Roger McGough in Ossett – Wakefield Literary Festival

September 20th, 2014

Roger-McGough

The word on the streets is that spoken word is the new heroin and that poetry gives the biggest high (wait until they try the Bettakultcha smack) and so when I heard that Roger McGough was going to make a personal appearance in Ossett as part of the Wakefield Literature Festival, I bought a ticket.

I was slightly anxious about the venue—Trinity Church—as cavernous churches do not lend themselves to good acoustics. I needn’t have worried though, a decent PA and a packed room full of textile-covered people meant every syllable could be discerned.

What I like about Roger McGough is his accessibility, he’s the recreational ‘gateway’ drug to harder stuff; what Banksy is to art so Roger is to poetry. It’s almost a misnomer to call it poetry, ‘rhyming jokes’ might be a better description. Don’t be fooled though, they’re jokes with razor blade edges, cutting deep into the psyche.

Roger looked fit and relaxed as he used his decades of performing experience to beguile and charm the audience. A well-balanced blend of light and shade characterised the early part of his set – the poem about the well-known Liverpool gangster (a true story) made the greatest impression upon me.

What’s weird about poetry readings is the space after the poem has ended. The audience’s reaction is to fill it with applause but Roger’s poems are short, so that would mean clapping every other minute. His experience showed through though and Roger almost conducted the audience’s response by effortlessly guiding them from one poem to another, every so often allowing a respectful pause for applause.

The latter part of his set played more on the comedic aspects of life and the jokes themselves were exquisite, I particularly liked the poem about Mr Blyton (husband of Enid) and him “reaching for her body, only to feel the velvet touch of Noddy” (I paraphrase from memory).  Such clever word play can be appreciated in a live setting, as Roger is meticulous in enunciating his crafted products.

On the down side (yes, the drug analogy again) his set lasted about an hour, he did a ten minute ‘encore’ then retired from the lectern without taking any questions. Nor did he emerge afterwards to mingle with the crowd (at least, not whilst I was still there). Has he not heard of ‘selfies’ and hobnobbing with the crowds? All the comedians seem to do it these days.

I also thought it was a waste to have such a large audience there (possibly two hundred) and not have any supporting acts. I have seen the Wakefield based, The Firm of Poets, and can attest to their quality – why were they not given a short slot? I also learned of the existence of the Black Horse poets that evening, one or two poems from them might have added to the variety of the event. Surely a Literature Festival is about promoting as much talent as possible? As much as I enjoyed Roger McGough I felt somewhat short-changed for my money. I’d given up my Saturday night to see him at an event; Roger turned up but the event failed to materialise.

Why I might unfollow you on Twitter

August 28th, 2014

unfollow

Apart from the bug in twitter that capriciously and secretly unfollows people for me, I do sometimes deliberately unfollow people.

You need to know why I follow people in the first place though to make sense of my unfollowings;

1. I want to get information

  • If I’m interested in a subject then I like people to link me to articles and stories that expand my knowledge of that subject. Thus, I will follow people who appear informed about the subject and who frequently share their sources of information.

2. I want my biases confirmed

  • I have a particular worldview and I look for informed support to validate that worldview.

3. I want my biases challenged

  • Any belief system can be judged by its ability to withstand criticism. My worldview does not include a denial of other systems— on the contrary, it welcomes informed comment and debate. However this does not include opinions, some kind of evidence is required to support any assertion.

4. I want to use the wisdom of the crowds

  • Quite often I can secure a service or piece of equipment through contacts on twitter so the people I follow often have large follower numbers or their biographies make them significant.

5. I want to be entertained sometimes.

  • Funny jokes, ideas, witticisms or images are a welcome break from the bad news and negativity that predominates my timeline.

So this is why I might unfollow you;

1. You don’t supply any information or insights.

  • I have limited time to spend on social media so I don’t want my timeline filled with pictures of cats, boasts of how busy you are or tales of how bored you are waiting in some queue. The odd tweet like that is excusable but not the vast majority.

