De profundis (Britain, that is)

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De profundis (Britain, that is)

From Derek Greatrex

Published before 2005


Dear ARC,

You can't imagine what pleasure it gave me, as a 71-year-old Englishman, to read some of your items about David Hockney. I have recently been having some friendly arguments about him with my daughter-in-law, who did an art degree - not 'fine art', thank goodness, but with emphasis on design and craft work: she makes very attractive jewellery and stylised painting on fabric. But she is a great admirer of Hockney. When I said his work wasn't much good, and he only thought the old masters used optical aids because he couldn't do what they did, she was shocked. I think anybody who knows which end of a paintbrush is which is accepted as a master in Britain.

I grew up at the height of modernism, and when you're told by experts that Picasso is the greatest artist of the century, you end up believing it. I remember going to an exhibition at the Tate during the 60s, and walking into a gallery which had an interesting piece of what looked like dada-ist sculpture in wood and rope. After a double-take, I realised it was a stepladder left behind by workmen.

Eventually, after the growth of installation art and Britart, I discovered the treasure-house of our Victorian legacy, like a cat falling into the cream. How could we ever have forgotten the riches of British art and come to accept garbage like Gilbert and George, Damian Hurst and Tracey Emin? The other week I saw the Queen shaking hands with Emin on television, and almost wept. That must surely be the ultimate degradation of my poor country. I've seen better art that Emin's on the walls of public lavatories, and the words were spelled correctly too. The Queen will do anything they tell her to do. I wish she'd hand over to Prince Charles, who is a real artist, a man of deep spiritual beliefs, and an upholder of traditional values in the arts.

With thanks, and wishing you every success,

Derek Greatrex