Art and Industry – Seven Artists in Search of an Industrial Revolution in Britain by David Stacey. Combining art and the beginnings of the Industrial Revolution

Art and Industry by David Stacey | Waterstones

Something a little different on Northernreader today – Northernvicar writes a review of a non fiction book (and he knows his stuff, so I have just edited it…)

David Stacey, Art and Industry, Seven artists in search of an Industrial Revolution in Britain

 This attractive and informative book is by a Civil Engineer with a degree in the History of Art, and I found it fascinating. The seven artists are Joseph Wright, John Opie, Phillippe-Jacques de Loutherbourg, Penry Williams, William Havell, JMW Turner, and Henry Hawkins.

It covers the period between 1750 and 1830, and is a well-illustrated discussion of the work of seven artists and where their work fits in with the huge changes the country was undergoing. Stacy builds on the post-War work of Francis Klingender, through to Celina Fox writing in the last decade, and discusses many of the influences on Art, both those from the Continent and from people like Edmund Burke and Joshua Reynolds. There is an extremely useful time line of the Industrial Revolution, and complete lists of all the sketches, drawings and paintings that he refers to, as well as a list of the illustrations that appear in the book itself. A vast bibliography makes this book an excellent starting point for further research. The index is a carefully combined list of names, places and much more.  

He starts locally to Derby with Joseph Wright and the Cotton mills of Cromford, with portraits of Sir Richard Arkwright and paintings of the mills themselves. The Lombe brothers had built a silk mill in Derby in 1721 and within fifty years Arkwright had mills all along the Derwent. Wright painted them in the 1790s, and the text discusses the life of the men, women and children employed there (although they were not painted) and other aspects of Wright’s life. He writes about attitudes to slavery, and discusses Wright’s painting “A Conversation of Girls”, a painting which raises issues of race and colonial power – sadly, that painting is not depicted in the book.

John Opie’s “A gentleman and a miner” takes us to Cornwall, where the miner Captain Joseph Morcom (1744-1827) is handing a specimen of copper ore to Thomas Daniell of Truro, a man who was a major investor in the Cornish mining industry. Opie himself was born in 1761 in the mining are of West Cornwall, and eventually moved to London. His talent was recognised by Sir Joshua Reynolds, and Stacey gives us a good biography of him and his work, as well as telling us about Daneill and Morcom. One of Boulton and Watts steam engines can be seen in the background, and this power drove mining developments, enabling them to dig deeper. Yet the economics were always difficult, and the life of the working poor very different to that of the investors.

I remember buying a postcard of “Coalbrookdale by Night” when I was a lad and we visited Ironbridge, and I now know more about its painter, the Frenchman, Philippe-Jacques de Loutherbourg (1740-1812). He designed sets for David Garrick, and his first major journey into England was in 1778 when he came to Derbyshire collecting material for The Wonders of Derbyshire, “a pantomime entertainment devised with Richard Brinsley Sheridan and first performed at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane in January 1779” (page 43). In 1801 he visited Coalbrookdale and the Severn Gorge. Stacey describes the history of the works there and other artists who made a record of all that was going on. Some of the artists hint at the working conditions, but even now Coalbrookdale is such a beautiful Valley, it is difficult to picture what it must have been like to have toiled there, hour after hour, day after day. I enjoy Blist’s Hill Museum, but always feel guilty at the leisure I have to enjoy it.

In South Wales he writes about Penry Williams and the ironworks at Merthyr Tydfil. Williams was a local man, and he includes some of the labourers in his pictures. Industrial relations in the South Wales valleys were never easy. Chapter 5 discusses William Havell and the Welsh Copper industry, a lot of it on Anglesey. Much of the ore was shipped to Swansea where it was processed, and then exported – Manillas, bangles used a currency in Africa and the slave trade. There are pictures of mines and staithes – fascinating to compare the staithes on the River Tawe in South Wales with those on the River Tyne sketched by John Wilson Carmichael a few decades later.

The most famous name in the book must be J.M.W. Turner, and Stacey writes about his paintings of canals from Lancaster to Dudley, and across to Leeds and south to Chichester. A book of drawings of canal construction would be fascinating, it is interesting to see that Turner shows them as fitting harmoniously into the countryside, just as painters would show the railways blending in so quickly after construction.

Back to North Wales for the final chapter, “Henry Hawkins and the Penrhyn Slate Quarry”. I have several dvds which show the quarry at work 150 years later, when there was a little more health and safety than there was when Hawkins painted (in the early 1800s there were 150 injuries and 7 or 8 deaths every year). Hawkins includes pictures of the workers and the deplorable conditions they laboured under.

Altogether this is a scholarly book which is extremely readable. I recommend it to anyone interested in the art work that captured the beginnings of the biggest social developments in Britain’s history.

