Arts feature

The craft renaissance

As long ago as the 1960s, the poet Edward James was worried that traditional crafts were dying out. Having frittered much of the family fortune he had inherited, aged five, on supporting struggling surrealists (he commissioned the Mae West lips sofa and lobster telephone from a scuffling Dali) and on backing shows starring his actress

The unstoppable rise of country music

When a major artist releases a new album, the first thing to follow is the onslaught of think pieces. And when Beyoncé released Cowboy Carter earlier this year, the tone of these think pieces – especially on this side of the Atlantic – was one of slightly baffled congratulation. Here, at last, was a pioneer

The brilliance of Beryl Cook

Nobody claims Beryl Cook was an artistic genius, least of all the artist herself. ‘I think my work lies somewhere between Donald McGill [the saucy postcard artist that George Orwell wrote so lyrically about] and Stanley Spencer,’ she once told me. ‘But I’m sorry to say I’m probably nearer McGill.’ She was, as ever, being

The tumultuous story behind Caravaggio’s last painting

For centuries no one knew who it was by or even what it was of. The picture that had hung unnoticed in a succession of noble palazzi in the Italian province of Salerno, with its deep chiaroscuro and close-cropped composition, looked like a Caravaggio – but after Caravaggio almost every painting in Naples did. When

The quiet brilliance of street photographer Saul Leiter

This is the second exhibition of mid-century New York street photography at the MK Gallery in Milton Keynes. The first, in 2022, surveyed the work of Vivian Maier, who at her death left behind a vast quantity of prints and negatives: evidence of a hidden life unsuspected even by those in whose household she lived

Why art biennales are (mostly) rubbish

Should you visit Malta this spring, you may notice something decidedly weird is afoot. Across the public squares of its capital, Valletta, performance artists are blocking busy thoroughfares and causing havoc on packed café terraces. The Hospitaller and British military forts that dominate the capital’s famous harbour, meanwhile, are full of dysfunctional installation work, while

Why architectural modernism was championed by the rulers and the ruled

My childhood in Hong Kong was shaped by a particular style of building: market halls with brise-soleils sheltering us from the glare; housing-block stairwells with perforated blockwork letting in dappled light and breeze; classrooms accessed from open-air decks, with clerestory windows cross-ventilating the stale, sticky air. In this sub-tropical ex-British colony, these features defined its

The fading art of elegant gallery dining

We live in times generally unfriendly to ritual, religious or civic. For 50 years at least, churches have stripped away once-glorious liturgical rituals in order, they say, to render themselves more accessible, even as pews have emptied. On the civic side, great art museums – some would say the cathedrals of our secular age –

Serious composers write ad music too

Next month in London, they’re celebrating a composer you’ve probably never heard of, but whose work you’re sure to have heard. If you’ve watched much British TV or cinema in the past half century, you’ll already know his music, and better than you think. A quick test of age: do you remember ‘The Right One’

Will a new Labour government let architects reshape housing?

‘We make our buildings, and afterwards they make us,’ Winston Churchill said in 1924 in a speech to the Architectural Association. This was flattery of the highest order, designed to butter up the audience of budding architects and inflate their sense of how much power they had to shape society. It’s remarkable then, 100 years

How the Houthis wage war through poetry

Poetry is politics in the Yemen. When the last Imam of Yemen, who was also the hereditary ruler, was deposed in a coup in 1962, it was a local poet who announced the change of regime on the radio, in verse of course. And the current al-Houthi regime in the north of the country, like