Glasgow School of Art: A Friend in Need

204019Whilst the fire was still raging in Glasgow School of Art my friend Robert Alan Jamieson posted this comment on Facebook: feels more like the loss of a well-loved personality than a building on fire.’ An apposite comment, and worth taking further for this building is not just a personality but a friend. It is strange to consider it that way, but absolutely true.

Whatever the damage, Mackintosh’s building will be again the friend not just of the artists who have worked and studied there, but the friend of anyone who cares to give it a second glance.

And who does not give it a second glance? It is one of the most beautifully designed buildings in the world. It was built at a time when Glasgow and its hinterland led the world in the aesthetics of making things. Mackintosh was born into the age of the Clyde-built tea clipper. Those ships – like Ariel from Greenock or Cutty Sark from Dumbarton – have been seen as a peak of maritime beauty ever since.

Glasgow was then and is today a powerhouse of visual thinking. And symbolizing it all: Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s Glasgow School of Art.

In his pioneering book, Cities in Evolution, published in 1915, Patrick Geddes refers to the fact that ‘Mackintosh’ had become a descriptive term in architecture in Europe. Mackintosh was in an international leadership role for the modern movement. He conducted a tour of the Glasgow School of Art for Geddes during the International Exhibition in Glasgow in 1901. Perhaps it was around this time that Geddes wrote, in an undated manuscript, that

‘the real artist is he who, like Mackintosh in the Art College of Glasgow (one of the most important buildings in Europe) gets his effects within the sternest acceptances of modern conditions. For here never was concrete more concrete, steel more steely, and so on.’

Within that honesty of materials Mackintosh conjured spaces in which to think and to make, and we have been thinking and making in them ever since. And now our thinking and making must help to bring that great personality and friend, Mackintosh’s Glasgow School of Art, back to life.

Comments (22)

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  1. Alasdair Frew-Bell says:

    This might have been a national cultural disaster. Thanks to the fire service that has been averted, perhaps. Iconic is rather a cliché term but in this instance it fits the case. It is emblematic of our often struggling culture, of our creativity, our ambition and our imagination. We need the flair represented by the likes of Mackintosh. Politics is more than the narrow utilitarian territory inhabited by so many professional politicians. We need the wild and liberating creative force of imagination as never before.

  2. Dr Ew says:

    Have to say I was choked when I saw the news. Although relieved that no one was hurt, I know a couple of students who are graduating his year and had been planning to go along to the show and I know they’ll be devastated.

    A few years ago I helped organise an international conference in Glasgow. Writers from more than 60 countries attended and everyone – every one – was clamouring to see the famous School of Art. Much as I loved the building itself, I’ve always thought its surroundings were a bit shabby and did not let us see its beauty to best effect.

    The School of Art is not just an architectural icon for Glasgow but one of the great engines of our cultural identity. Rebuilding and restoring will be a massive task but, if I may be so bold, creating a wee bit of space around it could make it even better for future generations – in an independent Scotland.

  3. Barontorc says:

    It has always struck me as a bit of a paradox that whilst the ‘great and good’ of Glasgow were capable of fantastic spiritual compositions like these buildings and engineering feats, much more than half of the city was enshrouded in squalor and the effects of dire poverty and it is this that pushes me to seek a proper balance for Scotland from here on in. It has to be YES.

  4. John says:

    The comments by Dr Ew are typical of the snobbery and conceit among those involved in art and architecture. How dare the local people live in aesthetically boring old tenements, let’s demolish viable homes and communities so the self appointed intelligentia can have more space to think their high minded empty thoughts. As someone who grew up in Garnethill, the art school is like an old friend, but the community is every bit as important.

    1. Garrion says:

      Hi John. I think you might have the wrong website. Or story. Wondering why you felt the need to attack, without any real evidence or point, someone for ‘snobbery and conceit’ which as far as I can see was not evident, nor has any relevance to the point of the article. Hoping for a bit of a fight perhaps? Better luck on the Grauniad threads.

  5. Hammer says:

    Interesting you mentioned Cutty Sark. A national treasure which rose from the ashes – just like the GSA will.

  6. YESGUY says:

    This is such a shame to the people of Scotland but really hard on the Glasgow.

    I’m from Edinburgh and never visited the Art school. but heard so much about it. We know the building itself was a treasure and its such a shame.

    But if there’s one thing that is certain, The good folk of Glasgow will re-build the School and when it does i for one will be taking a drive through to visit this beautiful place.

