Is there an Artist in the House of Lords?
I recently stood in front of a painting by Frederick Leighton 1830-1896:
The fisherman and the syren in Bristol city Museum.
The gallery description of the painting starts with: “This early work was inspired by a poem by the German poet Johan Wolfgang von Goethe (Der Fischer) which tells of the story of a mermaid who rises from the waters to complain to a fisherman that he is enticing her children to death”
While, in my view, it’s an accomplished, albeit conventional and establishment piece I was interested in a line at the bottom of the description …” Leighton is the only artist to have been elevated to the peerage. At the early age forty-eight he became president of the Royal Academy and pillar of the Victorian art establishment”
This set me wondering if this was true, whether it had changed, who provides balance to debate in the House of lords and why it is that the creative Arts, Art and Culture and Artists specifically, seem to have been marginalised or at least underrepresented.
Researching the peerage records since the gallery description was written shows that Leighton is still the only Artist to have received a peerage which, considering that it is the Queen that bestows Life Peerages following recommendations by the Prime Minister or the House of Lords Appointments Commission, is not entirely surprising.
What is surprising is the lack of balance within the house of Lords. The majority of peerages are from a limited cross section of establishment bodies such as:
Political party chairmen
Directors of media outlets
Leaders from Justice and Policing
Former senior diplomats and press secretaries
These are then supported by what can only be seen as rewards for supporting the establishment, such as:
Chairman of Carpetright
Executive Chairman of DFS Furniture Company Ltd
Vice chairman of west ham united
CEO of PowderJect Pharmaceuticals
Chairman of JCB
Since 1958 peers representing the Arts has been in the form of just a few individuals (a total of 9 of which not one was or is an artist) which considering that the House of Lords comprises 300 individuals (240 appointees and 12 from the church) at first glance seems representative or appropriate to achieve a balanced view.
Peers that represent the Arts, are from the following fields:
Broadcaster and author
Film director, Film producer
Actor, novelist, film director and screenwriter,
Honorary Professor of Creative Leadership at seven Universities
Owner of an advertising agency
Former associate producer at the Royal Shakespeare Company,
Philanthropist, author, social reformer, rabbi,
It is hard to place a value of what Art, Art and culture and Artists bring to the world perception of UK but on pure economic grounds they provide £100bn/year to the UK economy of £2300bn i.e. just 4%.
On a pro rata basis this should result in 12 peers at any one time representing the Arts and not 9, however the Arts council (in the cebr report of 2015) identified that £12bn is specifically and directly attributed to Artistic activity and this would then result in 1-2 artists at any one time.
However, given that the perception of UK as a place of Artistic, Cultural, Sporting, Scientific, Research, Literary and Theatrical/Cinematic excellence it is even harder to understand why, even in just mathematic terms that since 1878 ( 142 years and over 1000 peer appointments )there has just 1 Artist peer and not at least 5 .
I suspect that those involved in Art would find it impossible to agree just on who should represent them and the need to constantly focus on developing one’s art makes any involvement in anything other than art difficult to sustain. It is also difficult to assess how respected an artist is by others outside the exceptional insular and fragile world of Art during their lifetime.
So, some thoughts in chronological order are:
Gill and Sickert would have been at their peak post 1914-18 war ,
Moore, Hepworth, Piper, Ravillious : All would have been 50 at the right period just after ww2,
Now: Anish Kapoor? (the man who copyrighted the use of Vanta black for his sole use?) would seem too self-obsessed and although working across the world doesnt seems to need anyone,
Those of the YBA Brit pack? possibly, but overproduction of work seems to indicate self-interest above philanthropy, although a Baroness Emin would be an exciting addition,
Recent Turner prize winners? too niche,
Grayson Perry? As irritating as I find the cult of the individual that surrounds him (and as a consequence, his art), he does seem to be an artist with a generous spirit, strong opinions on the role of Art in society, is willing to engage and would be respected by other peers.
So, to the question “is there an artist in the House of lords?” the answer is definitely no, but Lord Perry of Chelmsford? I could see that.
Swindon Museum and Art Gallery: 2020 open photography competition
I recently submitted two photographs to the Swindon Museum and Art Gallery open photography competiton and had both accepted for the finalists exhibition.
Unfortunately the covid pandemic meant that both the private view and month long show where the public could vote for the winning photograph were cancelled.
To compensate SwindonMaG have created a virtual gallery on Instagram #swindonmag
Clevedon pier, 2019: a long exposure taken in rain so that sea and sky merge : £165 in 400x400 frame
Aftermath, Bristol night club, 2019 : where reality falls short of expectation : £165 in 400x400 frame
DM me if you want to buy either