Portrait of the minister as a philistine

24th January 2003 at 00:00
ART is widely held to have been squeezed out of the curriculum. Now it also seems to have been squeezed out of the Department for Education and Skills itself.

Only two of the six ministers slaving over initiatives in the department's smart London building (think atrium, think plants), have chosen works from the Government art collection for their walls.

They are higher education minister Margaret Hodge and early-years minister Cathy Ashton, both women with a strong sense of style.

Ms Hodge has two drawings by Victor Willing and two paintings by Dennis Kreffield. Lady Ashton has "Six miniatures (Red)" and "Six miniatures (Yellow)" by Robyn Denny, which must at least provide splashes of colour.

David Miliband has inherited paintings of cathedrals but the school minister has added a poster saying "This is a positive thinking area!". We do hope it is.

Stephen Twigg lives with a previous occupant's pictures of King's College, Cambridge and Christchurch, Oxford. Although not to his taste, he admitted he would probably not get round to choosing others from the collection.

Further education minister Ivan Lewis has pictures by children on his wall.

"The DfES is a particularly bad department when it comes to pictures," said a spokesman in the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, which controls the 12,000-strong government collection. He conceded that it consists mostly of "prints by second-division British artists".

A DfES spokesman hit back: "Every floor of the department has works by schoolchildren in the foyers and lift lobbies which gives them a rather wider audience than if they were in ministers' rooms."

But what can we conclude from the Education Secretary's walls? Visitors to Charles Clarke's office will find a bright yellow pair of boxing gloves - a nod to his "bruiser" image perhaps - and a large cartoon print. It depicts a judge saying: "Would counsel please approach the bench?" Two black shark fins are swimming towards him.

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