Art beat

18th June 1999 at 01:00
Those naughty Leeds arts students are in the news again. Last year they faked a holiday to the Costa del Sol and declared it art. Now all 13 of them have assembled a degree show made up entirely of the work of other artists, saying that concept and context countfor more than the makingof a piece.

I wouldn't like to be the one to judge this in educational terms, but it does raise some pertinent questions - and none of them, since Marcel Duchamp got us to look at a urinal as if for the first time, is new. Is an artist someone who can persuade the media that heshe is one? Do artists actually have to carry out the ideas, the "concepts" they envisage? How much is in the imagination of the spectator? How much does our appreciation of art depend on where and how we encounter it? The escapades of these students should provide fuel for many a sixth form debate. After all, most of us could think of recognised artists who require others to do their carpentry or whose reputation depends on the desire to shock. A significant career in marketing awaits these graduates.

There isn't much doubt about Rembrandt's ability as either a draughtsman or a painter. The exhibition at the National Gallery, Rembrandt by Himself, presents over 60 of the artist's 75 self portraits.

Some are etchings, some historical subjects in which the artist appears as a bystander, and some are exercises in reproducing certain expressions or types ("tronies" in the jargon) rather than exact likenesses.

The later paintings in which Rembrandt stares out, brow furrowed and gazing thoughtfully at the spectator in a beret or painter's cap, are full of sadness. The culmination of the exhibition is a wall on which are displayed three portraits from the last year of his life, 1669. Prematurely old, racked by financial troubles and by the deaths of two wives and all his children - including Titus, the only one to reach adulthood - these images are immensely moving, their realisation unfailingly honest and human.

"The Greatest and most natural emotion: Art and Life in Rembrandt's Self Portraits" is the title of a course running on Thursday afternoons and Wednesday evenings. On Saturday July 17 and 24, children are invited, with an accompanying adult, to take part in a practical workshop, 'My Self Portrait'. An all-day session devoted to the traditions of self-portraiture from the Renaissance to Van Gogh is scheduled for July 3. For information on these and other events: 0171 747 2885. Until September pound;4.50, students pound;3.00 Meanwhile, at the Queen's Gallery, Buckingham Palace, Raphael and his Circle: Drawings from Windsor Castle puts the Italian Renaissance artist in context, with several excellent examples of his work and of those he influenced. This gallery could make a useful detour on a school trip to London, although when this exhibition ends in October it will be closed for redevelopment until 2002. Tickets pound;4.00, pound;2.00 for under 17s. Information: 0171 839 1377.

Last week Philip Ridley described how storytelling had helped him to cope with bullying at school. His play on this theme, Sparkleshark, is at the National Theatre until June 25, in a production as sparkling as its title. Terry Johnson's lively direction elicits believable, often very funny performances from a young cast, including Chiwetel Ejiofor as the glamorous, strutting bully Russ, Nitzan Sharron as Jake the "geek" and Jody Watson as Polly, Jake's imaginative friend. Tickets: 0171 452 3000 The judging of over 300 entries for Classic FM's Music Teacher of the Year has been going on in darkened rooms this week. The result will be announced on air next Tuesday, June 22, not June 29 as previously announced.

The festival season is in full swing - there are even predictions that the Glastonbury pop fest could be less muddy than usual (which for some will defeat the object of going) - and scarcely a town or village fails to boast some arts celebration. The Hay Literary Festival is over but was memorable for many celeb performances, not least Ian McEwan reading from his work-in-progress, an episode about children writing and putting on a play. It was full of the kind of telling observation of children's power-play which most of us remember and encounter in schools.

The Sheffield Children's Festival will set the town alight from June 26 to July 17, offering exhibitions of young people's art, fashion shows, science demonstrations, special screenings, youth dance, theatre to watch and take part in and a concert involving 350 children aged six to 18. Information and brochure: 0114 281 4050 Warwickshire schools will get together for an Intercultural Festival on June 28 at Bedworth Civic Hall. Bexleyheath School Arts Festival 1999 - Community 2000 is already underway, with visits from the National Theatre and the performance poet Patience Agdabi.

Let's hope the sun shines on all this summer activity.

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