Title: Books

Pages: 66-70


Author: Editorial

Text: Books

Two cultures

Science and Technology in Art Today by Jonathan Benthall; Thames & Hudson, 2.50, paperback 1.50

We all assume we know what science and technology are; but art? Gilbert and George thought they saw it in the street one day. "You were walking alone, light of step . . . We approached you nervously and then just as we neared you you went out of sight for a second and then we could not find you again.'' Jonathan Benthall is less easily shaken off: through a labyrinth of cybernetics, ecology, laser holography, he doggedly shadows the muse.
Art for him has a heavier tread. It implies the skill and mastery of a medium and the idea of the artist as a man who ''takes an uncommon responsibility for what he does, and whose work is judged against a formidable tradition of moral and imaginative grandeur''; but in addition, it is nowadays increasingly taken as the ''interchange of organised consciousness (rather than) as the transubstantiation of materials by genius into artefacts. . .''
In this sense, Benthall admits, there is an artist in all of us; the difference lies in the level of conscious control exerted over the artist's material. As it happens, Jonathan Benthall is modest and makes few claims for the artists working in the new media (and some of those claims are open to incredulity); all the same, he is an optimist who turns resolutely away from the warning of the inventor of cybernetics, Norbert Wiener:
"This new development has unbounded possibilities for good and for evil. For one thing, it makes the metaphorical dominance of the machines, as imagined by Samuel Butler, a most immediate and non-metaphorical problem . . . the skilled scientist and the skilled administrator may survive the second (industrial revolution) . . . the average human being of mediocre attainments or less has nothing to sell that it is worth anyone's money to buy.''
The shadow of these words does not darken Jonathan Benthall's pages: what he sees in the new technologies and disciplines are huge possibilities for a burgeoning of the arts. He brings to his task sharp judgment and a consistent point of view. The cybernetically controlled light towers of Nicholas Schoeffer, for instance, he finds aesthetically conventional (''art is not merely entertainment . . . We come to art as whole human beings in search of meanings, not as jaded 'consumers'"); but in the vibrating kinetic sculptures of Tsai Wen-ying he finds all the criteria he seeks. It is worth quoting:
". . . his techniques have been put behind him, and his creations look effortless and spontaneous, as if the artist's coordination of his technical resources were indissoluble from the coordination of his own instincts and intelligence ... Faced by a Tsai exhibition, one recovers a primitive wonder at his evocation of the organic . . . They might be described as abstractions or homomorphisms of organic life. Many biologists have stressed the importance of a dynamic and therefore fluctuating equilibrium between opposing tendencies."
Yes, but what Benthall is taking pleasure in, very largely, is still the artefact, that despised and rejected of all art devices. And quite rightly, for what is art? Tis not hereafter. Present art is present laughter. Jonathan Benthall is caught between his own definition of the new art as an open-ended experiment and his own admission that, although unlike a scientific proposition a work of art cannot be falsified, ''it can certainly present an aesthetic challenge. Indeed, unless it presents a strong challenge it is usually of little account."
Which is to say that a work of art is not a scientific experiment: it seeks truths about the human condition, even if only the diminished human condition in relation to the expanding cosmos. One suspects that a lot of what Jonathan Benthall describes in this indispensable book is not art at all, but experimental philosophy, attempting to shape the new forces in our lives. Artists are the Mother Courages of life, lagging to the rear of the lines mopping up. Evelyn Waugh, as usual, was making more than a joke in the famous Paris Review interview when he was asked: ''Do you think it just to describe you as a reactionary?" "An artist must be a reactionary," he said. ''He has to stand out against the tenor of the age and not go flopping along." Michael McNay

From a pin to an elephant
Victorian Shopping: Harrod's Catalogue 1895 David and Charles; f5.95

