Letters: 14th September 2014

A maimed horse

In Malta a huge number of individuals consider themselves art experts and presumptuously and profusely present their views in the local papers. Very often such articles do more damage than good.

To add insult to injury the level of art criticism is equally poor, sometimes miserable. Let me first start with an article in the Sunday Times written by the in-house art critic with regard to the LifeCycle event to generate funds. The subtitle read “a collection of paintings are being sold” etc. There was not one painting exhibited and the whole event was meant to promote hand printmaking. Nothing was mentioned about the value and importance of handprints, which are very different to offset prints or digital prints glorified under the fancy title giclee prints.

No concern about the history of printmaking. No distinction between an aquatint and a screenprint, just a brief pretty description concerning the subject of each image. The article did not even serve for people to go and visit because it arrived well after the exhibition was over. Now let us come to another example which has become more fashionable, that is, writing about art concerning more ‘cerebral’ expressions. David Schembri writes an introduction to the article in the Circle that ‘A horse with a missing leg is just what the country needs’.

We already have a country run by headless people, so I doubt if a missing leg contributes anything further. He equates this to the new gate-less entrance of Valletta or the theatre that has no roof.

Surely there is nothing maimed in Renzo Piano’s project and I assumed that sufficient explanations have been given for such decisions. David refers to this horse as incomplete, instead of as maimed. If it were incomplete the whole rendition would have revealed a state of incompletion. The horse seems to be complete in its finished qualities, including a patina.

He continues that the answers will be found once you complete the missing limb of the horse. An ingenious interpretation. Therefore if John Grima’s Knights were presented with chopped heads, these would have added intellectual depth, like power is headless. Of course John Grima’s knights are most unsuitable, with or without heads. Nevertheless the horse as a theme is older and far more exhausted than the knights of Malta.

I struggled to understand what so far appeared to me much ado about nothing, so I read the artist’s statement, however, I remained more baffled. The entire statement is confusing, made up of incoherent phrases and incongruous references. For example the missing leg represents (the artist’s words): ‘it deals with absence or hidden presence,’ or ‘what interests me is the manicuring of the image’ or ‘the fact that we have no equestrian monuments is tangential to the whole concept’ or  again ‘I am looking for a prescribed reaction.’ – ‘I needed an established imagery.’

I do not think that a maimed horse would make people think wisely, because it is not just about simply thinking but it should serve at least to provoke and promote intelligent thinking. This is not about lateral thinking but more about lopsided thinking.

Today and for over a century artists have promoted themselves by being transgressive. The endless theme is transgression, which for many who have watched closely, the art scene has become a boring cliche. Artists will now do anything for attention, and attention is necessary to be identified. Chopping the horse’s leg is a violent act that calls for attention.

The headless Winged Victory of Samothrace stands majestically above a flight of stairs in the Louvre. The missing head does not add value or meaning to this artwork because it permeates meaning independent of its physical condition, though Yves Klein attempted a provocation by casting a copy of it in blue glass.

We live in a time where everybody seeks attention, an era of the selfies, and it seems that not only people make use of art to achieve this but others, like art critics borrow from that attention to get some for themselves.

We deserve art criticism that monitors the local art scene scrupulously, responsibly and knowledgeably. The responsibility of an art critic is there to distinguish the false from the real and to identify charlatanism. The art critic can instruct and lead people to think more openly and maturely. It is about opening the horizons because in art they are infinite.

Paul Camilleri, Guildford, UK

Will ‘snake oil salesman’ Salmond wreck both the UK and Scotland?

The latest opinion polls have put the Yes vote marginally leading in the Scottish referendum on independence, flying in the face of all logic and common sense.

The break up of the UK would be a disaster for Britain and Scotland, and would cause chaos in the currency market, with a run on sterling. This would also affect economic and even political stability in the EU.

Undoubtedly British politicians from the major parties have handled this whole matter with unerring incompetence, starting with the grinning egomaniac, Blair, who made all this possible. The contributions made by Scots to the past achievements of Britain is enormous, and they are well spread still in the Commonwealth and the world, as a result. My own ancestry has a Scottish side through my maternal grandfather traced back for 600 years, and there are many Brits with similar roots. Every British king or queen after Elizabeth the First has descended from Mary Queen of Scots, the Scottish Stewarts.

Sadly, a study of Scottish history illustrates an inherent ability to shoot themselves in the foot when it comes to home governance, through needless internal squabbles and rivalries.

Yet again Scotland is in danger of a massive own goal, carried away by the glib hard sell and impractical promises of a political clown, for whom reality plays no part. 

So let us look at some of the delusions which make up the wave on which according to polls, Salmond is surfing to victory:-

Oil.  Salmond’s “magic potion”. Oil production and revenues in the North Sea are declining, the OBR (independent Office of Budget Responsibilities) states that oil revenues have fallen by 7.8% pa since 1999, particularly since 2010. Forecasts to 2030 are all continuing the decline. Development costs have risen fivefold over the past decade. Oil and Gas UK, the industry body, informs that exploration is at an all time low. Salmond states blithely that no country got poor by having oil, and his party supporters claim vast reserves, with no substantiation and no one queuing to exploit. According to David Smith, Economics Editor of the UK Sunday Times, “Even with oil, Scotland runs a bigger budget than the rest of UK.”

Economics. Scotland’s high and still rising public spending is between 12% and 16% higher than the rest of UK, and Salmond’s wildly generous  promises threaten to increase this substantially. He has promised one billion giveaways!

The Scottish Nationalist government now predicts a deficit in 2017 of 3.2% of GDP, but independent assessors such as the Institute for Fiscal Studies, Citibank and others forecast 5-6%. Any uncertainties after independence would be sure to exacerbate the situation and push the deficit over 10%. The only way to pay for the promises will be through tax increases.

Currency.  Here is probably the most shocking, destructive and irresponsible part of Salmond’s policy. He has actually publicly threatened to refuse to honour the Scottish share of the UK public debt if not allowed to be part of a sterling currency union. This amounts to reneging on past debts, which would be a killer for the financial reputation of the “new nation”. The action of a banana republic. In fact the lack of preparation by Salmond for the currency planning is grossly negligent. Once Scotland had its own fiscal policy there could be no way it could use the pound because it could have no means of influencing its governance.

Business. It has already been predicted that most of the financial services industry, including major banks, would have to transfer to London. Surveys have shown that the larger industries would follow, although smaller dynamic companies might well stay and prosper – but the bridging period would cost thousands of jobs and much pain, partly through the loss of high tax payers, again leading to tax rises.

So why is this fantasy policy important to the rest of Europe?

Firstly because it is already common knowledge that the pitiless world’s FOREX dealers are poised for a run on sterling. A run on sterling of any magnitude will destabilise the world’s economies and could even launch a further world crisis. It would certainly damage Scotland. Secondly because a Yes vote would send out a destabilising message to Catalans, Basques, Flemings and others to lead to further unrest. Let us not forget that Italy only became a single nation less than 200 years ago, as did Germany. The borders of Poland, Denmark, Sweden, are relatively new; Europe does not need this to divert from the real problems we all face.

My hope is that the common sense of the Scots will finally see through the delusions of Salmond and his fantasists. The great Scotland does not deserve to end up as a “Banana republic of tax rises and turmoil” (UK Sunday Times).

Mike Turner, San Gwann