Celts and non identity

I was struck most by the ‘Celts, Art and Identity’ exhibition at the British Museum. The Celts, distinguished by the curators for their non-existence, were distilled into abstractions that dated back to the bronze age. Swirling, intricate, flowing lines and shapes inspired by nature would later be utilized by artists of the so called Celtic revival in the 19th Century, most tangibly Charles Mackintosh, and Art Nouveau. Art Nouveau was the chosen theme for the year 8’s I taught* before Christmas, and some children made opulent extensions from a starting photograph of a flower or a butterfly, in the style of a Klimt, Tiffany, Gaudi or Mackintosh. It was interesting to learn that the Celts were not confined to Scotland, Ireland, Wales, Cornwall etc., but lived on the peripheries of Northern Europe, to be dismissed by the Greeks as barbarians. A fierce independence carried through to their descendents. No words passed down; we could only know them through the things they made. Always in the British Museum one marvels at the anonymity of these great artists, whose names were deemed irrelevant. What a far cry from our age. Plagiarism? What plagiarism? None of this trawling through the internet to pilfer the art/ideas/words of less known artists, and pass it off as your own, would have existed. Have you seen the blue suited fox in the casino ad. Blue is the compliment of orange. Have you read the Guardian article about abstraction and science. Mere co-incidence. And how wondrous, how delightful, that we will never know what those semi translucent people meant by it all. The closest you’d get is by perusing their work before sleep, and asking your dreams to tell you.

*I was supply teaching at a secondary school. Permanent staff devised the projects.

Camilla Scaramanga