity I came up with last night! How do I best illustrate it? I know, I’ll go and saw a shark in half and stick it in formaldahide!”

    What I get here folks is profound disconnect. I cannot see any reason why the Shark would illustrate the words, or the words the shark. Both are utter profound Bollocks!

    Oh and there’s this to give us all a bit of a chuckle, It could almost make the Unintended Consequences thread.

  8. NickM says:


    Yes, you and Wolfe are bang-on about the Contemporary farts like D Hirst. I think I shall win next year’s Turner prize by making a video installation where I pick fluff from my naval. It should go down a storm because that’s just what these idiots do. The thing about the description being the thing wot matters is spot-on. They don’t get that art is “show not tell”. But as I’ve said before it’s worse than that because most (not all but post postmodern) discourse is actually objectively meaningless. Even to the arts set. Several years ago I actually thought of the idea myself of writing a description of a picture or installation or some such and exhibiting that alone as the thing in itself. I had just seen a hockling crapulence in Leeds called “Beaver and twin-tub” which consisted of a knackered 1970s washing machine presumably yanked off a council estate front lawn in Leeds and the sort of carved wooden beaver a grannie might buy in a garden centre. It was presumably a discourse (they love that word) on the dual role of the role of women as sex-objects and unpaid domestics. Beaver, geddit? Utter drivel. I’ve seen more creativity in the shit thrown from the sodding monkey house at the zoo.

    So I’ve never bothered with my attempt at subverting the arts types because if you’re not on the inside they think you’re a puerile tosser. That that is what they are doesn’t even register with them because they spent three years at Goldsmith’s College.

    You want real artistic brilliance that is truly up to date? get a Wii or Xbox 360. That is the true art of our age.

    God almighty. None of this contemporary art is even new. Duchamp and Kandinsky were doing it 90 odd years ago! And doing it better. The Hirsts and Emins of this world are knocking out crap clones of Manic Miner in an age which has Halo. It’s sad. It is challenging. Challenging my capacity to keep my sandwiches down. I guess if I did puke on some new installation it would be seen as the crowning glory so I can’t even win that way. “We always meant the piece to interact with the public”. And the thing is other gallery visitors would probably think it was part of the piece itself. Seriously.

    That link is beyond parody. On so many levels.

  9. g1lgam3sh says:


    When you come to Salford drop me an email and I’ll buy you a beer or three.

    Least I can do, I get a lot of pleasure visiting here, especially as we’ve lost a few good blogs lately :-)

  10. RAB says:

    You want real artistic brilliance that is truly up to date? get a Wii or Xbox 360. That is the true art of our age.

    Go for it!

    You know you really want too! ;-)

  11. NickM says:

    Thank you g1lgam3sh!

    I’ll drop you a line when I’m next round that end.

    PC-gamer through and through me! But the point holds.

  12. Sam Duncan says:

    “… in favour of anything that makes a Daily Mail reader blow a gasket.”

    There is no more exasperating phrase than “If it provokes a reaction / gets people talking, then it’s worth something”. You can provoke a reaction and get people talking by poking them with a stick. Poking people with sticks is not art.

    “get a Wii or Xbox 360. That is the true art of our age.”

    True. I’ve just started on Red Dead Redemption.* It’s beautiful, well-written, well acted, and – so far – contains some philosophising between the characters that isn’t the usual media-leftist boilerplate. And I think I’ve said before that Portal is a masterpiece, both of “pure“ videogaming, but also of weaving plot, narrative and character into a game; something I’ve always been suspicious of, but Valve pull it off so deftly you barely notice there is a plot until you find yourself wondering what the hell is going on with that computerized voice. And whether the cake is a lie…

    “Duchamp and Kandinsky were doing it 90 odd years ago! And doing it better.”

    I’ve been saying that for years. The joke just isn’t funny any more.

    Of course, “real” art is still being made. One of my neighbours is a painter. Good one, too. But her stuff doesn’t get on the telly or sell for squillions at Christie’s. There are thousands like her, though, quietly getting on with doing something worthwhile while the media whores play their games.

    *Salman Rushdie’s favourite game. Seriously.

  13. DeNihilist says:

    Sam, like this friend of mine, awesome talent, dirt poor. But he does have some of his work in Russia;

  14. RAB says:

    Yes this is loads of good Art out there Sam.

    This is what we do round my way. I’m sure they are doing it in Glasgow and Edinburgh too.

    My neighbour Toni, across the road does these huge fantastic mozaics, made from found crockery and stuff.

    The Art is of a high quality as you can see. Food and wine is often laid on, music too, and the icing on the cake is you get to nose around your neighbours houses! ;-)

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