Effortless Grace

I’m as jaded of writing about my work as , no doubt, dear reader you are of hearing of it. Luckily the govt. has come to the rescue. Their bright idea? Art History is off the educational agenda.

As a small country with a high cost of living and a track record of innovation, I’m  bewildered at the plan to kick creative education into the long grass, in favour of some ‘proper’ subjects which train lots of people to think in the same way,  as the Chinese (1.35 billion of them, or roughly 20 percent of the world’s population), but there it is…

When the world’s leading innovators can’t see more than a couple of years ahead on the technology curve, which genius decided that what we really need ten, twenty of thirty years down the line is people who have never been exposed to creative subjects.

Madness, but there it is. Will the last one to leave the real world please turn the lights off?

I can’t fix it, but maybe some greater minds can. So a short and irregular series about why Art History matters, seems in order.  It seems to make a big difference to my students; art informs, it educates, offers different views, windows to the past, reasons for the present and it runs through our culture down to the roots. Everything we print, put on a screen, build or design is just the next part of our visual culture.

If we don’t know what we have, how can we imagine what we might create next?

I’m not giving up on my work you understand – this is just a change of air.  If you’re craving more of it , it’s being aired in public  as I speak in the Artists & Illustrators, on my website (www.makinnear.com) and for the truly dedicated at a launch in the Dales, next October (details to follow). I’ve also put a load of unpublished pictures aside for The Artist magazine, where I’ll be running a four part serialisation on creative painting projects.

So back to the big picture, to kick off I thought a little Cadell might be fun. It’s not ‘Art in the Great & Ancient sense of the word’ –  as Picasso would have it, but not all painting has to be, and Cadell never deluded himself it was.

I was lucky enough to see the first serious retrospective of Cadell’s works a couple of years ago as part of the Dean Gallery rolling program of Scottish Colourists.

I have a soft spot for Cadell, he’s always been regarded as a bit peripheral to that whole Glasgow Boy cum Scottish Colourist thing, but his work is just so wonderfully insouciant, you just have to admire his élan.

His early pieces, and the best of his later ones, look as though he could hardly be bothered to lift and load his brush, so sparse and underworked are they. Yet, there’s technique there, ability and more than that, the good sense to do more with less.

Afternoon, 1913,  is a good example; you can almost feel the ennui ; if you wanted to paint the passionless,  listless existence of the idle rich then this is how it’s done.  I love Cadell’s brushstroke, his economy with marks is as good as anything Velasquez didn’t paint.

Yes, he’s lightweight compared to Spanish Baroque painting, but – and this is the point – so was his world. Cadell offers us a mirror; should we judge him on the fact that the reflection is shallow?


Trying hard isn’t the same as being seen to work everything to death. Selectivity is the key to success and you don’t have to be the best in the world to enjoy it.






2 thoughts on “Effortless Grace

  1. Martin, this is appalling news about art history teaching. But the same is happening across all the arts, as you know – I lecture on Spanish literature, history and culture, but the kids who study it have barely read a thing at school, let alone in Spanish. The arts show us our own humanity, open our minds to new possible worlds and ways of being, so it is important to fight against the prevailing inanity. I shall look at Cadell, he’s new to me, but thanks for your illuminating thoughts on his work. Liz Drayson


  2. Insightful and thought-provoking as usual Martin. I saw Cadells self portrait in Edinburgh portrait gallery, just before he enlisted in WW1. Still insouciant and given what was headed the Edwardians way, why not? This is one of the billions of reasons why art history matters so much. It gives us and our culture proper context.


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