Tag Archives: Brighton

The unfinished scribbles of Robert “wannabe Whistler” Goff

9 Feb

Ruskin once said Whistler was a coxcomb who asked two hundred guineas for flinging a pot of paint in the public’s face.  One could say something similar about etcher Robert Goff – who, as Brighton Museum so incessantly avows, is a poor man’s James Whistler.

Robert Goff, 1837-1922, is a Hove resident and monochromatic doodler, who has yet to appear in The Grove Dictionary of Art.  He went to the most majestic beauties of the imperial world and produced nothing but glum squiggles.  Egypt, Japan, Florence and Venice are depicted in the same humdrum manner as a field in Shoreham.  The Gothic spires of Westminster hold as much dull appeal as the boat next to it.  These transitory daubs must have meant something to someone some time but have no resonance, emotional or otherwise, now.

The curator’s side-comments don’t help.  They tell you: “The stark and imposing beauty of the pyramids is balanced by the sparse rendering of the sky.”  Above is a sketch of two large black triangles and underlying scratches.  Another caption praises Goff for adding “depth by placing small figures in the foreground”.  How do we know he didn’t just draw what he saw?  Another insists Goff “strategically places a sailing boat to create a focal point”.  What if the boat was just, y’know, there?

The whole exhibit is distinctly underwhelming.  Leave the museum and see the wanton beauty of Nash’s Royal Pavilion: compare this Regency-era creation of decadence with Goff’s dreary doodles, and you’ll see what I mean.   It is not the subject matter.  Sussex gales and English waters have inspired both the intensity of Turner and the wistfulness of Constable.  It is the artist.  Robert Goff, while technically skilful, stirs the soul very little.  If you are an artist, this matters.

Philosophers of art have written interminable theses on the definition of good art.  Very broadly, it is this: art is something that makes you go wow.  This doesn’t.  Don’t go.

Robert Goff: An Etcher in the Wake of Whistler, Brighton Museum, until 29 April.

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Person X brutally attacks person Y. Should X be punished?

29 Jan

Want to punch this man in the face? That’ll be £100 please mate!

A man viciously assaults a passer-by: he gets a £100 fine. A local refuses to fill in the 2011 census: £230 fine. All things aside, there is an injustice here, surely? If the government aims to punish in each case, why must the census-decliner pay more than the thug? All things aside, why is the former punished more than the latter?

I ask because I visited the law courts this week, and these two cases were side-by-side in adjacent courtrooms, like an exhibition on the Iniquity of British Law.

I watched the trial of the red-shirted, aforementioned rogue. He pleaded guilty to an unprovoked, drunken assault of a man  at a bus stop. We heard he biffed this bloke on the nose, knocking him to the floor, and delivered a “sustained assault”. The victim bore injuries to the face and ribs. Then the attacker said, verbatim, “Shall we call it quits mate?”

His defence was that he was drunk at the time, so he couldn’t remember exactly the details. I’m sure we’ve all had one of those nights!

The defence lawyer stood up and said that the lad did have a rotten upbringing. She then went on to describe his rotten upbringing. Heartening, I thought, but I wasn’t sure if it was entirely relevant to the matter of the ol’ brutal attack thing – remember that? I mean, if I were at the trial of Fred West, I don’t think a brief reading of Fred West’s autobiography by the defence lawyer would help.

The lawyer said he was one of those lads who is very pleasant and charming when he is sober, but just behaves differently when he’s drunk. I nearly choked on my cheese roll! Differently?!? You can say that again. And I’m not sure it’s much of a defence to say, “Well, he’s a real charmer to his defence solicitor!” I mean, he’s not going to go in with a middle-finger’d salute and say, “Eff you, you dirty cow!”

The solicitor then said something shocking, which changed everything. She said that her client could commit suicide if he were locked up or given a curfew. She said he had a history of self-harm, and there was a good risk of his topping himself.

Let’s pause here. I sympathise greatly with this man. He has endured a terrible upbringing, not tragic, but woefully humdrum in its hope-crushing poverty. I do not doubt his despair with the world or with his lot.

But I worry about the efficacy of granting points for mental insecurities. I am not wholly comfortable with the idea that markings to the wrist can be presented in court to let one off punishment. There I sat as the barrister reeled off a great list of psychological flaws: drinking problems, mental health disorders, suicidal tendencies. She did so, zealous for a lower sentence.

For few of them was there any evidence. After questioning from the magistrates, we find out he has never visited the AA, there is no doctor’s note and no evidence for any alcoholism, there is “no formal diagnosis” for his mental problems, and he has visited a mental health clinic only briefly, only recently – perhaps on the suggestion of his solicitor, perhaps not.