2. I like to ‘work the room’

  • There are so many interesting people on twitter that I can’t possibly meet them all but that won’t stop me trying. Unlike some people who are following tens of thousands of people, I like to keep a manageable timeline and so trim it now and again. If a tweeter is limited in their benefits to me but they follow me back then I will be less inclined to unfollow them as the wisdom of the crowd criterion could still apply.

3. This relationship is going nowhere

  • Eventually, it becomes obvious there is no value in following someone – there is no interaction and no common ground anymore and their tweets are simply taking up space in my timeline.

If I unfollow you, it’s nothing personal (I’ll still say hello in real life if we’ve met before) it’s just that my social circle is evolving but limited in its capacity. If I have a disagreement with someone on twitter, that is not a cause for me to unfollow them, on the contrary, if their argument is sound then I’ll respect them even more.

I don’t use my twitter account for any specific goal so ultimately, it’s like talking to someone in a pub: if their conversation is predictable, monotonous, one-way or too technical for my interests, then I’ll excuse myself and look for another conversation.

Three important things that final year students need to do before they leave school.

August 22nd, 2014

Escape Children!

Education isn’t preparing students for the future. Homework is largely a waste of time and you don’t need to work hard to be a success—and that’s before I even get onto the three important things students need to learn.

I mean you can work hard to be successful if you really want to, but nobody wants to work hard do they? You want to have fun, so you want to play hard instead. I’m not playing with words here – the distinction is important, someone playing hard is far more productive than someone working hard— that’s a scientifically proven fact. So the trick is to get paid for doing something that you love doing, something that you would do for free if that were the only option.

Here’s my story about how I managed to make a living from doing something that I love doing. I only wish my school had taught me this stuff before I left, I could have gone so much further, much faster if they had. Don’t get hung up on the details here, I talk about art but I could just as easily be talking about performing music or designing apps. The principles are the same. Just apply the principles …

1. Make something happen.

In my case, it was a picture. But in your case it could be a website, a film, a rap song, whatever.

I made a picture. I was very young and there was nothing special about the picture. But I liked drawing pictures so I kept producing them. Then slowly people started to like my pictures and so I made more pictures that I spent a great deal of time on. I would have made these pictures anyway, even if other people didn’t like them, because drawing was what I loved to do. I discovered that if people can see you’re passionate about something, they tend to encourage you and this makes you want to keep doing it and so inevitably, you get a lot better at it. This is why homework is generally a waste of time. If you’re passionate about something you’re already doing it at home! If you’ve no interest in a subject, why extend the misery with homework? Homework should be optional at school.

So people kept encouraging me to draw. Eventually, a school friend asked me to draw a picture of his girlfriend. This was significant. People wanted my pictures now. In order to make sure he got his picture, my friend offered to pay me for it and in an instant the future had revealed itself to me: I could get paid to draw.

Now I played much harder. I actually wanted people to like my pictures – a lot, and they did! The harder I played the more they wanted to use my skill.

You see how this works? It’s a virtuous circle: the better you become, the more they want you.

2. Establish your network.

Make contact with people who can help you. These might be people who do what you do and can offer you advice or show you new techniques or they might be people with influence – these could be mentors or connectors or administrators. When you associate with like-minded people, you tend to absorb their ideas and you become more creative as a result. When you collaborate with them you become inspired to try new things and explore new territory so always look for opportunities to do that. By the way, this works in reverse too – if you mix with negative people you’ll become more negative as a result, so pick your group carefully.

After a time, people at school started to talk about my skill. As a kid, I didn’t realise how important this was; it was good for my ego of course but more importantly, it established me as some kind of expert – I was the ‘go to’ guy for any kind of artwork. Teachers would seek me out and ask me to take on artistic projects. This is crucially important if you’re going to make a career out of something you love doing; become the expert.

And something else happened; my art teacher introduced me to other members of staff who were interested in art. I cannot tell you how important this part of the process is – you’re increasing your network with people who can help you in a much bigger way. One of the teachers at school (who I didn’t take a subject with) was particularly keen on one of my pictures that I was working on. My art teacher had shown it to him whilst it was in progress and this teacher subsequently bought it. Don’t wait for others to take the initiative, be proactive where you can.

