Pitmen Painters and the Big Society

Long before David Cameron or his spin doctors came up with his idea of the Big Society, the people of this country were well capable of ‘community’ action in the form of mutual self help and self improvement, as David Lindsay points out, in the trade unions, the co-operatives, the credit unions, the mutual guarantee societies, the mutual building societies, the Workers’ Educational Association, the Miners’ Lodge Libraries, the pitmen poets, the pitmen painters, the brass and silver bands.

A good example of this was the group knowns as the Pitmen Painters of Ashington in Northumberland, first brought to national attention in this book by William Feaver, the art critic of the Guardian.

The book then inspired the playwright Lee Hall to create the play of the same name. This was first aired in Newcastle in 2007 and transferred to the National Theatre in London where it was well received and has recently been revived as a touring production.

Subsequently it became a critical success on Broadway That is quite a journey; from a small mining village in Northumberland to the glamour and show-biz hoopla of New York.

But what of the painters themselves?
This picture shows Oliver Kilbourn and Jack Harrison photographed in 1982 in the original Ashington Group hut.

Here is a potted history together with a selection of their work

The paintings are not great art but that is not the point. These people painted in order to discover themselves to find out what they were capable of doing as they tried to realise their potential; to explore the undiscovered country within; to search for and release the divine spark that is in each of us.

They are a living embodiment of Alexander Pope’s words-

Know then thyself, presume not God to scan
The proper study of mankind is man.

(As a sometime painter myself, I can attest to the fact that the intense concentration required in looking, drawing, painting can produce a form of transcendental self-hypnosis which is liberating – an antidote to the madhouse that is the modern world)

It is indicative of the detachment of the political class that they are unaware of such things both then and now and are beguiled by what they read in the popular press, believing that it is a true reflection of life. Or perhaps they are aware of it and are fearful that the common man might actually think for himself. Politicians don’t approve of things like that.

My grandfather was also a pitman. Although not a painter, his pastimes were to grow roses and read Shakespeare. He also had a few hens at the bottom of his garden to provide eggs and occasionally a roast dinner. Try that now and the whole health and safety or environmental health Council Jobsworths will be down on you in an instant.

Whether it be keeping hens at home or the WI selling home made jam or a small business advertising by the roadside, all must be outlawed to protect the large retail companies
Such politically inspired prohibition of independence can only lead to dependence on government and/or the corporate monopolies.

So Dave, if you want to encourage your big society just get out of the pockets of the plutocrats and repeal a few stupid restrictive laws.

3 comments for “Pitmen Painters and the Big Society

  1. August 7, 2011 at 22:21

    It is a very sad situation we are in…

  2. Lord T
    August 8, 2011 at 10:08

    I’ve been reading up on the Quakers and their business practices. It isn’t too hard to see that moving away from common sense, political interference and greed have screwed us up big time.

    The old guys had good business sense tempered with morals and decency. Very little of that around now.

  3. August 8, 2011 at 11:46

    Nice post, JD, something I wasn’t aware of [one of the million or so things].

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