Prole Art Threat

I have found it difficult to make art in a pandemic, it is difficult to consider the idea of art when so many people in the world are suffering and when you realise that the industry that drives the thing you spend your life engaged with, might only ever be within the grasp of those small amount of people now ruling the world. ‘Ordinary working people’ do not have original visual art in their lives, just look at Rightmove, the incidence of original visual art in homes outside of London is very low. Most of us get our art from municipal galleries and museums, the experience of which is a little like being allowed into the homes of rich people from the past and often is. It is possible to book a visit to Manchester Art Gallery for a socially distance walk around to see how some museums are trying to confront these issues. It is easy to detect efforts to reposition and re contextualise the collection. Among the usual gathering of colonial wealth and privilege are many more pastoral scenes, of working life, farming, families, people in cafes, dragged up from the vaults to punctuate what is, as in most municipal art galleries, a sort of visual history of rich people. In addition, they have bought the keyworkers print by Craig Oldham and Sonia Boyce’s multi-channel filmed performance takes on even more relevance when everyone is wearing a mask. It is an uphill task for a museum to be classless when its foundations are so compromised. After my visit, I found myself wondering about a ‘peoples art,’ and what that might be. I tasked myself to find a working class drawing and came up with this by Edward Woore, pencil on paper circa 1900. He was linked to the arts and crafts movement and a member of the guild of master glass painters and therefore passes the working class test, although he may just have been one of those privileged Victorians that became fascinated by working class culture, a bit like middle class people now, buying workwear jackets from the past to wear formally. In the drawing, poverty is cast as a figure, skeletal and in chains, he, and it is he, wears robes like the grim reaper in Ingmar Bergman’s Seventh Seal. The man being stared at is week with hunger and clutches what seems like a piece of bread, he is gaunt and desperate, gripped with worry, terror even. There is a painting hanging on the wall behind the man, as if he is a man of means who has hit on hard times. It is interesting to consider if there is such a thing as working class art and to think about what characteristics it might have and how to measure that. Perhaps the BBC could ask Vic Reeves and Grayson Perry to team up and investigate. Man with chip, riding third class on a one class train.

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