Pretty soon I was famous as an artist inside my school and that gave me a certain amount of license regarding my behaviour and artworks.

Then one day I had a life-changing experience.

I’d been exploring the works of dissident writers and artists as part of my voluntary homework and I decided to do a ‘protest’ picture (remember what I said about getting inspired by the things that surround you?). What I came up with was a portrait of myself in school uniform being hung from the neck by my tie. This was being officiated by a teacher dressed in an elaborate gown and witnessed by an orderly faceless audience. In the audience I had hidden an oblique reference to one particular unpopular teacher. It was a ‘dangerous’ picture executed with my tongue firmly in my cheek and my art teacher (unbeknown to me) decided to frame it and hang it in the school on a stair landing that experienced a lot of footfall. As I came down the stairs to the landing during a break I could see an excited crowd of students viewing something on the wall in a gleeful way. When I realized that they were looking at my picture and I had caused their excitement I knew then what I wanted to do with the rest of my life: entertain people.

It was assumed by everyone that I would leave school and go to art college, which I did. But this was a double-edged sword because art school opened my eyes to other possibilities within the creative industries and I became fascinated with film making and acting. My picture making suddenly got a lot more ambitious.

Now, it’s generally best to stick with one thing only if you want to achieve ’success’ as defined by society. If you become the best that you can be at this one thing, your dedication and talent will impress people. However, you should always be aware of what you need as a human being rather than what you think society expects of you. In my case, I was curious about the world and I wanted to explore EVERYTHING even if that meant doing some of the activities I undertook rather badly.

As soon as you dilute your talents, the level of financial success you can expect becomes diluted too. But you can define success on your own terms, so follow your own path if that makes you happy. By the way, despite what may happen to you at school, you should always remember that your parents, guardians and teachers—generally—want more than anything for you to be happy in what you’re doing.

So in my creative career I explored writing, film making, music, performance and comedy. I always had enough money to live on and I always had fun. And I’m still having fun. And still collaborating and increasing my network – curiosity and experimentation never stops (sign up to receive my podcasts to see what I mean).

3. Learn presentation skills.

My latest creative output called Bettakultcha, is a collaboration with various people and it’s an event consisting of enthusiastic people giving five minute talks illustrated with 20 slides that last 15 seconds each. I’m the compère of the event and after five years of doing it I’ve learned to be confident and relaxed on stage. With a lot of people being terrified of public speaking, having a skill like that is a passport into a lot of jobs. Everyone has to pitch ideas to other people at some point – sometimes you’re not even aware that you’re doing it—if you’ve just discovered a new video game and you want to tell your friends about it so they’ll play it too, you’re pitching the idea to them. The same applies to a company wanting to launch a new product in the market place, someone has to pitch the idea to an audience that is usually spoilt for choice. And here’s a startling prediction: by the year 2020 – that’s like five years away – 50% of the working population of the UK will be self-employed. Think about that. 50%. That means half of you in any classroom right now will have to find your own work. Which means you’ll have to pitch for work. Now, if most of you have the same skill-set, how will a client decide on whom to give the work to? Maybe the pitch that inspired confidence, enthusiasm, efficiency, imagination, and good communication? And, right now, I don’t see these presentation skills being taught anywhere in schools, which means that if you learn them now, you’re already ahead of the game.

So to recap, these are the three things that you really need to know if you want to make a living from your skills:

1. Make something happen – when most people are passive consumers, this immediately makes you stand out from the others.

2. Build your network – find like-minded people, collaborate and share with them if you can, they’ll help you grow. Utilise your network – any chance you get for furthering your career, no matter how small, take it!

3. Learn presentation skills. Unfortunately, I learned this last crucial lesson too late to maximize on the opportunities that were presented to me earlier in life. Who is your biggest advocate throughout your life? You, of course, so it makes sense for you to be confident, articulate and concise when you want to impress someone who could be a future employer or patron of your talent. Being confident about yourself will be your biggest asset. The world is hypnotized and beguiled by confidence. If you remember nothing else from this post, remember that fact – confidence is conquest. But don’t confuse cockiness with confidence, that’s an entirely different thing.