''Everything London" has that fine huckster's panache that marks commerce in its naked and unashamed infancy. Harrod's still flaunt the phrase as their telegraphic address, but in their formidable Knightsbridge gentility it is a slightly reckless relic of the nineteenth century; it's a bit as though the sales ladies were to return from lunch with lipstick awry and - half tiddled.
''Everything'' is, anyway, just a s teeny white lie (so is the Knightsbridge bit: Harrod's is in Brompton Road, not Knightsbridge, but the latter had more cachet). It could s never furnish, for example, an elephant for a zoo, which the Army & Navy could do. But, as this bulky reprint of the 1895 catalogue shows, just about everything else was stocked, from Abdominal Belts and Abernethy Biscuits to Zylobalsamum and Zymine Tabloids. The one was, it appears, a preparation for hair (along with Atkinson's Bear's Grease and about a hundred other preparations), the other a patent medicine, though not vaunted as highly as England's Never Fail Liniment, ''highly recommended as a certain preventive against rheumatics, stiffness of joints, etc."
Evidently it was less than certain and was occasionally known to fail to prevent stiffness of joints: in that case you could order yourself from Harrod's back-up service a class 1 funeral with a leaden coffin contained in an outer coffin of English oak, with mouldings, polished and finished brass Gothic mounts, corner plates, brass cross, and brass engraved shield plate of inscription, a shell, finished with white flannel and satin, and robe sheet en suite, a hearse or open car and four horses, three mourning carriages or broughams with two horses each, "attendants and coachmen in mourning gloves, &tc'' (I like that ''&tc''), and a superintendent. Ashes to ashes, 37 to Harrods. Oh death where is thy sting?
The quality of death may no longer be so plush, but the quality of life remains much the same: fitted luncheon hampers, garden mowers, brass lamps in their first manifestation when they burnt oil instead of electricity, eight-day French carriage striking clocks, maxi coats for men and women, a flourishing wines and spirits department (the first department of the store to instal the new-fangled telephone machine). Does Harrod's still stock clothes for the well-dressed housemaid? I daresay, even if the department is less flourishing than in 1895. Peake's Portable Sleeping Rest for Railway Travellers has been superseded, but the thought's the same: how to part leisured, comfortably-off people from their money and give them instead a tangible token of their estate in life. Michael McNay

Harrod's in its Victorian heyday certainly lived up to a telegraphic address of Everything London. Three items from the reprinted catalogue of 1895, reviewed left: portable sleeping rests for long train journeys, an awning seat (price f4 12s) and cocoa for growing babies

Cribs for the boys

Graphis Annual 72/73 Edited by Walter Herdeg; The Graphis Press/Constable, f12
Modern Publicity 1972/73 Edited by Felix Gluck; Studio Vista, f4.80

As Gulley Jimson says in The Horses's Mouth, the difference between a catalogue at 6d and a Work at 30s is the words you put in to fill up the gaps between the lists, and this idea that words convey value is probably the explanation for the scholarly introduction that graces the opening pages of many an expensive advertising annual. In the case of Graphis Annual, the price to be justified is a high one - 12 this year - which may account for the astonishing complexity of the introduction by Ken Baynes. Portentously titled "Is advertising important?'' it is unlikely to be read by many - apart from those, like reviewers, who have to do so - because the real business of the book is pictures and graphics.
Like every other collection of advertising art, Graphis Annual is an adman's crib, serving a business in which plagiarism is the rule rather than the exception. The blurb coyly admits as much and the variety of the work chosen for inclusion clearly demonstrates that it is intended as an all-round guide. It's a pity, for such a policy results in a selection that is fashionable rather than innovatory. Moreover, the nature of book production means that none of the entries is less than a year old, and some are a good deal older than that.
As for the contents themselves, there is evidently little new under the graphics sun. Such advances as have been made are almost exclusively by illustrators, and there are many remarkable examples of originality and careful execution. For once, the quality of the work is matched by the reproduction. Of the 232 pages, 68 are in colour, all beautifully printed. The poster section has been hived off to a separate volume, yet to appear; in its place, editorial illustrations have been included for the first time.
Modern Publicity is an altogether more modest production. Its illustrations are grey and crammed to gather, and are laid out in an altogether less pleasing manner that in Graphis Annual. All the same, it will probably sell well enough. No advertising agency, after all, would feel safe without one. Bernard Barnett

Mild and poignant
Victorian Public Houses by Brian Spiller; David and Charles, 1.95
Victorian London by Priscilla Metcalf; Cassell, f2.75

