Stirring it up

5th December 2003 at 00:00
CONTEMPORARY VISIONS. Transmission BBC2 December 16, 2.00-4.00am or available as secondary videotape pound;6.40 + VAT www.bbcschoolshop.com

Tom Hardy on a video introduction to contemporary artists

There is not much on the market today which addresses, for secondary teachers, the Postmodern ethic. This series is a welcome encapsulation of the contemporary idiom, and will help teachers give contextual balance to the rather archaic expectations of the QCA.

Artists examined include the painter Fiona Rae, "getting an argument going between marks"; the sculptor Jenni Dutton, whose human-hair dresses are guaranteed to cause a stir in the classroom; Turner Prize nominee Grayson Perry, who sees his classically formed vases as "Trojan horses" which, through explicit surface illustration, have introduced a darker narrative into the comfortable world of pottery; Annie Turner, whose sculptural ceramics are a response to landscape; surreal multimedia sculptor Laura Ford; Martin Parr, who uses the language of advertising to explore society; Maxine Bristow, whose grey "sacks" hint at a puritanical bent, and Hew Locke, whose wonderfully kitsch, colour-rich portraits induce sugar shock at the mere sight of them.

Each monograph is a 15-minute introduction to the artist's methodology and a straightforward insight into motivation and inspiration. Each episode includes a classroom-friendly demonstration of techniques and, since the artists do all the talking, the language is accessible and free of art-critical and conceptual jargon. Lots of quotes support GCSE objectives on comparing and connecting with the art of "other times or cultures" (eg the influence of Chinese ceramics on Perry's pots or Ford's Ganesh-inspired elephant heads), or with each other.

All these artists question convention. All adhere to the precepts of the postmodern paradigm and provide good discussion material, flagging as they do the resurgence of craft as a significant form (Perry, Bristow and Turner) and the revival of painting in the face of dead conceptualism.

Implicit in all works is a questioning of the value and purpose of art. As Fiona Rae says: "Not so long ago art was about wine bottles. The fact that it can now be anything is very liberating."

Tom Hardy is head of art at North London Collegiate School, Edgware

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