Monday, 19 June 2017

So Bad It's Bad

Southampton hoarding

On Saturday night we attended a concert by some young Finnish "jazz" musicians (no, wait, don't go yet...) which was pretty good. In the main, anyway: sooner or later, it must dawn on most contemporary musicians that an over-excitable drummer is not an asset, and will drown out everyone else with their crash, bang, ta-ting, ba-dump, maniacal walloping of the skins. Either do without – maybe try tapping a foot? – or sit him in the corridor outside. And I speak as the direct descendant of two generations of semi-pro drummers.

I have a soft spot for Finns, ever since falling for the inimitable photography of Pentti Sammallahti, and dealing with an excellent Unix computing support person at work named Mika, whose English, patience, and expertise all outstripped mine by some margin. Their language is a mystery on a par with Basque, though, and their names similarly unmistakable and unique: our evening's entertainment was provided by the Alexi Tuomarila Trio and the Pohjola/Louhivuori Duo. Nothing too remarkable – they play standard Euro-jazz to a high level of competence – but it was a very stimulating evening, with only a little tinnitus to trouble me afterwards.  Trumpeter Verneri Pohjola is particularly good, I think, with a fine control of tone, dynamics and range. We also got two free CDs into the bargain.

So the title of this post has nothing to do with them, as such. Breathe easy, my Finnish friends! One day, I hope to visit your beautiful country in the far, far north. Probably during daylight hours. No, I'm referring to some artwork on display in the foyer of the concert venue, which was breathtakingly bad. Truly, madly, deeply awful.

Now, I try not to leap to judgement where artwork is concerned. It's a good principle in life, generally, isn't it? Judge not, lest thou be judged, an' that. But I find, with age, my first impressions are increasingly reliable, especially the one that goes, "WTF?? LOL!!" with a little emoticon of a face pushing fingers down its throat.

Sometimes – when you're in a country pub or restaurant, say – you will come across a little gallery of work by local Sunday painters in a room out back, which is usually forgivably mediocre. Swans on a pond, floral still-lifes, some by-the-numbers abstracts, even the occasional disturbing revelation of mental illness. But it's nice to see people trying, and having the courage to show their work in public. Or perhaps at the Open Day of your local 6th-form college there wil be some bold coursework on show, but understandably derivative and technically lacking, the result of a combination of low expectations and teaching that values expression over technique. There's always something a little melancholy about such displays, though, each one a little parable about the universal discrepancy between ambition and talent, reach and grasp, intention and result. We can't all be Rembrandt, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't aspire to be, and even Rembrandt will have kicked many a canvas across the studio in despair.

But: if the work on display is by students at a prominent regional art-school – oh, just to pick a name at random, say, the Winchester School of Art? – I think you are entitled to be outraged by a complete absence of anything of value, whether it be expression or technique, irony or sincerity, use of colour, shape or line, or even basic competence.  I mean, just look at these sad, sad things:

Isn't it ironic – tragic, even – that the  20th-century reaction against the refined polish of 19th-century "academic" painting has led to this? Why would anyone attend art school, in order to produce such negligible efforts? Why would anyone compromise the reputation of their institution by putting it on public display?

It was not without some further sense of change 'n' decay all around, then, that I saw a display of poster work on Sunday afternoon from the Shell Collection, which is currently being exhibited at Mottisfont Abbey. How exciting it must have been, in the 1920s and 30s, to see such bold graphical work from young artists just coming into their prime. It's hard to imagine just how you would go about finding anyone capable of accepting such a commission now.


Paul Mc Cann said...

+1 on the drummers. They are inevitably too loud with amateur and semi pro groups. At a wedding recently the group and the singer were bad enough but the drummer drove me out of the room.
Should be strangled at birth

Mike C. said...


Hmm, I take your point, but probably hard to spot a drummer at that stage of development... Also, by that logic, I would not be here!


Martin said...

Enjoyed the Mottisfont exhibition, a good deal. Where did you see the Finns, Turner Sims?

Mike C. said...


Yes, indeed, where else do you get to hear Finnish jazz? Apart from Finland, of course.


amolitor said...

The Finns, I am fond of pointing out, birthed the sniper with the largest number of confirmed kills. By some astronomical margin, simply clobbering the heroic modern Americans in this dubious metric.

You have to be completely batshit to invade Finland, as it is full of Finns. The Soviets took a mighty swing at it anyways and paid an astounding price for every inch of snowy desolation they conquered.

Mike C. said...


Truly, I can't count the number of times the convivial conversation has turned to sniper kill stats!