You Can Change the World by Margaret Rooke – fifty stories of teenagers who have made a difference

 

The title really reveals the message of this book – it features the stories of those who, as teenagers, changed some element of the world around them. Some of the contributors are still young, even as young as thirteen, whereas others are in their twenties but recall their actions. Many have started movements, some have joined and enhanced them. Some have acted out of inspiration that has come to them while living their lives, others have transformed their entire life as a result of what has happened to them. There are those who have had a challenge in their health or ability to cope with school, who have transformed their activities and world view. Some have had issues with their mental health and found strength to cope and flourish. Often a trauma such as the death of a parent or sibling has brought them low, but then given them the inspiration to develop positive schemes. The people writing pieces in this book have had to survive and then thrive, and often done so by moving others to action. They have overturned expectations, challenged the limits of their backgrounds, and really changed the circumstances for themselves and others. This book is in some ways aimed at young people, but the principles of action and positive thinking hold good for people of all ages. It has been a fascinating read, and I am glad to have had the opportunity to read and review it.

 

In amongst these fifty testimonies or snatches of life there are authentic and sometimes moving stories of some great transformations as well as real efforts to make a difference. There are different attitudes to social media; some have harnessed for good and to enable big social efforts, others have rejected it as distracting. Some people have discovered and worked on a talent that they have had to fight to develop such as sport, including creating football playing opportunities for those with a physical disability. Some have changed perceptions of their sexuality, choices in appearance and very identity. Others have mounted campaigns to stop the cruel treatment of animals and the exploitation of the world’s resources. 

 

There are five sections in this book: Demanding Change, Never Giving Up, Finding My Voice, Challenging What Others Think, Discovering My Passion, Turning My Life Around,  and Helping Others. It includes stories of feminism and the realisation that the role of girls and young women should not be limiting but empowering. There is much here about those who have raised money and crucial awareness of such diverse matters as cancer, period poverty and difference in abilities, as unexpected talents and strength are revealed. Some revelations in the book relate to the opportunities presented by the teenage stage, in having a clear view of what needs to be done. It has much to say about the elements of teenage life that are so significant, including school, friendship groups, family and community. 

 

This is a positive picture of being a teenager in the twenty first century around the world. It acknowledges the challenges but also celebrates the opportunities created and taken up by determined, resilient and thoughtful young people. There ought to be several copies in every school library, public library and in any other place where it can fall into the hands of young people who can be inspired. The “Tool kit” section at the back briefly gives hints and tips of how to emulate these teenagers. A fascinating book of making a difference for all, this is a worthwhile and memorable read containing vibrant and exciting voices.   

 

As life gets busier around here (when will I put the tree up?) I probably won’t be posting a best books of the year type post, as I have so many that I want to posts reviews about that I will be continuing to post new reviews of a variety of titles. I have some new and older books that have been begging to be celebrated in posts, so watch this space.

You Are What You Read by Jodie Jackson – the Media and solutions based journalism

 

 

The subtitle of this this thoughtful book is “Why Changing your Media Diet Can Change the World”, and most of it refers to the problem of negative news. Jackson argues for a more balanced approach to the news media rather than the immersive twenty four hour news cycle available online, and the tabloid brevity of many  newspapers. Highlighting the psychological dangers of constant news checking in terms of a pessimistic worldview, this book is an impassioned plea for a more balanced approach to the presentation of events. A founder of The Constructive Journalism Project, Jackson has evidently worked hard to formulate and refine a programme for journalists and those who present the news. In doing so, she provides a guide and reassurance for all those who consume the news in any way, and who can accordingly feel depressed at the way of the world. This is a very significant book for all those with an interest in the media , and I was very interested to be given the opportunity to read and review this title.

 

Using a quick poll in the Introduction as to whether the reader believes that global poverty has increased, as well as later referring to a relative who feared for the future of the author’s own baby, this book carefully challenges our perceptions of the present and future of our world. There are examples of issues and presentations from the United States and Britain, of how a different view of the same event can alter the reception of a news report. The introduction of solution based news means that the observer can not only discover what the answer to a problem may well be, but also how they can be involved. Jackson does not want all the news to be good news, along the lines of the last item of evening bulletins, but to be constructive stories that do not merely offer a despairing if dramatic story. She criticises a Russian ‘experiment’ when a news source changed all their stories to good news, lost two thirds of their audience  and swiftly reverted to business as normal. She also deplores the fact that when tragic events are continually presented in dramatic and shocking terms, viewers and readers become so familiar with the concepts that they no longer register surprise and merely add to their perception of the world as a dangerous place. She shows how even the truth can be sacrificed to deadlines and the sheer volume of articles and reports that must be churned out to meet the demands of news outlets.

 

Jackson’s ability to suggest positive alternatives and possible coping mechanisms makes this a valuable book for many readers. She presents six effective ways to change our media consumption to “help us become more informed, engaged and empowered”, including becoming a conscious consumer and reading solutions-focused news. Freedom of the press is far from being a straightforward issue, as different forces operate on journalists and others in constructing and delivering stories. Solutions based journalism is a complex idea in some ways, being more sophisticated than just good news, and far more positive than the shocking themes which currently dominate the programmes. There is an impressive set of notes for each chapter and a list of books which serve to anchor the book as well as offer information to the reader. The most interesting point is the insistence of hope in the production and reception of news, an “emotional coping mechanism” that can combat the feeling of doom that can characterise our world view. This is a positive book in a controversial area, and I recommend it to the general reader as an enlightening read.