"This week the minaret of one of Syria's most beautiful mosques was destroyed in the northern city of Aleppo. The Ummayad mosque established in 715 was rebuilt in 1159 after being damaged by a fire and then built again a century later after the Mongol invasion. The oldest surviving part was the minaret and both the State forces and the rebels accuse each other of its destruction. Lying in the Old City, the mosque is a Unesco world heritage site but has become part of the wider devastation of Syria's rich cultural heritage; a Crusader castle and Roman ruins in the ancient city of Palmyra have also been damaged.
However sad this physical destruction of history and art is, it should matter less to us than the recent reports that some 70,000 lives have been lost in this terrible civil war with hundreds of thousands more displaced. This is a war which is gradually ripping the country apart but about which the rest of the world doesn't seem to know what to do. Yet there is a different poignancy to the loss of a country's artistic and cultural past. It is these visual artifacts, building and ruins which speak to us of a country's history, its collective memory, the love and passion of the people who make a piece of land into a nation state. That so many Syrians are now killing each other and destroying ruins and religious sites poses the disturbing question, what exactly is still held sacred in so many part of the Muslim world?
A couple of weeks ago I returned from a short break to Istanbul. The area surrounding the majestic Hagia Sophia and the Blue mosque is also a Unesco world heritage site, tourists wander freely, the buildings stand sublime, the contested past of the place breathing its religious spirit into a refashioned, modern and vibrant city. But I wonder whether the preservation of history is only meaningful in countries where there is the preservation of peace, where people can enjoy the ordinariness of life, where there is order and purpose and we have the luxury of self reflection.
Earlier this week the former Met commissioner sir Ian Blair said societies choose what kind of violence they will tolerate. Looking across to so many part of the Islamic world where there is civil war, state violence and individual acts of terror, I wonder how and when Muslim societies will move away from seeing violence as a resolution to human conflict. When God is great is uttered as people and buildings are blown up what kind of God have so many created in their hearts and minds? The destruction of the minaret is not just a physical destruction but a tragic metaphor for a nation's soul."
(Mona Siddiqui, 26 April 2013, BBC Radio 4: Thought for the Day)
Fig.1 At left, the damaged Umayyad mosque in the northern city of Aleppo, Syria, on Wednesday 24 April 2013; at right, the view of the mosque with the minaret intact on 6 March 2013. (AP) [http://www.wbur.org/npr/178906558/minaret-of-iconic-syrian-mosque-destroyed-in-fighting].
"Melvyn Bragg presents the first in a series of programmes examining the idea of culture and its evolution over the last 150 years. In 1869 the poet and critic Matthew Arnold published Culture and Anarchy, a series of essays in which he argued passionately that culture - 'the best which has been thought and said' - was a powerful force for good. In this first programme Melvyn Bragg visits the Sheldonian Theatre in Oxford, where Arnold first unveiled his ideas on the subject, and discovers how Arnold's ideas were refined and rejected by later thinkers."
(Melvyn Bragg, 2012)
Matthew Arnold (1869). "Culture and Anarchy: An Essay in Political and Social Criticism" [http://www.authorama.com/book/culture-and-anarchy.html].
"The Value of Culture: Culture and Anarchy", Radio broadcast, Episode 1 of 5, Duration: 42 minutes, First broadcast: Monday 31 December 2012, Presenter/Melvyn Bragg, Producer/Thomas Morris for the BBC Radio 4, UK.
"This Monday, [Andrew] Marr hosted a special edition of Start the Week on BBC Radio 4 to celebrate the RCA's 175th anniversary with guests including former RCA rector and Arts Council chair Sir Christopher Frayling.
In the show, Frayling pointed out that the creative industries provided twice as many UK jobs as financial services, but that this contribution went unnoticed.
'What I never understand is, there are so many column inches about financial services all the time,' Frayling told Marr. 'Financial services contributes about 1% more than the creative industries, which employ two million people whereas financial services employ one million people. So in terms of contribution to the economy generally, the creative industries actually have it over financial services in almost every way. And how many column inches about it? Very little. So there's this huge impact but people don't seem to be noticing.'
In his article, Marr argues that because the economic value of art schools is difficult to measure, politicians fail to appreciate their importance to the economy.
'And there's where I think the trouble lies,' Marr concludes. 'To invest in art and design means putting public money into areas whose value cannot be captured on a spreadsheet, where concepts like productivity, value-for-money, inputs and outputs – which so reassure the political world – simply collapse. That means faith. It means risk.
'But, without it, hard times surely stretch out rather bleakly. Other countries understand this, including China where more than a thousand art and design colleges are operating and whose students greatly benefit from colleges here too."
(Dezeen, 21 November 2012)
Fig.1 Jim Rokos "22° 36° 48°", fruit bowl [http://rokos.co.uk/].
"On Start the Week, Andrew Marr explores how Britain trains the artists and designers of the future. Christopher Frayling and Sarah Teasley celebrate the 175th anniversary of the Royal College of Art, the world's oldest art and design school. But one of its former teachers, the industrial designer Ron Arad argues for a broader arts education which doesn't split sculpture from painting, architecture from design. And the artist Antony Gormley redefines the limits of sculpture and building."
(Start the Week, 2012, BBC Radio 4)
BBC Radio 4: Start the Week, duration: 43 minutes, first broadcast: Monday 19 November 2012.
"The dark horse of the keyboard, the ampersand exists to join things together, yet remains set apart. Whilst everyone can read and understand the ampersand, or the & symbol, how many of us know where it came from?
Alistair Sooke traces the history of the funny little character that has quietly given joy to so many, from a bored medieval scribe right the way through to a modern day digital font designer. Delighting type designers throughout the centuries as a chance within a font to create a small piece of art, it is a joyful moment in a functional resource. Speaking to Ampersfans Alastair enters into a world of letterpress, punchcutting and typography and discovers how the ampersand can be found at every step of the way, bringing a joyful flick of a tail to the dullest document.
If you thought the ampersand was a bright young thing in the world of type, you couldn't be more wrong; first credited to Marcus Tiro around 63 BC, combing the letters e and t from the Latin word 'et'. Fighting off competition from his nemesis, the 'Tironian Mark', Alastair then tracks the ampersand to 16th Century Paris where it was modelled in the hands of type designer to the King, Claude Garamond, then back across the sea to William Caslon's now famous interpretation, designed with a joyful array of flourishes and swirls. Alastair will discover how the ampersand became a calling card for many typographers, showcasing some of their best and most creative work.
A simple twist of the pen, the ampersand has managed to captivate its audience since print began, in Ampersfan Alistair tries to pin down this slippery character down once and for all."
(BBC Radio 4 Programmes, 2012)
Alistair Sooke (2012). "Ampers-Fan", Producer: : Jo Meek & Gillian Donovan, A Sparklab Production for BBC Radio 4, Last broadcast on Monday, 16:00 on BBC Radio 4.