I love my Thorens turntable and SME tonearm. They are beautifully built, sound gorgeous, and to my mind represent fantastic modern design. Even though they are decades old, they still look, feel, and sound beautiful.
Not that I am weirdly obsessed or anything, but sometimes I spend hours just staring at the German platter go round and round and round. Glistening in the sun like a fat child running for a bus. I consider the delicate balance of the Surrey tonearm as though it were a ballerina standing on a mirror, but even more revealing. Occasionally I think my obsession with my record player goes too far, and even verges on insanity. But that’s only when to my surprise I find myself eating cereal with the severed tonearm. Oh how I laugh.
My grandfather, Kurt Rowland was an artist, illustrator, and writer. He wrote books on visual education – instruction on how to educate one’s aesthetic and visual faculties. He had a load of strange and interesting titles published, like ‘The Shapes We Need’, ‘Sight and Insight’ to ‘Visual Education and Beyond’. Here is a taste of some of his work .
People go on wine-tasting courses to learn what makes a good tasting bottle of booze. I even had wine-tasting general studies classes at school. But never did anyone suggest a class on the principles underlying good design; the relationship between the development of aesthetic principles and civilization; or the way design affects and guides the functioning of modern society.
In school art classes, I was never taught about Gombrich or Itten. Colour theory was never even mentioned. I do remember making a lot of sketches of masterpieces from postcards for some reason. But there was never any reference to the philosophy of colour combination or the mathematical foundations of composition and proportion.
At primary school, kids are taught to have fun and paint nice pictures of their parents, a gratifying exercise for artist and subject. It is about fun, getting the kids to be a little creative, perhaps breaking up the drudgery of the three R’s. There was once a time when Victorian schoolchildren were soundly beaten with an iron rod in case they even conceived of colour. So a bit of splashing paint around can’t be a bad thing for the littl’uns.
However, we seem to take certain misconceptions through to secondary, and perhaps even tertiary art education. We think that art, like poetry, is all about creative self-expression which takes precedence over technical or academic achievement. But I cannot think of single great artist or poet who has not been ruthlessly obsessed by perfecting their craft. It seems that the greater their attention to technical detail, the greater the human relevance of their creative output.
Poetry is metrical writing, nothing more. Otherwise it is prose, or doggerel. Art is the aesthetic application of visual media. Whether in a bizarre arrangement of paints on canvas or an arrangement of slate in groups on a gallery floor, personal items scattered round a bed, or pharmaceutical bottles on the walls of a gallery room, great art represents fearsome obsession with the development and application of aesthetic principles.
On the subject of Damien Hirst and Tracy Emin: these artists inspire resentment as well as admiration from the public. I am personally not worried about whether someone thinks Hirst is a genius or a media slag, I am concerned that you very really hear an organised, rationalised explanation of such opinions.
It is a concern that art education in Britain has a generational problem similar to that causing the gastronomic ignominy of our country. Until we sort it out, we shall lack the critical faculties to escape the loathsome tyranny of tv arts critics. Our kids will need to develop their own informed opinions about what makes a good painting as much as what constitutes a good environment for them to live in, or space to work in. We don’t want them getting all their ideas off some twat off BBC 4.