Art bringing people together

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I’ve been to a couple of galleries recently, the British Art Show is in Leeds and my good mate Phil Dean continues to interpret the world around him through his delightful sketches.  It’s got me thinking a little bit about art and whether it brings people together.

My dad used to love to sketch and as his mobility declined liked nothing better than getting himself sat comfortably with a nice view where he’d either sketch or get the watercolours out.  When people saw him they would often drift over and have a look and my dad would invariably draw them into conversation.  I was really reminded of this when we were in Malaga recently watching the way Phil would quickly capture a scene wherever we happened to be.  He also does it in a way that does not distract from whatever else we are doing, happily chatting away enjoying some food and drink whilst at the same time sketching.  He will then often continue to work on and embellish the picture throughout the day, adding little flourishes and touches.

I’m no artist so resort like many of us to snapping a few photos on my phone but I think I have always struggled to adapt to the taking a photo of everyday things, is it intrusive ?  I feel uncomfortable with it lots of the time, there is sometimes an element of slyness,  furtiveness or voyeurism using a camera to capture an image that standing openly and drawing is the antithesis of, it’s transparent, people can come and look at what you are doing and in doing so give their approval (or otherwise of course).  What I noticed when Phil was doing this was how much people enjoyed it, someone taking the time to sketch their town, it didn’t matter what part of the town the sketch was in people wanted to have a look.

In looking it brought a smile to people and this was universal in whatever bar we happened to be in and on one occasion a waiter thrust a takeaway bag under Phil’s nose for him do draw something on.  We got chatting to numerous people, our lack of Spanish and their lack of English becoming irrelevant as the sketches of their town elicited a warmth that made us feel very welcome wherever we went, the art becoming a bridge between us.

This simple bringing of people together over someone’s drawings contrasts to the most part of my experience of galleries – they bring people in but do they bring people together ? Most galleries seem to actively discourage conversation you seem to have to look, contemplate internally and nod sagely.  I can’t imagine that this is what artists would have wanted when they were creating their art, surely they would have wanted interaction, comment, reaction and discussion not silence and sterility.  Maybe we are just scared of saying the wrong thing, of showing our ignorance in not ‘getting’ the work that we are looking at.

However even in galleries connections are sometimes made, while we were in the Centre of Contemporary art in Malaga looking at Ai WeiWei’s Zodiac Heads, Andrew got chatting to this elderly gentlemen who was staring in total wonder.  He was so awed by it he simply said I don’t want to leave this place.  A beautiful and powerful example of the transformative power of art.

Stephen Fry in a talk about art said the following:

Oscar Wilde quite rightly said, ‘All art is useless’. And that may sound as if that means it’s something not worth supporting. But if you actually think about it, the things that matter in life are useless. Love is useless. Wine is useless. Art is the love and wine of life. It is the extra, without which life is not worth living.

I love that sentiment and wholeheartedly believe it to be true, but in watching Phil sketch across the weekend it took on a different meaning, art is the extra, the addition to life and in creating it you can enhance people’s lives and bring people together, however fleetingly and put a smile on their face.

All the artwork on this page is from Phil Dean drawn on our recent Malaga trip.  Go check out his sketching site shoreditchsketcher

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Summer Photo Fun 2015 – Week 7 – Odd


We finished this year’s summer photo fun with the kids choosing odd as the theme.  This summed up the summer quite nicely for me as for reasons that I’ve never quite got my head round Leeds decided to opt for a 7 week summer holiday this year for schools instead of the normal 6.  Apparently next year it will be 5, no idea why, as I say odd.

When people tweet me their photo interpretations they often put a little explanation in with the tweet, I never use this on the blog posts as I like the photos to tell their own story and when they are all placed together in a gallery you get a better overall effect I think than single photos with an explanation.  Also I like people to look at the photos and either figure out what the taker was thinking or perhaps to see their own interpretation within the image.  This week though with odd I did think about putting up the explanations as there is indeed some odd photos and interpretations, but then I thought naaaaargh just go with it.  So here it is an odd gallery indeed.

Also an apology from me, I struggled a bit to get the blogs up on time this summer, primarily just because I’ve been busy, you know life getting in the way, and this post is a typical example as it’s two and half weeks after the end of the holidays.  Tardy indeed.  It’s also been an interesting summer photo fun as I look back over it with some weeks really capturing the imagination and lots of people taking part while other weeks barely seemed to get off the ground.  I’ve no idea why this was, maybe people are bored with it after a few years of doing it?  I suspect there’s no real rhyme or reason to it which is always part of the fun, you put the idea out there and see what happens.

I’d really like to thank everyone who has joined our good ship photo fun, it was my eldest who came up with the idea a few years ago and while I pull it all together they still come up with all the themes.  I love every photo that comes in as each simple photo and tweet is a connection made across time and space and there is something beautiful about that as far as I’m concerned.  Cheers from me and the kids.