Anyone attempting to prophesy the next 50 years in the 1920s could hardly have been expected to guess that the majority of young men of all classes in London would wear their hair below their shoulders or that the same young men would prefer to frequent Victorian gin palaces rather than either reformed drinking houses or pubs by good "modem'' designers. It was the Architectural Review which in the 1940s pioneered the reappraisal of pubs and rediscovered the basic rightness of the drinking atmosphere of the Victorian pub. A very early follower, and right in the office of the strongly conservative (and therefore obstructionist) Brewers Society was Brian Spiller, who at that time could often be seen leading small groups of pub architects around the outer parts of London to sample the joys of the gin palace. His enthusiasm first bore fruit in the restoration of the English pub to its rightful place and now his 'Victorian Public Houses' has at last appeared.
It is a good looking book with some splendid original photographs - the exteriors displaying magnificent lettering on enormous sign boards, now alas almost universally swept away to be replaced by repulsively tastefully designed "House Styling'' - designed in the case of one major group by an American "stylist" with no understanding of what pubs are about at all. Spiller also prints some splendid Bedford Lemere interiors of that great pub firm Treadmill and Martin (but none alas of the finer work of Shoebridge and Rising) - geared to the selling of a product in an atmosphere of glitter, enclosure and welcome with lines of beer pulls on the counter set against piles of cigar boxes in the upper parts of the back fitting. The text of the book, however, is no more than captions to the rather arbitrarily placed photographs, so while we wait for an expanded treatise on the Victorian Pub, this picture book will have to do to be going on with.
Dr Metcalf's Victorian London on the other hand is a beautifully written book in a most unbeautiful format - grey photographs and text on thin glossy art paper in the style of a provincial town's tourist guide. Dr Metcalf is an American who has lived here since 1952. She approaches the incredible complexity of Victorian London, sometimes commercial, sometimes rumbustious, sometimes poetic and sometimes Imperial, with a clear mind and an innocent eye. She reminds one at times of Henry James, though she has more humour. ''The Alexandra Palace sprawls along its ridge like a stranded dinosaur. . . . Its yellow and white bricks with cement dressings have gone khaki, . . . and the pipes of the marvellous Willis organ lie in store. . . . The terrace is a fine place to sit especially when the bar is open. Even if the Ally Pally's indomitable builders made an, in a way, admirable miscalculation, it wouldn't make a splendid or poignant ruin.''
Let us hope that it sells quickly so that the second edition can be produced in a more appropriate format. Roderick Gradidge


Top, ad for cigarette lighter (''Feudor believes in Father Christmas'') Above, US newspaper ad ("one of the best things about Hardy Williams is that he hasn't spent the last 20 years in city government'). Both from Graphis Annual, reviewed right

