This evening I attended a fascinating talk given by our local history society on a local colony of artists who lived in Cranbrook, Kent, England in the 19th Century. Their art can now fetch well over £100,000 a piece. Below is one of the typical paintings – that could number an estimated 1,500 – though only 300 have been catalogued by the local historian giving the talk.
What was interesting is that so little is known about the colony locally – and that many paintings were bought by industrial entrepreneurs from the Midlands and North of England. It is only because of the interest of a few local folk that some of the pieces have found their way back to the local museum and local collections.
The Naughty Boy by George Bernard O’Neill
The reason I was there was that local history society recently asked me to design a simple, low-cost website for them. The chairman, secretary and other committee members are now adding content to the site – and it was from a discussion with the archivist did it suddenly hit me how differently people think about putting information onto the web.
The archivist is an ex-librarian. For her, everything can be classified and should be put into order as part of a logical taxonomy. Already the categories on the site are developing into several layers. She reflected on the fact that, perhaps there were now too many layers for some categories. It reminded me of my early days of (IDMS) database programming (before relational databases), when you had to put data into classes and categories. I had a simple rule then that more than three layers was too many. It still somehow holds true today.
On describing this blog (where the categories are simply a relational tag that you clump ideas together with), she became nervous. The way that her librarian-mind worked was that each book, each chapter, each page, each idea had, somehow to be classified in a single tree. The idea that each idea, or article could be classified by several different classes – and that you leave it up to the search engine to work out how to get you there was a difficult one for her to feel good about.
It was a similar lack of familiarity or unease that I have, perhaps, with those who Tweet. Sure, I tweet a bit. Occasionally. Once every so often. When I am feeling I have a gap, or when I have a slot at the conference when I want to broadcast something interesting. But I am by no means a regular member of the Twitterati. Tweeting somehow gets in the way of the flow of life. You become an observer or a journalist rather than living in the moment. I respect those who tweet regularly – but, for me, it is too high a frequency to engage in all the time. I suppose others will leave an historically-interesting pheromone path of phrases and words for others to analyse in the future. Like writing a daily journal. But that life is not for me. I prefer blogging one a week (or once every six weeks when I am busy – as has been the case recently).
And so it is was with the Victorian artists in the Cranbrook colony. They left no diaries. No documentation of their progress. They lived and worked and played and painted in the moment – by all accounts to make a living first and then to enjoy life. Some were richer than others – but all of them exhibited at the Royal Academy year-after-year and were successful in their own ways. Yet now, 150 years on, we know very little about them.
At the end of the talk, someone reflected that the mid 19th century countryside existence in rural Kent perhaps harked-back to the pre-industrial, less smoky, less satanic mills existence of England that had been lost in the North to the industrial revolution – which is why so many of the paintings went North. Who knows. There are no tweets, no blogs, no journals or otherwise to confirm or deny such theories.
Just the paintings themselves – which hold a fascinating set of visual cascading stories, moral values and pure artistry that are contained in the outputs from this unique colony of artists that lived so close to where I now live. Art for Art sake, Money for Godsake. 10cc (now on a brilliant tour of the UK) said it all. It was the same then as it is now!
Funny about the word colony. It is what they called the far-flung corners of the British Empire. As well as being the collective noun for a load of bees! There you go! The bees don’t tweet either. They buzz. A bit less now we are going into winter. Makes you think!
Picture from Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cranbrook_Colony