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Call to arms - the pen is mightier than the sword!

Someone write some decent printed matter please!

Delpha Hudson



Having read the 'Contested histories' article and its excellent evaluation of some of the issues arising from Peter Davies new book (St Ives 1975-2005: Art Colony in Transition) it has to be said that there are further issues arising from the production of books of this ilk.

Or at least there is one issue that can longer be ignored for artists actually living and working here.

Forget and forgive the partisan, piecemeal nature of its selection of a canon of ‘St Ives’ artists, which is not only dubious at best, but is in no way justified or demystified in any way by the text.

Forget and forgive the clumsy use and selection of visual images, which is bizarre for a book about visual art.

Forget the undeveloped gallop through the selection of artists, for whom little or no explanation, informed art critique or context is given.

Forget its ‘who’s who’ approach when it reads more like a ’who knew who when.’

Forget the author’s questionable expertise and authority, and publisher backing.

Remember, though, that this is what passes for informed ‘history’. It sits on the shelves of our shops; it is talked about in the local papers; it will rest on the shelves of the library[1]  ;it is unwittingly taken as ‘truth’.

As artists we struggle everyday with ‘perceived truth’, a Copernican revolution of historical intuition, trying to turn ‘timeless truth’ on its head.

Unless we find ways of representing ourselves and creating authoritative printed matter or archival evidence of our contemporary art scene, books like these are in danger of being the claimant to ‘perceived truth’.

It is no longer enough for me to ignore these publishing gaffs or resign tatty texts to the lower part of my bookshelf where my dog tends to knock them off and pee on them. No longer enough to ignore art writing either impaled on a pub-platter menu for the general public, or solely confined to academia.

My beef with this book is not so much that it exists (though I’d rather it didn’t) but there are few or no alternative Cornish contemporary art criticism, or art histories [2]  Who can step into the gap and produce accessible, alternative histories and place them on those shelves? (I promise to place them high on my shelves, so that the dog can’t piss on them!)

I am not criticizing the artists and painters who are included in this book.  Although I question the author’s inclusion of some and exclusion of many others, my real point is that we live in a local climate of acceptance that books of this kind are significant (and draw interest and comment!!), and I ask why?

In some measure this must be because

  1. artists are not properly represented in other ways
  2. artists are not representing themselves
  3. there are few writers and critics who have the right credentials, experience and intelligence to represent artists properly – and it seems none local!

Published material, especially books are still taken more seriously, as more authorative than other media. Whilst this shouldn’t necessarily be the case, this means that in order to compete with the nonsense filling the shelves of local libraries and bookshops: Artists should get their work written about adequately, or if they should write and represent themselves. Pick up your ‘pens’!



[1] the library hasn’t got it in yet – I refused to buy it, so spent time scanning it at a local shop. Sorry, yes, scanning. So you could criticize me for having a limited knowledge of the book, to which I would proudly say ‘yes’. I have to say I did like what Peter tried to say about Marion Taylor’s and Sarah Poland’s work, it read like he was actually representing their work in some way. A visual image here might have been a good idea.

[2] Probably the artcornwall website is the only exception but how will it remain in time? How can it packaged to reach a wider audience?



Editors note:

In response to some of Delpha's points: the publication of Peter Davies book has generated some debate on the forum too - indeed there is also a letter there to the publisher that has not received a response - as yet.

artcornwall.org is not anti-St Ives, or anti-galleries, or anti-painting. But it is for diversity and for celebrating the full range of art in Cornwall at the moment. In keeping with this we would of course be happy to publish other articles more supportive of the book.

I should also add: we're planning to publish our own book containing material from this site sometime very soon, so if you pick up a pen (or a computer mouse) and write for the site - your writing will stand a good chance of getting into print too!!