Oh, and keep plugging away. The longer you stick at something, the luckier you will get and the breaks will fall for you. Talking of which, tell your instructors about me. Tell them you want me to speak in person at your establishment so you can learn more about making life rewarding and fun (see what I did there? Always be proactive).

Thanks for reading. Stay curious.

Bettakultcha Podcast

August 19th, 2014
Elly Snare, Lawrence Alexander, John Popham, Helen Harrop and Paul Smith.

Elly Snare, Lawrence Alexander, John Popham, Helen Harrop and Paul Smith.

The first ever Bettakultcha Podcast mostly recorded at the Beacons Festival – enjoy!

Why isn’t public speaking taken seriously?

July 14th, 2014

Lifebelt

I recently attended an award evening at the school my children go to and they had a motivational speaker in the middle of the prize giving.

He was an Olympic swimmer and he had fifteen minutes in which to tell the hundreds of children and parents how great they can be if they apply themselves.

His message (I garnered) is to be the best version of yourself that you can be and work hard to achieve that goal. By working closely with his coach, he told us, he had managed to reach the Olympics.

He began his speech by telling us that as he drove to the school, he’d changed his mind about what he was going to talk about and how he was going to approach the subject. He kept repeating bits of his story unnecessarily and had a nervous habit of fiddling with the microphone lead. There were lots of ‘ums’ and ‘ahs’ in his delivery and his fractured story ended in a muddled conclusion. He overran his time by a considerable margin and even commented upon the fact from the stage. He then mentioned (to my dismay) that he would be taking questions after he’d finished! I assume it was an alarmed disapproving look from the head that made him amend that statement to, he would be available for questions after the event if anyone wanted to ask him anything. I sensed some relief from the audience in the hot and stuffy assembly hall when he finished his speech.

The thing is this; throughout his speech he kept referring to his coach and how important he was in disciplining him and guiding him through his career. Presumably, he wouldn’t have got to the Olympics without a coach.

So why didn’t he have a coach for his speaking career? He said he travelled the country giving speeches so public speaking must be a career of sorts for him (I’m guessing that he doesn’t have a speaking coach because any decent one would have sorted out of his fundamental mistakes immediately).

I couldn’t help but compare his approach to speaking with his approach to swimming.

He changed his mind about his speaking strategy on the drive to the school - did he do the same before a swimming race?

He kept repeating bits of his story - when he was swimming in a race, did he think to throw in some unnecessary strokes or was he going to make every stroke count?

He didn’t seem aware of his nervous habits - did he not exhaustively study video footage of his swimming technique to discover where improvements could be made?

He didn’t read his brief - if he’s racing in the 100m butterfly, does he turn it into a 10,000m breast stroke just because he feels like it?

He was determined to be the best version of himself that he could be - except when he’s speaking, presumably?

As a professional speaker myself, these contradictions were glaringly obvious but I sensed that the audience, in the sultry heat, simply weren’t engaged with his narrative. I asked my daughter afterwards if she liked his speech and she shrugged her shoulders and said she wasn’t interested in sports. This told me everything I needed to know: the speaker didn’t realise that his sport story is meant to be an allegory for his much bigger message – be the best version of yourself that you can be. His technique needs to improve if he’s to compete in the race for the hearts and minds of school learners.

So why didn’t an Olympian realise that public speaking is a different field of excellence and that its skills can be learned? Why didn’t he know that experienced practitioners can help other speakers avoid basic errors? Every top sports-person has a coach, no matter how good they are, why is speaking so poorly regarded by many practitioners?

Anti-homeless spikes

June 10th, 2014

I got an email today that invited me to sign a petition calling for the removal of the Anti-Homeless spikes. As soon as I read it, all sorts of alarm bells started ringing.

Firstly, the spikes are a symptom, not the disease. Messing around with spikes misses the point. The point is; why are people homeless in the first place? Where is the safety net of benefits? What has happened to these people that they’ve fallen through the net?

Secondly, getting a petition up to bully a property developer to modify a part of their building sited on their land is hypocritical.

