Bob and Roberta Smith’s Art Party is due to open on 21 August. The feature film, produced with director Tim Newton and Stuart Cameron of Crescent Arts, and distributed by Cornerhouse Artist Film, will be accompanied by a UK-wide Art Party hosted by key venues who are screening the film and hosting their own parties afterwards. There will be major art events at venues including Cornerhouse, Manchester, ICA, London, Chapterhouse, Cardiff and Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough – joined by cinemas, art galleries and art schools across the UK from Derry to Exeter, Newcastle to Margate, Liverpool to Leeds. Bob and Roberta Smith speaks to Aesthetica about the important role of art in education.
A: Can you outline where the initial idea for Art Party came from?
BRS: When The Coalition was formed in 2009 I was concerned that the “coalition agreement” would supersede any manifesto promises the Tories and Liberals had made. My worries quickly became reality as student fees were tripled and Michael Gove saw an opportunity to attempt a series of education reforms that many feel have been retrograde. The spark to do something was odd and seemingly unrelated. I got upset the weekend Amy Winehouse died (23 July, 2011). Amy was a talented working class kid who was given opportunity through state education. Also that weekend Anders Behring Breivik massacred 77 young people and Lucien Freud died. It’s unfair to connect in anyway the activities of the Education Secretary with any of this but I just felt in the midst of so much creativity and potential being wiped out people needed reminding that creativity and innovation brings hope. I wrote the first draft of my letter to Michael Gove that weekend, which I later made into a painting: Letter To Michael Gove. It has been marched down Whitehall, and been exhibited up and down the country. The message of the letter points out the Education Secretary’s failings but it is essentially a hopeful message. The Art Party has grown out of the spirit of the Gove letter that art is about freedom of expression so let’s celebrate it better.
A: Why do you think art in education is so important?
BRS: Human beings are copyists. Generations of families do similar professions or jobs. I am afraid we mimic our parents. We dress like our friends. We admire those we like and seek to emulate them. We see and we learn. A lot of this is about looking, looking at images and putting words to them. Looking leads to understanding. Gove is not wrong to seek to make education more rigorous but by diminishing the arts and expressive understanding he is disabling teachers in THE key route to childhood development i.e., visual understanding. Both my parents taught art in art schools. My parents were working class kids who were hugely intelligent and were able to transform their lives through education and art. For Britain to remain dynamic and innovative people like my parents should be encouraged, not told their subject is second rate.
A: Do you think artists are responsible for challenging social policy and politicians?
BRS: I think the artist’s role is only about questioning. Asking questions is what art is about. If you are making poetic or abstract art, art is no less about asking questions. My artistic hero’s are mainly women because their art is all about challenging received politics ideas. Frida Khalo is a huge figure for me. She embodies the idea that the personal is political. We are shaped by the world around us and reflect that back in our actions. Louise Bourgeois is another powerful, angry, but virtuosic political artist. But also Picasso’s Guernica and more obvious propagandistic art like John Heartfield’s war time collage-works put politicians under the spot light.
A: Why did you feel film was the best medium to express these political ideas? Why not painting?
BRS: If George Orwell was alive now he would not be writing essays, he would be making films and posting them on You Tube. Tim Newton, my collaborator in Art Party, made a film of a flash mob I organised to protest against the sale of a Henry Moore public sculpture by Tower Hamlets Council. In the Flash mob we dressed as the sculpture, donning green dresses and sat outside the council offices. The film proved that we did this. The film records the event just as it was. Watch the film and you see for your self sensible people angry that their property is being sold off to fund an incompetent council department. In film the audience can have a window into the action. Art Party is not propaganda. We don’t want to tell people what to think, but just to think. In Art Party lots of artists present their views. They have many different ideas on why art is important, and the film allows these views to be aired and for the viewer to come to their own conclusions. The movie also marries fictional drama with the documentary aspects. We want everyone to enjoy the film. We hope we have made the piece fun and joyous but also thought provoking and inspiring. There is also some great music and it’s filmed beautifully.
A: What would you like to see change as a result of the project?
BRS: I hope the impact of the film is that parents who see it will encourage their kids to choose art at school; the young people who see it to form bands like Jemma Freeman; people will write poems and letters to Micheal Gove; for teachers to feel someone is on their side; for artists to feel a sense of community and non-artists go to galleries and buy a pencil. I really hope Michael Gove comes to his senses and realises that all subjects in schools have to be taught with the same force. There can be no second rate subjects. In a digital age making information into images and objects is essential. I hope Michael Gove, the Labour party and their liberal counterparts take the arts more seriously and realise art and culture is part of all of us. We need to encourage our children to study the arts and be all they can be.
To find out more about Bob and Roberta Smith’s Art Party, visit http://tinyurl.com/mf6ogp6.
1. Letter to Michael Gove, courtesy of Bob and Roberta Smith.