My colleague John Simmons blogged a couple of days ago on the Writers & Artists site about the significance of the place you write being as much to do with mental as physical location. I agree with him. I’m writing this in a busy Starbucks by Edinburgh’s Haymarket Station, on a snowy December evening. But more of that in the new year …
Last weekend I went to the Turner Prize show at Tate Britain and marvelled at Richard Wright’s winning creation. A vast gold-leaf fresco of mesmerising power and beauty, ‘creation’ seems the right word for it because that is just what it conjured for me: the Creation. Minutely detailed shapes seethe, swirl and flow in a gorgeous torrent of gold across a huge expanse of white wall. It has an almost religious intensity, like something by Blake or Michelangelo. I could have gazed at it for hours.
Not so the programme. Here is one sentence: ‘Wright accepts and virtually reverses the effects of attrition, re-assessing correlative notions of value and preservation, a virtue running across his practice.’ There are, in fact, three things you need to know about Richard Wright and that, whatever it means, is not one of them.
Sadly, this is language that seems designed to exclude, not because people are too dumb to understand it – it’s actually pretentious twaddle that is mostly not worth saying anyway; but because it exudes intellectual superiority, whose underlying message is that certain great cultural experiences are beyond the reach of ordinary people. That doesn’t seem to me like a very sensible or enlightened communications strategy for the twenty-first century.
And the three things about Richard Wright? First, he’s steeped in the history of art and draws on influences as old as they are wide. Second, he never knows what he will create until he steps into the space where he’s going to exhibit. Third, his work is impermanent; he makes it straight onto the wall and paints it out again when the show ends (in this case on 3 January).
Go and see it before he does. And have a Happy Christmas!