Future imperfect

Things to come by Herman Kahn and B Bruce-Biggs; Macmillan, f2.50

Herman Kahn is not a easy man to tangle with. As self-confident in person as he is in print, he has made an impressive number of reporters and interviewers to look exceedingly foolish, bouncing their simple questions off a shining intellectual armour and returning them into what is almost literally unprepared territory. For Kahn's strength is in his thoroughness. Together with a disciplinary breadth - political science, anthropology, technology, cultural analysis - his prophecies are widely received as irrefutable scripture. Is it possible that, like Goldsmith's village schoolmaster, one small head can carry all he knows? Of course it is: most heads suffer from an acquired programme that limits the use of their capacity. More importantly, Kahn has yet to be proved wrong, for in a very real sense, he operates in the land of the self-fulfilling forecast. A great many of his "projections" are observations of the contemporary scene that have gone unremarked.
Thus, looking into the post-industrial society (the semantic explanations for which are fully elaborated), he examines the traditional historical interpretation of Marx's separation of industrial bourgeois and agrarian feudal societies: ''It is worth noting that many commentators, even scholars, who today claim that Marx's system was crude, implausible, and oversimplified, often accept an even simpler system when they contrast modern, urban, industrial, mechanical civilisation with traditional, agrarian, pre-industrial society, under which they group three of Marx's historical stages.'' Kahn moves exhaustively back and forth for his examples and his proofs. Interpolate, extrapolate, travel so far but not over the top along each of the curves. It is a heuristic treatment with a difference, underlined by the book's slightly modest subtitle - "Thinking about the 70s and 80s.''
Much of it is occupied with political software, to which Kahn and Bruce-Biggs bring some arresting concepts. On war, for instance, they take the view that the world in the 50s was a frightening place, and cite the RAND Corporation scenarios - which significantly affected US (and thus global) defence policy. In 1962, Kahn was involved in a Hudson Institute exercise which saw far less entropy in its crystal balls: ''We do not claim that the world is necessarily safe because the Hudson Institute cannot write frightening scenarios. This could easily be due to the fact that we are/were insufficiently prescient, observant, ingenious, creative etc (but) . . . we cannot help but feel that world is safer if it is hard to write such scenarios.'' But territorial, religious, and technological change is plotted on a graph every bit as dramatic as any by the Pentagon.
They see a Europe in which Britain is weakened by apathy and "symbolic nationalism,'' in which regional (eg Welsh Nationalism) claims become much more demanding and possibly successful, in which fragmented nation-states may become a more effective "political community" than a notionally secure European union of relatively few whole countries. Technological crisis and environmental degradation, industrial unrest, disillusionment with ''progress'' are painted into a picture of the mid-80s, when, according to present designs and trends, a large part of a world is destined to begin to ''wear out''. Their language at this point even admits of words like ''apocalyptic'', but as with most of Kahn's writings, the self-righting effects of feedback are judged to be the real issues. Dealing with pollution and resource-depletion - as with other prospective 1985 technological crises - ''may similarly lead to or accelerate important changes in our attitudes and values."
In the end, they believe this more than anything else - that it is possible to change and alter the outcome of present trends in a normative fashion, doing what Erich Jantsch has called ''inventing the future'' and "reacting to the future positively" - even in the face of possible worst-case scenarios like thermonuclear war, ecological catastrophe, or world vandalism. But not, in this case, without a thoughtful qualification: ". . . in any case, such horrors should not materialise before 1985, we believe and hope.'' After such a rigorous treatment of the subject, it is almost reassuring to see determinism giving way to faith. Ian Breach

Urban gorillas

After the planners by Robert Goodman; Penguin, 75p

This is really two essays - or three, if you count the sensible introduction to the British edition by John A D Palmer. Its central core is a devastating analysis of planning procedure in urban America. Goodman demonstrates, beyond argument, that the federal, state and city controls brought in since the turn of the century have almost without exception worked against their supposed purpose. Voted in in the name of fair play, democracy, good health and fine architecture, the planning procedures have denuded town centres by turning the poor out of the only housing they can afford and replacing them with highways and upper-bracket apartments, while real estate manipulators have made fortunes and city authorities ensured the loyalty of their car-driving middle-class suburban ratepayers.
American politicians from Hoover to Humphrey have not been unaware of the personal benefits to be gained from the emotive issue of slum clearance. Ghettoes, American citizens were lead to believe, were the running sore, the cancer of American society, and the somewhat surprising powers invested in the planners were the result of honest-to-goodness scaremongering. The poor, especially if they were black or non-English speaking, were an offence against the is system, which naturally assumed that you received what you put in. Somewhere American capitalism was failing, and those failures must be removed.
In this context, Robert Goodman puts the case for side-stepping the system. However honest your intentions, he says, you will be working against the common good if you join a public architecture or planning authority. He himself left the planning school where he was taking a PhD to join community housing groups in their fight against sweeping planning proposals in Boston, Mass.
No doubt that he is again right in his actions, and the victories scored over the authorities by taking them on rather than submitting to the farce of "public participation" have more than proved the point. Yet the second essay, where Goodman discusses the move towards liberation from the planners, is not only much slimmer but much more hesistant than the preceding analysis. Goodman advocates community socialism as the fairest way of providing what the community needs, with decisions - such as they are - taken by the people who will be affected. This, combined with an open-ended, non-aesthetic approach to design and an uncompetitive approach to belongings, could easily in a country as wealthy as the United States give everyone a fair share, a rewarding neighbourhood. Just how the revolution could be effected is the unanswered question; supposed attempts at guerrilla architecture - for instance, turning a Berkeley parking lot into a People's Park for a couple of days before it was retaken by the national guard - are great for publicity but short on staying power. The system is geared to reproduce as well as protect itself.
Lest we in Britain look complacently at the picture Goodman constructs, John Palmer points out that a parallel could be found in this country for nearly everything that has happened in the United States. We too have had atrocities committed in the name of urban renewal by planners in the pay of the system, and fortunes made by those who can afford to invest capital in Government-approved projects. Two current examples (not mentioned by Palmer) speak for themselves: a recent Sunday Times investigation has shown that, in the London Borough of Hammersmith, three property companies are making large amounts of money by buying up old houses, renovating them with maximum grants available under the 1969 Housing Act, and then letting apartments at greatly increased rents. Was the Act meant to benefit the houses or their occupants? The former, it seems, for there are many inhabitants of Inner London boroughs who are being pushed out. A very different case is the continual destruction of Manchester's city centre to make way for speculative office and commercial development, for which there is absolutely no public demand. As it is, there is a great deal of empty office space in Manchester. The planners talk of necessary renewal, new roads etc, but really they are bowing before the pressure of a few jumped-up developers. Who is to call their tune? Robert Waterhouse

