In Brief

British Artist Runs Against Politician Who Attacked Arts Education

Michael Gove (photo by Paul Clarke via Wikimedia Commons)
Michael Gove (photo by Paul Clarke via Wikimedia Commons)

Britain’s former secretary of education Michael Gove, who earned the ire of the art community when he proposed cutting the arts from core curricula at UK schools in 2012, will face a new opponent next time he runs for election in his local district: the artist Patrick Brill, better known as Bob and Roberta Smith.

The Independent reports that Brill will run against Gove in Surrey Heath, the district southwest of London where Gove currently serves as MP and was last re-elected with 57% of the vote — double the share of votes received by his Liberal rival. Though Gove left his position as Secretary of Education in July of this year, to become the Conservative Party’s chief whip, Brill believes that recent comments made by his successor, Nicky Morgan, have brought the issue of arts education back to the fore.

“If you didn’t know what you wanted to do… then the arts and humanities were what you chose. Because they were useful — we were told ­— for all kinds of jobs,” Morgan said recently while launching a campaign to promote the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) subjects in schools. “Of course now we know that couldn’t be further from the truth, that the subjects that keep young people’s options open and unlock doors to all sorts of careers are the STEM subjects.”

Bob and Roberta Smith, "Artists Ruin it For Everyone" (2002) (Image courtesy the artist and Pierogi)
Bob and Roberta Smith, “Artists Ruin it For Everyone” (2002) (image courtesy the artist and Pierogi)

“What she said has got everyone fired up again,” Brill said. “I thought: ‘I’ve got to stand.’”

In lieu of a formal campaign headquarters, Brill bought an RV on which he has painted messages of support for art and culture that he collected from residents of Surrey Heath.

“The point is to raise the issue of the importance of the arts,” the artist said. “But it would be great to chip away at that majority.” The UK’s next general election will likely take place in May of 2015.

Brill was a vocal critic of Gove’s reforms and even made an artwork, the 900-word hand painted “Letter to Michael Gove,” outlining his criticisms and complaints.

“Your Government has whittled Britain’s once diverse, varied culture of schools of Art to just 12 institutions,” Brill wrote. “This reduction is a disaster for British design, British commerce, British Art and Britain’s ability to compete in the world. Does Britain’s image mean nothing to you? Your reforms will cripple future British design.”

Brill isn’t the first artist to take his fight for greater support for the arts to the electorate. In 1974 the Canadian artist Vincent Trasov ran for mayor of Vancouver as his performance art alter ego Mr. Peanut.

“Mr. Peanut is running on the art platform, and art is the creation of illusion,” William S. Burroughs wrote in his endorsement of Trasov’s candidacy. “Since the inexorable logic of reality has created nothing but insolvable problems, it is now time for illusion to take over. And there can only be one illogical candidate-Mr. Peanut.”

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