Now, my view on land ownership is this: you can’t own land you can only defend territory. The law is there to defend this territory. It’s not a perfect system but if everyone agrees to abide by a set of rules then I expect everyone to do so – without exception.

Of course, inequality is predicated on hypocrisy – the rich don’t play by the rules, they break them or ignore them – which is why banks have to be bailed out whereas anyone else would go bust. We all know this, which is why it is even more important that those fighting inequality adhere to the rules at all costs because if no one plays by the rules then we have chaos (anarchy is something entirely different and misunderstood).

If it is agreed that someone can buy a piece of land and do what they want on it (subject to approval from an official body), then that is how it should be for everyone. If a property owner wants to put a gate on their property, fine. If they want to put spikes, fine – it’s their property.

If you don’t like it, you should lobby your parliamentary representatives to change the law on land ownership. If you don’t like the idea of homeless people then you should lobby your parliamentary representative to do something about it (or ask them why it’s happening when it’s not supposed to). Setting up petitions to remove spikes is short sighted, misguided and achieves nothing in the long run. I’m disappointed in the activist group that precipitated this action, I thought they’d be cleverer than that.

And no, I won’t be signing their petition.

Soul Kitchen, Wardrobe, Leeds

May 6th, 2014

Menu

I was invited for a free brunch at this new venue. I know what you’re thinking ‘there’s no such thing as a free brunch’ and you’d be right; I was required to give feedback (see what I did there!) about the meal and write a blog post about my experience.

Firstly, let me congratulate Soul Kitchen for doing their homework – to talk directly to customers about their experiences is a strategy that is vastly underused in these days of algorithms and ‘like’ buttons, but it is surely the best way to get a true reaction from people.

They are aiming their brunch menu at people who’ve had a wild night out and in the late morning are looking for something to eat that won’t be too demanding on a delicate stomach so eggs feature prominently.

My first impressions weren’t too good when I looked at the menu. I wasn’t sure if it was ‘designed’ to look distressed or they hadn’t replaced their toner cartridge for a while. And you would think that with the success of programmes like ‘Masterchef’, the visual aspect of the food would be critical to enticing customers, but could I find a photograph of any of the dishes on offer? No, I had to use my imagination or hope to spot someone’s order being served and guess what it might be if I liked the look of it. Still on the menu, I’m not a fan of being a perpetual ‘gameboy’ constantly having to decipher cryptic clues from obtuse signage – what does ‘5.5′ mean: kilojoules, pounds, minutes? Imagine if road signs followed the same trend: ‘10 miles’ – yes, but to where!?

eggs

My beef with the menu turned to pulled pork with the meal and I started to calm down. I normally like my eggs firm but they were runny when they were served and I must confess, the meal tasted better for it. However, the wooden slates seemed an odd choice of serving tableware – as the runny yolk soaked into the grain of the wood my brain demanded ceramic plates.

As regards the meal, it fulfilled the venue’s brief perfectly: easy to digest, filling enough and comforting flavours. Coffee was good too.

Will, the man in charge on the day, came to my table afterwards with his notebook in hand and chatted with me. I mentioned everything I’ve listed in this post to him and he actually seemed to make a note of what I said, so well done Will for going down this route.

Would I recommend to others? Yes.

Why climate deniers can safely be ignored.

January 25th, 2014

The loudest voices in the debate about climate change belong to the rich and powerful lobby groups representing the energy companies.

Why are they so against any legislation restricting the emissions of carbon?

It seems to be something to do with cost – not science or facts, but cost. They argue that climate change legislation will eat into their profits for no good reason. The ‘no good reason’ is a shill, of course.

What they object to is someone else trying to appropriate revenues from the wealth of a nation. The multinationals feel that the existing wealth is carved up amicably enough between themselves and that no one else should be allowed at the table. These upstart environmentalists are siphoning off money for their own scams when that money could be flowing into the coffers of the energy companies.

