Michael Savage

October 2012

Connoisseurship and condescension

Seeing these two exhibitions within a couple of days of each other was a fascinating contrast in museological approach. Bronze aims to entertain, to impress and even to overwhelm with its accumulation of great works. But it deadens the soul with poor display and foolish presentation. In every respect Raphael is the more worthy exhibition.

November 2011

Proximity to genius

We see Leonardo constantly striving to depict the world more perfectly, by doing things noone had thought possible. Some of the drawings show his fecund imagination in overdrive: he drew and re-drew the same composition, sometimes side by side, sometimes one on top of another. But while Leonardo is well known as scientist and as draftsman, here above all we see him as painter.

October 2009

A tragic aspiration to cool

It matters not at all that some people like Hirst. His fans and detractors can happily co-exist, and pour scorn on one another without the slightest harm to either side. But this show is more corrosive, because he has been permitted to upstage really great art. The worthy object of our vituperation is not Hirst, but the people at the Wallace who allowed this to happen.

September 2009

Credit crunch roundup

Nominal left and right alike were taken by surprise, and there has been a big gap between the political and intellectual debate. Developing serious political positions on the economy is likely to be a much longer task.

August 2008

Psychoanalyse the psychoanalysts?

Director Astra Taylor has done a fine job with an impossible brief. Zizek is a hard man to film, and it is even harder to convey his ideas. The movie manages both; its form belies its sophistication.

July 2008

Zizek, partially digested

Zizek is wondering how we can capture the progressive potential that was recognised in the working class when the working class no longer has a political existence.

Running out of ideas

The reviews are hilarious; the thing itself is more problematic. The antics of gullible critics are harmless fun that does no great damage. But turning an art gallery into a play pen imposes real costs.

Celebrated interiors

People have tried to fit Hammershøi into categories, and he is often described as a symbolist. But these paintings resist incorporation; Hammershøi stood alone and we should not try to reduce him to an addendum to a movement. He worked within his limitations, and was amply successful on those terms.

January 2008

The Death of the Critic

It is a sophisticated argument that recognises the relative autonomy of the critical, rather than treating it as a mere adjunct to the creative process or handmaiden to the market. Criticism is part of a cultural dialogue; a strong critical voice is crucial in a vibrant culture, with writer and critic in a tense but symbiotic relationship.

Books
August 2006

Empires of the Atlantic World: Britain and Spain in America 1492-1830

The British and Spanish empires have both been closely and exhaustively studied separately, but Elliott’s book is an important synthesis. It is also an outstanding example of historical writing that manages to combine serious, rigorous historical scholarship with a style that commends it to the general reader. 

June 2006

British Government in Crisis

This book tells a fascinating story of how a focus on targets and professionalism in the public sector has led to really bad and ineffective governance. But while Foster is strong on description, his analysis is weak and his suggestions frivolous because he is astonishingly disengaged in politics.

Books
May 2006

The Parallax View

It is easy to mock Žižek for his obscurity, his obsessive interest in dissecting modish films and bad jokes, his endless repetition of previous work (whole sections copied almost verbatim) and his offensive pomposity. It is harder to convey the sheer thrill of reading this stuff.

Books

Culture Wars was included in creativetourists’ Top 25 UK Arts & Culture Blogs 2009.