Disturbing illustration by German graphic artist Hans Hillmann, from Graphic Designers in Europe 2 (Thames and Hudson, 3.50)

Acid comment by arch reactionary Osbert Lancaster who confesses in his latest collection of pocket cartoons (Theatre in the Flat; John Murray, 80p) that it is high time he was "pulled down and redesigned by Sir Basil Spence"

Baubles bangles and leads

The Art of Jewelry by Graham Hughes; Studio Vista, f8

Graham Hughes tackles his huge subject by devoting a large part of his book to the history of jewelry and by evaluating the rise this century of the artist-jeweller throughout the world, most interestingly in Japan, Western Europe and this country. As art director of the Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths his work has brought him into contact with most of the important jewellers working today. So this is a solid book, packed with information about important collections rarely shown to the public.
Jewelry according to the book ''is a performing art . . . the jewel is an instrument and the wearer and lighting are the players''. Thus it is a uniquely sensuous personal art, and suffers from being badly photographed off the human body and scaled up to reveal more detail.
But although the photographs fail to relate the object to the human form they do show the diversity of uses jewelry has had over the centuries, from medieval cloak pins to the crowns of kings, the manifestation of a country's resources, as in India, and the adornment of the dead in Ancient Egypt.
With the rise in importance of women and the increasing diversity of their clothes, so jewels became more influenced by current fashion both in architecture, clothing and the other arts. Mr Hughes mentions a theory, which could have been expanded, that the wearing of big if jewelry is linked with suppressed women - speaking through the sheer weight of their jewels rather than through their own personalities.
What is interesting is that they artist-jeweller disappears to a large degree in the 18th and 19th centuries, while retail merchants grew. Jewelry was worn for glitter rather than as a consciously created work of art. Art Nouveau marks a turning point and the rise this century once again of the artist creating individual pieces of jewelry. It is interesting that the Art Nouveau designers like Rene Lalique turned their back on vulgar combinations of gold and diamonds (which to my mind occupy far too much space pictorially in this book) and produced the most soft and feminine jewelry. As for modern designers although their brutality may reflect the worst of modern architecture it also ignores the changing role of woman. Too much recent work in this book totally lacks any humanity; cold abstract pieces of sculpture not scaled to the human form or changing fashions. It totally lacks wit, or perhaps that is an indictment of the world we find ourselves in.
Mr Hughes notes gleefully that today we are returning to the use of gold and precious stones like diamonds. To my mind his concept of modern jewelry is all wrong. Jewelry now is for the masses; it encompasses everything from cheap boutiques like plastic brooches in Biba to work by brilliant young designers like Mick Milligan and Susanna Heron.
A girl may now wear a thirties plastic brooch, jade rings and a modern bracelet all at once. This is the versatility that sums up the present. Jewelry can't and oughtn't to be taken seriously any more; it should be fun. The best young jewellers now produce work that comments and extends the planes of the body; reflects and adds to the current idea of fashion. These will be the collectors' pieces of the future, not dreary crowns for State occasions that embody the same pompous myths as they have done for centuries. There's an American De Beers ad (not in this book incidentalIy) of a lady wearing Levis with diamond cuff links in the denim jacket. That's what I like - that's style. Janet Street-Porter