Summer Photo Fun 2015 – Week 6 – Culture

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I’m strangely fascinated by the word culture – what is it, what does it mean, what connotations are there when it’s used so it was a great theme that the kids picked for the penultimate theme of this years summer photo fun.  As always the photos that you contributed to the week I think showed many sides to that word culture which I think goes to show what a confusing word it is.

the arts and other manifestations of human intellectual achievement regarded collectively.

the ideas, customs, and social behaviour of a particular people or society.

maintain (tissue cells, bacteria, etc.) in conditions suitable for growth.

A long time ago I went to university, all I actually learnt was one key thing – definitions are vitally important, if you don’t define what you mean by a certain word then confusion, misunderstanding and misinterpretation is the guaranteed result.  Culture is a great example of this covering as it does some stuff floating about in a petri dish or opera (some might argue they are the same thing of course).

So while the gallery does not bring us any examples of the third definition I think we’ve got the first two covered.  I particularly liked ‘Pub Culture’ at the top of the post a photo that is full of possibilities and questions and the more I look at it the more I see and question.  Take a moment and have a good look and think.

As always thanks so much to everyone who contributed, this week made me think a lot.  Do let me know what you thought and also I’d be interested to know what culture means to you.

Amsterdam Movement


Lithe, easy going, effortlessly gliding; understated coolness moving to a different beat.

Water ever present adding it’s own shimmering, chugging splashes to the palette of the cities movement.

Like looking into the ever changing flickering flames of a late night outdoor fire I find myself hypnotised by a city that flows like no other.

Trams snaking through the middle of ancient streets, utter modernity alerting you to their presence with a timeless 1920’s bell.

A progressive political and social heartbeat, tolerant, boundaries pushed outwards in art, philosophy, architecture, enlightenment shining through still.

I adjust to it’s rhythm, thought processes slowing but clearer, more space as my mind relaxes, body too in no rush, gentle movement and wandering seems the best pace.  Natural not forced and I instantly feel the better for it.

Then I join the flow, turn the pedals, relax and just journey randomly taking the temperature of it’s perpetual movement of which I’m now part.

I stop at a canal-side cafe and settle into the Dutch state of being, gezellig.  Time for my pen to move and distil thoughts.  I sit and watch trying to work out how to capture the moment and the movement that aligns with my soul.

Summer Photo Fun 2015 – Week 5 – Movement


The 5th theme of summerphotofun that the kids picked was movement and what I really liked about the interpretations this week was actually some of the stillness where movement was implied.  I thought the chess photo was a great example of this, a game that involves the movement of pieces and has your inner brain in constant movement as it thinks through all the machinations available and yet if you watch it it’s a game of stillness.  The photo of Jeremy Corbyn was also a clever interpretation of movement and of course there was some lovely photos of all sorts of a different types of actual movement.

The photo at the top however I thought was a fantastically joyful of interpretation and also captured summer perfectly.  I’m sure we can all remember that youthful excitement and exuberance of summer trips to the beach, charging through dunes down to the glistening see and splashing in.  As adults simply dipping our toes in the water around these isles can be icily numbing but as children that never seemed to matter did it, just charge in, wrapped in big towels afterwards, sand sandwiches, ice creams and happy days.  This photo brings all of these memories to life for me.

Huge thanks as always to all who contributed this week, click on the gallery and you can scroll through the photos in their full size.  Do let us know which ones you liked.

Summer Photo Fun 2015 – Week 4 – Angle


After the sparseness of week 3’s smooth the theme of Angle picked by the kids for week 4 seemed to appeal to people much more this week.  Of course wherever you look you cannot help but see angles in the built environment all around and there were some great examples of this.  I also really liked the interpretation of things seen or taken from a different angle.

I’m keeping the post short while I catch up after being away but I really loved the photo at the top of one of Anthony Gormley’s Land figures on Lundy Island.  The figure of is one of four that have been commissioned as part of the 50th anniversary of the landmark trust.

Many thanks for all who contributed, click on the gallery and you will see the pictures in full size and you can scroll through them.  Do let us know what are your favourite interpretations.

Summer Photo Fun 2015 – Week 3 – Smooth


After last weeks wonderful splash of colour this week the kids chose smooth for the theme.  I thought that this theme would carry on from last weeks with lots of wonderful interesting interpretations but strangely only a few photos came in.  Not sure whether everyone was away on holiday or whether the theme simply didn’t appeal.  One of the things I’ve found very interesting over the last couple of years we have been doing our photofun themes is that you simply can’t second guess either how people will interpret the themes or which themes capture people’s imagination.

Even thought we didn’t get many interpretations this week it was still great to see the different ones that did come in and I thought that the slide picture was simply perfect.