Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Pitmen Painters

Over the Christmas holidays I went to see Lee Hall's Pitmen Painters at the National Theatre. It is the extraordinary story of a group of Ashington miners in Northumberland who, in 1934, hired an artist to teach them art appreciation. Bored with lectures on the intricacies of Rembrandt's use of shadows and Modigliani's lines, they rapidly abandoned theory in favour of practice.

In their evening classes the pitmen began to paint . . . and to paint well. Within a few years, avant-garde artists became their friends and their work was acquired by prestigious collecters, but every day they continued to work as miners.

Pitmen Painters is a humorous, yet serious look at art, class and politics. As a creative writing teacher, I know that the world is full of “pitmen painters”. Many who enrol on my courses are initially worried whether they will be competent enough to write. I never hesitate when I answer: “Yes, you are good enough.” And then I quote Henry Van Dyke: "Use what talents you possess; the woods would be very silent if no birds sang there except those that sang best." Stay tuned . . .

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