Above, Lalique hatpin in gold, silver, diamonds, horn and glass; left, Minoan hornet pendant of 17th century BC. From The Art of Jewelry reviewed this page

Off form

Design of forms by Management Services division of the Civil Service Department; HMSO, f3

When a whole book devoted to the design of forms is produced by HMSO one might expect a truly comprehensive analysis of the subject matter. One would imagine that a design problem so closely bound up with everyone's daily lives would involve some description of the use and role of forms in society. But this beautifully designed book is almost entirely devoted to the details of layout and printing. I had to search hard to find even brief mention of the users and the possibility of testing the material. Only about two paragraphs are given to this topic. Yet surely forms are there to serve the interests of society and of the people in it. The information required may often be crucial and the incorrect completion of a form can have a profound and lasting effect on an individual's welfare.
Certainly the physical appearance and layout is important, and the book does provide a clear and comprehensive guide to this aspect of design. There is a fairly inclusive description of alternative approaches to both layout and printing. However, there is very little analysis of the advantages and disadvantages of the various methods. In fact there is not much encouragement at all for the designer to think for himself around the whole problem. Indeed the tone of the entire book seems to actively encourage him to adhere to the precise specifications laid down rather than to start from scratch. Yet it is important for anyone involved in this kind of problem to be concerned with the total situation including the people who will use their work. Isolation in design must in the long term limit the effectiveness of the product.
Exactly half a page is devoted to the wording on forms. Yet this aspect is surely almost as important as the layout, and deserves a great deal more attention than it is given here. If the words are incomprehensible then no amount of "good design'' will make up for it.
This will be an extremely useful book for the designer of forms, but it is unlikely to inspire much in the way of new and creative approaches to the total problem. Jocelyn Chaplin

The plan's the thing
Theatre Planning edited by Roderick Ham; The Architectural Press, f10.50

The life of the theatre has been in particularly rapid and elusive movement this last quarter century. So much so that there is no longer any stable contemporary tradition in theatre design. To which concept should you commit your million pounds odd, and the lives and work of the contemporaries of your children and grand-children? That is one of two factors that have made most theatres built in the boom since the war unsatisfactory in practice. They may have been timid experiments, but they had to be, since all that was clear was that they could not be like the theatres of the last century. The other factor is that nearly all the new theatres were of a kind that had never existed in this country before - large-scale civic theatres, publicly subsidised to explore a new policy for a new public at a new time - and inevitably they were mostly planned by people who had no experience and little knowledge of that type of operation, however experienced they may have been as professionals in the old field. The client and the brief have been at fault even more often than the architect.
Theatre Planning, since its first publication in 1964, has been an attempt by the Association of British Theatre Technicians to drive steel piles down through the quagmire of ignorance, whim and fashion to the bedrock of hard experience and rational analysis. There can be no rules that will guarantee a good theatre, because a good theatre is only an appropriate theatre for its purpose, and the purpose behind every building is unique. The virtues and vices of the end result will still be your own, but with the assistance of this guide at least it will not be built on running sand. Originally published as a series of information sheets by the Architect's Journal, the book has been entirely revised and re-written by Roderick Ham, with illustrations drawn from more recent theatres, in this lush but expensive new edition. Its scope is comprehensive, from stage shape and safety regulations to ventilation and economics, and the information is detailed and well laid out, with excellent diagrams. Some of the photographs look a bit frowsty, but they serve. It would be hard to fault its carefully guarded but explicit recommendations. Outside the brief, there is need for a companion volume called Theatre Purpose, to apply the same rational criteria to the right conception of a new theatre in relation to the potential of the audience and the operator in any given situation. But that is another and even more difficult matter.
Theatre Planning must be the bible not only for any architect interested in new theatres, but for any client. It should be compulsory pre-natal reading. There can be nothing but gratitude towards all those who have contributed to bringing a little order into so much confusion. Michael Elliott

Sinister, macabre and witty illustrations from Anthony Earnshaw's brilliant Seven Secret Alphabets; Jonathan Cape. 1.95



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