So let’s look at the climate deniers objections:

i) the environmentalists are scamming the governments
even if they are, they’re only copying the business model of the banks. How come the climate deniers don’t make a fuss about them or tax evaders etc.? And isn’t it good to have a counterbalancing power in any system?

ii) the environmentalists are wrong
even if the long-term predictions prove to be inaccurate, the essence of the environmentalists message is ‘the polluter pays’. How can you argue against something as fundamental as that unless you’re a sociopath?

iii) it will all be for nothing
it’s a struggle to see how improving the health and sustainability of the planet is a waste of time. Ever.

So there you have it; however you look at the climate deniers arguments, ignoring them produces a win-win result.

The oil and gas companies are having their abusive empires threatened and they don’t like it, just like every abusive empire that has ever existed throughout history.

What have we traded?

January 21st, 2014

Hand

Consumerism is like a giant parasite latched onto our creativity.

When we were hunter-gatherers, we would experience novelty and adventure by moving territory and encountering new plants and animals, maybe other tribes, beautiful landscapes. We would look at what was on offer in the huge malls of the savannahs and tall forests until we spotted what we were looking for – bush meat. This was our bargain hunt! We’d hunt it down in adrenalin filled chases and despatch the animal in ingenious and daring ways.

Later that evening, we would rejoice in our successful shopping expedition by feasting on our catch and round the camp fire we would regale each other with stories of daring-do, of incredible displays of courage and show off the scars of our campaign. Later still, music and dancing would spontaneously be spirited out of the bones of the dead animals. The pounding rhythms and hypnotic movements shadowed by the dancing flames of the fire under the shimmering stars would intoxicate everyone.

Then some of the hunters would disappear into the bowels of a cave, armed with torchlight and pigments. Deep inside the rock, they would attempt to communicate with invisible others and tell them of their joy of living in the connected web of things.

Tens of thousands of years later we re-visit those caves and in the startling colours and lines, we uncomprehendingly marvel at our own history. It is like a fantastic dream of impossible highs.

This was the life we had. This was the life of purpose and ineffable magnificence.

And what have we traded it for?

Like simple savages, we have traded our entire way of life in exchange for a few gewgaws offered by the corporate adventurer. From them, we have accepted the safe routine of herded shopping instead of the risky, unpredictable hunt, they have sold us the idea of cinema instead of our own campfire stories, and we accept their worthless celebrity gods instead of our own priceless wonder at the thrill of existence.

In this way we have learned to deny our creativity. We have learned to reduce our ambition to one of browsing online; we willingly starve ourselves of any nutrition so that we become mere shadows of what we once were. Our heritage has been obliterated by the parasite that we invented. In the same way that entire species were wiped out by the appearance of human hunters, so now those hunters themselves face extinction from a new species of corporate parasite that kill you softly and slowly with the numbing venom of all consuming ennui.

Creativity is a remembering of the time before the parasite. When we allow ourselves the pleasure of creative play we begin to recall some of the rhythms and movements that we must have enjoyed under the shimmering stars only a heartbeat ago. Life had greater purpose when we made our own lives. We can still reclaim that territory.

We’ve had the industrial revolution, the information revolution; the next revolution will be creative.

How to appreciate art

December 20th, 2013

Appreciating art is a process that is both intellectual and visceral. The more an artwork operates on the following levels, the better it is.

1. Do you like it?

This should be your immediate response upon seeing it for the first time. You can like it for many reasons – something in the shape, colours, movement, composition, materials, context etc. it doesn’t really matter at this stage. What’s important is that you are encouraged to investigate the work further. If the piece looks no different from anything else you might encounter in everyday life then the work has not succeeded with you – you don’t like it.

All art is subjective though and what might intrigue you could leave another person totally indifferent.

You can, of course, always change your mind about liking an artwork for whatever reason. It’s also possible not to ‘like’ an artwork but be fascinated enough by it to progress to other levels.

2. Does it invoke new ideas for you?

The novelty of a new idea is a sign of good art. A fur-lined cup and spoon is a brilliant joke, one that explores the function of utilitarian goods in an interesting way. Conceptual art is all about ideas and can usually be assessed in the same way that an audience considers a joke: if it teases the mind in a satisfying way, then it’s funny (good art). Many conceptual artworks are simply the equivalent of bad jokes – they juxtapose disparate ideas but the new connections created between the ideas don’t work in an interesting or surprising way.

