Saturday, July 26, 2014

Tracey Emin's "My Bed, My Bed" sells for £2.5 million.

This may come as a surprise to those who know about my distaste for much that passes for  “contemporary art”. Many would include Tracey Emin’s My Bed My Bed in that category. But Emin’s creation is something that I actually rather like. It is far better than much in contemporary art. I do not think that it is beautiful and would not want to have it in my house.  But it is something that I would seriously consider having in my art gallery, if I had been fortunate enough to have one. It is certainly far better than the creations of a certain gentleman whose works fetch equivalent, if not much higher, prices.

Apparently created when she was in depression, and in the state in which it was when she had not got out of it for several days, lying on the floor next to the bed is a variety of objects – condoms, cigarettes, knickers and so on.

Why would such a creation be of the slightest interest? Why would anyone even want to consider it a work of art?

I argued in my book Inner Vision: an exploration of art and the brain, that one of the functions of art is to give and gain knowledge. And My Bed My Bed gives, I think, knowledge about thousands, and more likely millions, of beds in bed-sitting rooms in all major cities of the world. It replays a scenario that you will find time and time again if you were to peep into bedrooms or walk into them un-invited.

It gives you knowledge about how many, many millions live like every day and their states of mind.

My Bed My Bed is therefore giving knowledge not only about bedrooms but also about states of mind that keep bedrooms in that state.

All art is abstraction. A portrait painting is great if it succeeds in being an abstraction of a certain kind of character. The actual person portrayed becomes irrelevant, because the portrait gives knowledge about a character, not an individual person.

And so with Tracey Emin’s My Bed. It is far, far more interesting than bisected sharks and cows. These also give knowledge but that knowledge is much better obtained in museums of natural history which are, after all, open to all.

Tracey Emin’s My Bed gives knowledge about something that is normally hidden from view.

So, I am not at all surprised that My Bed My Bed should have been sold at auction this month in London for £2.5 million. It is much better than many other works of art that fetch equivalent prices. It is one of the much better examples of contemporary art.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Juncker and Cameron the best of friends

Looking at the picture published in The Guardian, no one would suspect that David Cameron tried to block the appointment of Jean-Claude Juncker for Presidency of the European Union, and lost big time.

Instead, they appear as if they are, and have been, the best of friends.

It is as if it was all water off a duck’s back.

This is the stuff of successful diplomacy, on the back of hypocrisy.

I would have loved to determine the pattern of brain activity in both at this "oh-so-friendly" moment!

"Nature" and the retracted STAP cell paper


After its publication in January this year, to much fanfare and international acclaim, the two STAP cell papers have been retracted because, it seems, there were flaws in them.

In an editorial, Nature has absolved itself of all responsibility for the flawed papers, claiming that neither its referees nor its editorial team could have spotted the apparently serious flaws in the them, flaws which led to the papers’ rapid demise.

Nature is in fact quite correct. It is not the function of editors or journals to look for manipulated images or plagiarism. I have no doubt that the very great majority of referees would notify the editors at once if they detect such flaws. There is, or ought to be, a certain element of trust between authors, journals and their editors. Moreover, as I understand it, Nature and its referees did not give these papers an easy ride. It took several months before the papers were published, implying that the referees had asked for substantial modifications to the manuscript.

Thus, Nature could be said to come out of it smelling like roses.

Yes, but not quite so fast.

Nature should take a leaf from one of its sister publication, Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, which is in fact owned by the Nature Publishing Group.

After a paper is accepted in Frontiers (but not before, and not if it is rejected), the names of the referees are published on the front page of the article. Publication in Frontiers is also not an easy ride, but at least the authors are allowed to enter into dialogue with the referees to put right or respond to criticisms, something that few journals allow, to the disadvantage of authors. The referees remain anonymous throughout this process, and only if a paper is accepted for publication are their names published.

Hence, if a paper is of extraordinary significance, some of the glory is reflected onto the referees and of course onto the journal. I mean, just imagine, if the Crick-Watson DNA paper had the names of the referees on it, they would no doubt have wanted to share in the glory to some minor extent. Indeed, Nature itself periodically reminds its readers that the DNA article was published in their pages, thus basking in the reflected glory.

Since all reasonable people understand that referees and editors cannot be held accountable for things like manipulated images or plagiarism in a paper, publication of their names in an accepted paper would do no harm, if the published paper turns out to have serious flaws.

If, on the other hand, the paper turns out to be some extraordinary contribution, then they can at least feel pride in helping to bring it to fruition and bask in its glory.

It is a classic case of “heads I win, tails you lose”

Why not try it?