The incredible foolishness of Charles Saatchi

Just what has Charles Saatchi given to the nation? A unwanted present of highly ephemeral art, art which at best belongs to the moment and at worst has no place in time or art. Art which once it’s achieved the shock it was aiming for has no other value, and yet, it’s now ours, glorified as the Museum of Contemporary Art, London, God help us,  in the hope that we will be condemned to remember it.

Financially it has huge value, but for how long? How long before it all crumbles? Duchamp didn’t want his art to survive but we’ve made certain it did. In our time Hurst and Emin may want their output to survive, but I’m sure future generations, museums notwithstanding, will make certain it doesn’t.

Only art which goes beyond political and cultural boundaries, and defines in some way what it means to be human, can survive.  Art that shocks is hardly art, and only curiosity will keep it alive.

Saatchi’s pseudo-museum can only have value if it endlessly chucks out the old and replenishes with the new. But it’s all tied to the values Saatchi represents and the monetary value he put on each item, so he won’t want to see them replaced, and thereby devalued. If ever a museum was tied to money, this is it, if ever in time a museum was destined to fail it is this.

If I’m wrong… well. I can’t be wrong. If I’m wrong, it will be a measure of our times, and how we’ve sold out to the ephemeral, and put anything of lasting value well behind us. That may indeed be the world to which were headed, a world of soundbites and snippits, easily accessed, easy to move on from, ever-changing, and ultimately worthless.

How we hold on to values in our modern world is a major concern. Saatchi may yet triumph. Inception as a new movie is all about inhabiting minds. Maybe our minds are already inhabited…

One final thought. Does the nation exist as a disembodied entity to which items can be given? I think not, and thank God for that. The nation as the state? ‘No charges,’ we are told, ‘will fall to the state.’ Which is just as well.

Language Michael, language

We’ve been worried about Michael Gove. In a government of pragmatists (in most of the senior positions) he stands out as a zealot. We thought though that he’d be reined in. It looks as if we were wrong. Quoting him from last Monday (5th July):

’The Building Schools for the Future scheme has been responsible for about one third of all this department’s capital spending. But throughout its life it has been characterised by massive overspends, tragic delays, botched construction projects and needless bureaucracy …. dysfunctional.’

It’s bad enough to cancel, but the language has all the hallmarks of Tory right-wing true believers, a partisan bunch with their own agenda and few supporters among teachers.

Gove is overlooking how much people have been engaged with this process, and how it gave schools an opportunity to escape from decaying buildings into decent learning environments. They are now told in effect that it was a worthless process, was misconceived and didn’t deliver. It was as everyone knows seriously flawed: too much money focused on too few schools (rebuilding all schools by 2023 was always a pipedream), too ambitious for each chosen school, too time-consuming, bureaucratic, always overspending and likely to continue to do so.

But it was a programme. And now there’s none.

It needed to be re-thought, reconfigured so the benefits were spread more widely and in the current climate slowed down, but not abandoned. It’s one thing to reduce spending, another to take out spending altogether, to take out hope, and you don’t take out hope where children are concerned.

My hunch is that Gove’s actions are terminal to his hopes are transforming the school system on a wider scale. Who will countenance money spent on gimmicky new schools when existing schools are denied any funding for new build, and forced to exist in structures crumbling around them for at least another ten years?

By actions and language Gove has foolishly engendered so much hostility that the educational world, already inclined not to take him seriously, though fearful of where his ideas might go, will now be very disinclined to pick up on any initiatives where they’ve not already bought into the ideas.

He’s made life very difficult for the Lib Dems as coalition partners, and for his PM too. Cameron has been clever in avoiding some of the hostility he might have expected, taking care not to go out on a limb. By giving Gove his head he’s done himself damage. He needs a radical in the cabinet to keep his right-wing happy, but put simply he’s cut his education minister too much slack and he’ll regret it.

Language and attitude do Gove no credit. We don’t like his language and even fewer of us will want his policies now.


I look around my study and wish I had more space for all the variegated spines and odd sizes, all the colour and fun of a well-organised book collection. Space is one problem, the other is the internet. Without the internet, I’d have been more ruthless, spent more time in moving out some of the older books, the memories, the must-read-sometimes, and made certain I had in here the essential reference, all those reliable vade mecums which you know will give you the hard information – on a politician or poet, an idea, a simple fact – that these days you can get online.

What you gain with the internet is serendipity, there’s always something to surprise you, or make you think differently. What you lose is a sense of order, as you build a library as an extension of your ideas and interests, pieces in a jigsaw mirroring the jigsaw in your mind. Not one that’s ever remotely completed, sometimes hardly started, but there is a sense of order and indeed development there and for just that reason what you think or write makes better sense.

Ah, but the internet is free, you say. My rejoinder: you’ve a choice between what I could call bright happy chaos, that doesn’t cost you a sou, and something of more substance, with your library the mirror of your mind, your study the fulcrum. Make the internet your mirror and you may briefly be happy, but you’re lost.