Being the first to do something different usually guarantees a place in art history and is at least interesting from that perspective.

3. Is it something you could make, or think up yourself?

This is a crucial question not just for art but also for all forms of entertainment. We only admire that which we can’t do ourselves. Thus, if you’re a representational artist, not many people could begin to emulate what you can do even though they would like to do it themselves so any work has an immediate value in terms of their admiration. However, this in itself does not mean it will be good art, just as being able to spit further than anyone else does not automatically command the respect of all sportspeople.

Some artists answer the criticism that anybody could create one of their artworks with “but they didn’t, did they? I did.”

Such an argument exploits their privileged position as an established artist and can be disregarded as a valid criterion for making the artwork, art.

4. Did it take long to make?

Despite all the modern developments in technology, this still carries a lot of weight. Someone who has spent many years creating one piece of art is going to command respect from a lot of people simply for having the patience to complete the work. Subconsciously, time adds a minimum value to the piece; three years of work multiplied by £x per hour equals, etc. This aspect is paradoxical – the length of time spent on an artwork bears no relation to the quality of the art but the more work that is involved produces more fascination from the viewer about the artist herself – what made her spend so such time on it?

It should also be remembered that technology can now replicate a lot of work very quickly, so what appears to be many hours of labour can be achieved with the press of a button. This is like admiring an original masterpiece and then being informed that actually, it’s a fake. All that has changed is the perception of manufacture.

5. Has an individual made it?

Collaboration dilutes the value of an artwork. This is an incorrect view in my opinion but many people still cherish the auteur theory – a tortured artist working in their garret impervious to criticism. The public imagines that such artists have explored exotic mental worlds that they themselves are forbidden to visit and so the created images provide glimpses into an unfamiliar realm. In modern music, many producers influence a sound as much as the musicians supposedly do in writing the songs and many bands themselves are a song writing team. ‘All along the Watchtower’ written by Bob Dylan and performed by Jimmy Hendrix is a masterpiece of music and my enjoyment of it is not diminished by the knowledge that several artists were involved in its creation.

The Art World has a problem with this concept (artists assistants are never credited with any contribution to the making of a finished piece). However, it should not affect your appreciation of any artwork and you can safely ignore this element.

6. Does it inspire you?

Good art inspires more art. As an artist myself, if I attend an exhibition of wonderful paintings then I can’t wait to leave the gallery and start painting again. Poor art does not encourage any enthusiasm for creativity. For non-artists, the inspiration may express itself in the form of a desire to find out more about the artist or to buy the artwork (this is a cultural conditioning, non-artists can be inspired to create art too).

7. Does it work on many levels?

The more levels that the piece works on, the more likely it is going to resonate with more people and therefore find greater acceptance as a worthwhile piece of art. This is because you can spend longer contemplating the piece and discovering new things about it (and thus yourself). There is also a correlation between the longevity of artworks and the greater levels of appreciation to be had from them.

8. Does the work represent a new development in the continuing language of art?

The history of art is a development of an art language. Fluent speakers of this language can appreciate nuances and interesting sentence constructions created by knowledgeable artists. Sometimes new words are invented or even an entire patois is developed. You don’t have to speak this language to appreciate art but for those that do it’s an important part of their art appreciation.

9. Is the work time sensitive or will it outlive its era?

If the artwork references ephemeral things then it is similar to a topical joke; as soon as the context is forgotten then the power of the joke is lost. It can still be a good work of art however if other levels such as 1, 4 and 5 come into play.

10. Does the work tell you something about yourself (the human condition) that you were unable to access without the piece?

If an artwork moves you in an ineffable way, then this is the surest sign that you’re viewing good art. However, this should not be confused with tapping into your emotions as a skilled craftsperson can do this fairly easily using sentimentality for example. Great art contains all the elements listed above and when combined together elicits a feeling of rapture in the viewer. Great art makes you see the world differently, at least for a time.