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John Singer Sargent as a painter of the aristocracy


To be an art critic is to take a lonely path
Brian Sewell Writer
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It is a lonely path, and I knew that, right from the very beginning. If you are going the other way, you are going it alone. And I’m constantly going the other way. I look at the big figures of the contemporary art world, and in my mind, compare them with the big figures of the past. And make a judgement. How have you got here? You’ve got here because you’ve been supported by critics who’ve never been able to go back on their opinion, never reversed. You’re… because they’ve always supported you, you are followed by the Arts Council and the British Council. You have no idea, unless you’re in the business, how hugely influential these two bodies are. They determine who shall become a national figure. The British Council determines who shall become an international figure. And with that nationalism and internationalism, comes money. Money in vast quantities. There are artists who now command millions for a single picture, and they got there because of this combination of critics in support, and then the institutions in support. We all laugh at the Turner Prize, but that Turner Prize establishes artists who have no business to be established, they are so bad. That prize is given every year. Nobody on the Tate Gallery committee for the Turner Prize has ever said, we didn’t get a suitable entry this year. There was nothing good enough worth 25,000 quid. There was nothing worth the fuss and bother of the party and the exhibition and all the rest of it.

The whole machinery of the Turner Prize is thrown away on a rubbish artist. Whereas it would be so good if they just said, there was no-one this year, so we’re holding back the funds. They don’t do that. They should.

Born in England, Brian Sewell (1931-2015) was considered to be one of Britain’s most prominent and outspoken art critics. He was educated at the Courtauld Institute of Art and subsequently became an art critic for the London Evening Standard; he received numerous awards for his work in journalism. Sewell also presented several television documentaries, including an arts travelogue called The Naked Pilgrim in 2003. He talked candidly about the prejudice he endured because of his sexuality.

Listeners: Christopher Sykes

Christopher Sykes is an independent documentary producer who has made a number of films about science and scientists for BBC TV, Channel Four, and PBS.

Tags: Arts Council, British Council, Turner Prize

Duration: 2 minutes, 45 seconds

Date story recorded: April 2013

Date story went live: 04 July 2013