What does it all mean?

Art provides a soft target for opinion and prejudice. I recently read a comment at the end of a Huffington Post blog about the 2012 Turner prize winner (Elizabeth Price): “most of the stuff is self-indulgent nonsense that couldn’t possibly mean anything to anyone other than the artist.” Meaning is tricky. Think of meaning as…More

Universities as interpretive communities

If Thomas Eddison thought that the phonograph “could keep the voices of the dead alive,” then what about those new photocopiers that enable you to feed in stacks of A4 sheets of type and deliver PDFs to your email address, ready for processing via OCR, and re-publishing. Dormant publications on lost or unreadable storage media…More

The bliss of ignorance

It’s old news now, but Prime Minister David Cameron was asked on a late night US tv show if he knew what Magna Carta meant in English. He didn’t and had to bluff (Guardian). An acquaintance told me about an overseas visitor who thought that Magna Carter was the lady in the green dress in…More

Interpretive communities

It’s so easy now to disseminate ideas on the Internet, and to broadcast your own particular claim to being the originator of an idea. On the other hand, the sheer scale of online textual and pictorial profligacy diminishes the authority of claims to originality. Digital social networks amplify the difficulty we have in identifying the…More

Conservative hermeneutics

What can architecture and design learn from theology? Rowan William’s announcement last week that he will step down as Archbishop of Canterbury has revived discussion among activists within the Anglican Church and elsewhere as to whether Williams is in fact a liberal or a conservative. He’s certainly not an “ultra,” or what he describes as…More

The reception of architecture

Meryl Streep’s embarrassing acceptance speech at the Golden Globe awards reception this week didn’t go down all that well, but the pistachio-crusted pistou ravioli was very well received. (She acknowledged everyone except the Iron Lady herself, and only apologised for “trampling over England’s history.”) Reception is a major issue in the arts. Talented artists receive awards, lavish events…More

Why ask?

Cambridge University has launched a campaign to celebrate the physicist Stephen Hawking’s 70th birthday in January 2012. You can Tweet (or email) questions to #AskHawking. The questions appearing so far are a mix of the extremely clever, sensible, predictable, witty, sarcastic and vulgar. Hawking is here serving as an oracle, a role often expected of…More

Zero Stars

The ubiquitous star ratings that accompany listings of hotels, books, films, restaurants, apps and blogs reveal the human propensity constantly to evaluate the world, and to share our opinions with others. Anyone can rate a product by scoring it from 1 to 5, though of course not everyone does, and there are unaccounted biases. Though random…More


I’ve adopted the habit when viewing a television documentary on some cultural achievement of counting the minutes before the first occurrence of that most English of adjectives “extraordinary,” as in “the Taj Mahal is an extraordinary masterpiece.” Some presenters may reinforce the assessment by letting the viewer in on the fact that the structure is…More

Being David Hockney

David Hockney sends digital paintings of flowers to his friends by email. These are pictures he created on his iPhone and iPad. Some of these images are now on show at a gallery in Paris (Fleurs Fraîches at the Fondation Pierre Bergé). It’s pleasing that artists of his stature can embrace new technologies and explore…More