Why Art Matters

Just recently there was an article expressing the disbelief that arts and culture had not been included as part of a UK-wide initiative to tackle health and well-being. It is unbelievable and yet at the same time it is obvious why they were omitted. Firstly some people don’t get it, they just don’t get how important art is (and I’m talking about art here not culture). Secondly, art is a personal thing – it’s only good for you if it’s something you enjoy, you like or you are prepared to be challenged by.

Unlike the performing arts, visual art (fine, history, photography etc) is strong in the curriculum. More young people, according to Rowntree’s are happy to take up art as a subject at a higher level than any other artform – music/dance/drama withering away in to the ‘can’t do’ pile by the time young folk get to 13/14 years of age.

Yet they feel more able to do art, as do adults: art they like and find more accessible.

So, what of Hockney – why does he matter. This is my personal account. He matters because he painted the place I was born and grew up in, as was he. He painted Saltaire, where school was, work was next door to the mill. My mother worked in the mill, I was  in her belly and caught the rhythm of the looms – you’ll never fault my pulse in music. He captured a place.

He also gave it colour, or rather, he pulled the colour out of the darkness. The mill was sand-blasted at some point. It was a huge dark reminder of the end of the wool industry in Bradford til it was bought up and refurbed by Silver – a friend of Hockney’s. The colour was good, it brought back life and a positive feel, which the dark. grey world of post-industrial life needed.

Let’s not kid ourselves, poverty and hardship still exist under the nose of the mill. But  would life be  worse if the mill, Silver and Hockney didn’t collaborate to create change, or have they created a further divide between art and the working class.

Hockney himself was the son of radical working class parents, and I’d still like to believe that the place I grew up in still has that radicalism in its blood. The small world of Saltaire was a self-empowered place, where I met politicised, well-read people, practitioners of art and music alongside their daily work. Discussions, walks, visits to the cinema -activity a-plenty.

Yes there’s a pride I feel about Hockney, his work and his influence in the world, and that he chose to reflect on the place we lived in too. There’s also a pride I feel that art gives us something magical, as well as practical, that can’t always be captured by policy-makers. So paint the world how it feels, give it warmth and emotion, and if the civil servants and all those well-paid meetings people can’t feel art, then they can’t feel peoples’ lives either. Why does art matter? If you know, tell the policy makers.

I met David Hockney.

Dulce et Decorum est


The real post-war power 

is still the one of the “Uebermenschen” 

and this “democracy” can’t be realized 

but on the back of the “Untermenschen” !

Jan Theuninck


World War Two is a part of our history and our present. Our last uncle has gone, age ninety-two. He grew up with four brothers in a small village tucked up in the mountains between Herzeg and Bosnia. Their mother was a canny woman. She taught her boys to do all the household chores and to be self-sufficient – they could weave, knit and cook as well as manage woodland, tend to animals and grow crops.

When the war started, three of them went to fight, the other two joined them. All were royalists on the side of the allies engaging in warfare in the mountains and forests. They were caught by the Nazis and enslaved in camps in Italy and in Yugoslavia.

“Nichts rauchen! Nichts essen! Nichts wasser!’ were my first words in German.

Our uncle married a German woman just before the war and had a boy with her. The relationship came to an end –  I didn’t know this until my mother was on her deathbed. We never knew this boy. It explained a few things to me – his stoic nature, his sometimes coldness and abruptness, yet he was generous towards children. He remarried an Austro-Hungarian, now my Aunt, who also shared stories about living through the war.

My uncle and one of his brothers moved to Scotland in 1948, working in farms in the Grampians and then to Dundee in the mills. Here my step-father married and had a still-born child who is buried in Fife. Something I discovered when looking through papers at home one day. I don’t know who else knows about this.

I don’t recall my uncle being particularly religious. He believed in work, didn’t like doctors, smoked a pipe and wasn’t interested in DIY. He worked for Tommy Ball’s in Blackburn – makers of Clark’s shoes back then. We all had Clark’s shoes. He was a manager in the factory, his wife a shop floor supervisor.

We take older people for granted, until they are gone. Then we realise just how much they influenced our young lives. R.I.P G.S. 1920-2012.