What then are we to make of his suicidal nature? That he has thought of giving up on the world? Very likely. That he expressed this to a lawyer? Very likely. That he expressed this with a blade? Likely. That he does this repeatedly?  Perhaps. That he did so once or twice some time ago? Perhaps.

One can’t be sure. But it struck me as sickeningly easy to proclaim, “I am so in danger of suicide, that I cannot be punished.” Answer this dark, unthinkable question. How many offenders have at one stage in their lives contemplated – even thought of – ending it all? How many offenders have had upbringings so tragic that the thought occurs? If it were law that we could never punish these guilty men, how many would walk free?

In any case, the sentence was up. Six months’ community order for an unprovoked attack. That meant supervision, anger management classes and mental health classes. There was no curfew, no drinking ban, no prison. The only punishment I could see was the £100 fine, which – since he was on benefits – meant that the government still paid him for his crime, but slightly less than they would’ve done.

Since he had £400-worth of outstanding fines for previous convictions – harassment, possessing cannabis, battery – the court was prepared to let him pay by docking from his benefits £5 a week. So, if we are honest, there is no punishment. Does this matter? I think it does. Even if one is not of a vindictive nature, it leaves one with a foul feeling in one’s gut. I call that injustice.

The illiberal streak in the Liberal Left.

20 Jan

Clause 23. Thou shalt be free to speake unless thou rantest against gypsies on facebooke.

A gran has been fined £300 for a Facebook rant this week. Granted, the subject was gypsies, and granted, she said some pretty unpleasant things. Here is a selection of things she wrote on a Facebook page:

This [sic] scum needs to be moved out now or there will be big problems. […] Pikey filth. They cause trouble wherever they go. They are filthy, conniving thieves who think nothing of conning or robbing old folk.

Pretty abusive stuff, really. But is state-sanctioned prosecution really necessary?

The reply usually is that it is offensive: she has gone out of her way deliberately to upset people, and she should be punished for doing so. But what sort of society is it that punishes people for giving offence? A free society is one which lets its citizens speak uncomfortable truths. Change can only come when we listen to such truths.  If offence is caused, so be it. Imagine for a moment that – this is highly implausible, I know – I were to unleash a savage diatribe against the rich. Imagine I were to write something like this:

These scum need to be moved out or there will be big problems. White, middle-class filth. They cause trouble wherever they go. They are filthy, conniving thieves who think nothing of conning or robbing poor folk.

Imagine if a rightwing government were to fine me £300 for being abusively offensive.  A good thing, no? After all, a fine should deter me from my prejudice and from my upsetting people.

What is the different between these two rants? I can hear the Left mounting their defence now. It is ethnicity, of course. The point is not about offence but ethnic relations. To be prejudiced against an ethnic group is vile; to hurl abuse at the wealthy is mere immaturity. I can accept that. What I don’t accept is the conclusion that we should fine people for offending people, even if they do belong to an ethnic community.

I return to the question. Why fine her? “She is inciting racial hatred.” Claptrap. Are we to believe people will read her rant, then grab the nearest pitchfork and head down for a ceremonial traveller-burning? Phooey. It is more likely that my banker-bashing – call it “inciting rich-based hatred” – will impel a riot that causes the death of one banker. In any far-fetched case, who would be responsible? The rioter, surely, not the writer. If words lead to actions, prosecute the actions, not the words. A pre-emptive measure would punish a crime that hasn’t happened. Which is precisely what “racial hatred” laws do.

Moreover, if she can be charged for inciting racial hatred, then so can I. So can The ArgusI have re-printed word-for-word what she wrote – and what’s more, have backed her. If the crime is in the words, then I am a guilty man.

Ultimately, this is a question of freedom of speech. Fining someone for expressing a view – albeit an ugly view – does nothing but stifle debate and silence dialogue. So evidently foul and disturbing I found this, I was shocked when the people of Brighton told me the fine was “absolutely right”. Having sought their views on the street, I was told, “This abhorrent woman should be fined.” I was told she should’ve been fined more! I was told that she should’ve been locked up!

This from a city that is more wet-liberal than a mackerel in the bath. I would call them bien pensants if they didn’t think so poorly. These are, after all, folks who moan ceaselessly about kettling, about the erosion of liberty, about anti-terror legislation, about 42 days, control orders, eviction notices, about the power to say what you like as coarsely and as freely as possible. Yet all that goes out the window on the mention of gypsy prejudice!

What modern society expects is that no-one is to hold these opinions. So no-one is to allowed to think them, or at least – they can think them, but they cannot express them. Does this conquer prejudice, or does it force it underground? Do state penalties cause one to become enlightened – will £300 imbue one with greater moral reasoning capacities? – or is it possible that the prejudiced will remain just as prejudiced, but slightly more bitter?