inside the doll’s house

The dying man glows with sickness in his mildewy-looking bed, the light seeming to emanate from where he sits, crammed into the airless, box-like room. He signs his will while his friend looks on intently with concern and restrained grief. The artist who painted Thomas…

7.6 billion mirrors – the value of art

Was it a cold morning in Edinburgh in 1586 when James VI, only twenty years old, very aware of his status as a divinely-appointed monarch, but with already a lifetime’s experience of human nature and earthly politics, sat in front of Adrian Vanson to be…

courbet’s birthday – the case for conscious iconoclasm

  Gustave Courbet was born 101 years ago today, but although he remains one of the key figures in nineteenth century art and the roots of modernism, this isn’t about his painting. During the Franco-Prussian war, Courbet, by then in his 50s and an elder…

chosen ones and dark lords and everything in between

To start with, this was mostly about books, and I think it will end that way too. But it begins with a not terribly controversial statement; hero worship is not good. And the greatest figures in the fight for human rights or human progress of…

“Ane doolie sessoun” covid-19 and the art of isolation

  At some point in the late fifteenth century, the poet Robert Henryson (who lived in Dunfermline, not too far from where I’m writing now), began his Testament of Cresseid with one of my favourite openings of any poem: Ane doolie sessoun to ane cairfull…

messages from the past for the future

  Sitting down to write this, a month after breaking my leg and having to grapple with hitherto-unconsidered questions like ‘how do I usually sit on a toilet’? and one week before a General Election where my preferred of the apparently plausible outcomes is an…

A Conflict of Ghosts

  2019 is (to me at least) one of those times when the zeitgeist feels like an actual entity, less the ‘spirit of the age’ and more an actual ‘time ghost’, a baleful Lovecraftian presence whose unseen influence poisons the atmosphere of the era, insidiously…

birds & murderers; raptorama

As I write these words it’s the first day of summer and I’m sitting in my study (sounds pompous, but ‘room full of books and records where I work’ is less economical), with Atom Heart Mother playing, looking out at a beautiful sky of quilted dove-grey clouds…