    Thankfully no one was hurt and the Fire brigade saved the building itself. Well done they have the gratitude of all Scots.

  7. manandboy says:

    A work of art of such importance deserves fire prevention which is state of the art.

  8. We may as well take it as certain that once the building is salvaged and restored – years away, I’m afraid – it will become The MacIntosh Museum, students shifted across the road to the new building.

    (MacIntosh wil be turning in his grave about that!)

    A museum was always on the cards, now the powers that be have their excuse – a definite.

    I just hope students saved CRM artifacts and not their transitory “installation” work.

    1. bellacaledonia says:

      I’m not so sure. The strength of feeling amongst students, past and present is pretty strong and Muriel Gray, amongst others, is very articulate. I’d suggest you’re being unduly pessimistic Grousebeater.

      1. I wish. I hope you prove me wrong. I’m sure the feeling will be that students should return when the building is ready, but …I have inside information from one of our most respected and admired painters who lectured there. She knows the inside skinny.

  9. While no rational person would dispute the significance of the GSA, there are questions around cultural capital and the emphasis always placed on places occupied by more affluent classes. Many buildings, schools in Pollok were demolished and renamed to appeal to middle class consumers, despite widespread protests from the community. Our publicly owned park was confiscated to make way for a through road to new shopping facilities that were too expensive to be named after Pollok.The Red Road flats were not only disposable in design, but also the potential source of entertainment for a global audience. Anyone who doesn’t share the view that the Art School was a ‘disaster’ and ‘national tragedy’ is likely thought uneducated or callous, however the school itself is largely inaccessible and much of the art emanating from it, fails to speak to the growing inequality at the heart of this society.

    I’m trying to use this sad event to illustrate how class permeates culture in a subtle and self referential way, constantly re-enforcing its own legitimacy, whilst voices such as mine continue to remain marginalised, despite being more broadly representative. My thoughts are in the link below. I feel genuine sympathy for those affected and as someone who frequented GSA on many occasions, I can say, hand on heart I was deeply saddened by the unfolding events. I know how it feels to watch something you love fall quickly into disrepair.

    1. bellacaledonia says:

      I think its a really important valid and difficult point you raise.

    2. wanvote says:

      Aye, Loki, I get your point entirely. So many of us are on ‘the fringes of culture’ and if we dare try to articulate this we’re regarded as morons.

  10. Derek Coghill says:

    There shouldn’t be any need for public money to help rebuild, though (which I have heard suggested); is that not what building insurance is for?

    1. Tell that to the bank bosses and finance house executives of the new criminal class. Better still, tell it to the politicians who committed the world’s greatest robbery from the masses to the wealthy few.

      1. Derek Coghill says:

        If, by that, you mean that I should object to my MP/MSP then I will. I heard a Radio 4 news bulletin just now (10pm) stating that both Holyrood and Westminster were going to contribute millions. Admirable, but why should they need to?

  11. Fay Kennedy. says:

    Thanks Loki for your sincerity and honesty. It made me proud as someone who grew up in that district where I had my real education among some of the best folk I have ever met in my life and now approaching seventy. It’s great to hear a young man who tells it like it is and you have cheered me up immensely in the midst of what is a sad day for all Glaswegians or should be if there was not such division among the classes. I keep hoping that come Sept. there may be a new beginning for that dear green place as well as the rest of Scotland.

  12. the school itself is largely inaccessible and much of the art emanating from it, fails to speak to the growing inequality at the heart of this society.

    This is the kind of utter nonesense that plays on people’s prejudices, personal opinion that mudle anger at living conditions with working class youth who reach some sort of step on a ladder in a vocation. No amount of false sympathy for the preventable destruction of a unique work of architecture camouflages what lies at the centre of the comparison: “I may know nothing about art but I know what I like.”

    Parallels with politically charged housing schemes makes no sense when a nation’s arts – the expression of its people – are just as subject to the bean counters of philistine politicians. It’s a phony comparison.

    If you have pride in your communities have pride in your city’s achievements.

    1. If the fathers of Glasgow had paid greater attention to the high skill and superb standards of MacIntosh perhaps they would have rejected building human filing systems called high flats.

      That’s what individuals of exceptional ability teach us – there is a higher standard.

      That’s why the Art School is of greater symbolic significance than poorly built flats.

      Its raises our sights. It raises our awareness that there is better. We ought to take the example of the art school and say, why were we given concrete boxes to live in when we had this as a standard?

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