“I think Modern art lacks affection”

What an astounding observation by Ian Hamilton Finlay: “I think modern art lacks affection”.

It was made during lunch with an artist with whom he maintained an exchange of letters and pictures – Graham Rich.  I know this from the 34 minute video talk in which Graham talks about the shared love of boats with Ian Hamilton Finlay – and their little jokes in the correspondence.

This is one of those rare things: charming.  The younger artist obviously had respect for the older one, but was also valued by Finlay.  The whole talk is in a meditative pace, which is suitable, because that is the speed of the correspondence.  And besides, what is said is worth hearing and thinking about, savouring.

The actual exchange of correspondence is not just handwritten letters – but also paintings, really they were making mail art.  The featured image at the top of this blog post is a triptych by Graham.  As well as paintings, they exchanged small boats, poems, travel photographs, colour photocopies, faxes and even cheques.

This video tells the story of a friendship.  There is art and yes, it is affectionate.  It really fits the brief of this blog – the mixture of arts and life.


Creative Takeaways

How can this inspire our own making?  Well, how about making a piece of mail art for a really good lifelong friend.  Instead of simply writing words, draw a postcard with some joke or word or experience personal to you both.  Perhaps a time where one of you got their words muddled and said something accidentally hilarious, which became a catchphrase for you both.  Or find an outrageous picture in a magazine, paste it onto paper and write something as a subtitle which you know will make them laugh.

For added fun, you can address the envelope to them but giving them a pretentious and unlikely name or giving their house a completely unsuitable name.  As long as the street number, name and postcode/zipcode are correct, it will be delivered to them.




  1. […] There’s a way of writing poetry which relies on inventive page layout, called concrete poetry.  In some cases, this crosses over into graphic design or typography – if you’d like to see more examples, then google concrete poetry, or look at one of its more famous exponents, the Scottish poet Edwin Muir.  Another Scottish poet famous for involving shape, layout and graphic meaning was Ian Hamilton Finlay.  He went to the extent of basing his large garden on poetry in stone lettering, ideas and words upon many surfaces.  (The poet suffered much of his life from a phobia of leaving his homespace.) You can read my previous blog posts about my poetry pilgrimage to his garden/house Little Sparta and see a video of an artist, Graham Rich, with whom he carried on a lifetime’s artistic friendly correspondence here. […]

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