Wednesday, 30 June 2010


On Saturday (26 June) I went to the BHA one-day conference at Conway Hall on "Humanism, Philosophy and the Arts". The performance by the BHA Choir was probably the most entertaining part, particularly their rendition of "Sumer is icumen in", though their attempt to emulate the Swingle Singers with "Sleepytime Bach" was not a success.

The other highlight of the day was Martin Rowson's run through a selection of his cartoons. I'm not really a fan of his drawings, particularly those of the grossly anatomical type, but his latest take on the coalition government, with Clegg as Pinocchio and Cameron as Little Lord Fauntleroy are more gently amusing, though I suspect that after the honeymoon period they will become more trenchant.

Ken Worpole's talk on Humanism and Architecture was a subject completely new to me, so I don't feel qualified to comment. The other talks were on philosophy. As usual I could find little to disagree with in Richard Norman's account of Art in relation to Meaning in Life, though also little to stimulate new thought. Julian Baggini spoke on ethics as illustrated in films, particularly those of the Coen brothers, but can't agree with his idea that "good" people are those who are not a "pain in the arse". My view is that most people who ever got any good reform going were always a nuisance to the powers that be. Nigel Warburton spoke about modern conceptual art, and included as an illustration what appeared to be a photograph of a kitchen, but was in fact a photograph of a paper model of the same kitchen! He maintains that you cannot appreciate art fully without knowing the artist's intentions.

After the conference I bought Nigel Warburton's book "Philosophy: The Basics". What strikes me about this after a first read-through is that many of the subjects and arguments are so old-hat, and take such little account of modern advances in science. It's as if philosophers are living in a time-warp. I'd like to have a go at writing my own account. I've been gathering notes for some years and have a good title, but getting down to organising it into some coherent pattern is another matter.

1 comment:

  1. Following on from George’s comments on the BHA one-day conference, one of highlights for me was the talk by Ken Warpole. He illustrated how in response to the appalling social conditions of the working class that in Britain rendered a high proportion of men from urban areas unfit to fight in the Crimean War and the subsequent wars of the twentieth century, a new architectural approach, not only to buildings, but, crucially, to urban spaces, was formed. It was recognised by this time, that sickness and disease, especially TB, were a direct result of overcrowding and poor sanitation. In an effort to combat this and in an attempt to improve the health of the masses, social reformers promoted the idea of people needing light, fresh air, sunlight and exercise. This lead to urban planners developing with architects the notion of urban spaces in which buildings such as open air schools, lidos, heath clinics, playgrounds and sanatoriums should be designed around the idea of the interior becoming part of the exterior, hence open air schools where children were taught outside even in poor weather conditions. Though this sounds idyllic there was a hidden agenda and that was to ensure that in times of war there was a healthy stock of men available to fight, this was in fact social engineering. The health of mothers and babies was obviously crucial to this and this is where the template for today’s health centres and nurseries was born. These early attempts to improve the nation’s health were the forerunner to the development of the NHS.
    I would recommend Ken’s book ‘Here comes the Sun’ for anyone interested in how architecture and social history are intertwined.