April 17th, 2008
The Royal Mint's mode of embracing the future is to take those old coin designs that did nothing except to tell you what they were worth [...]
I really like the current designs: nothing but "1p", "2p", "5p", "10p", "50p", "Â£1" or "Â£2" in a nice, simple large sans serif font. It was a shame they had to drop all those coats of arms and portraits of monarchs and what have you when the Postmodern Art Police seized power a decade ago, but that's the price of progress.
[...] and turn them into works of post-modern art. This raises the question of whether there are any limits to the extent to which art should influence everyday life.
You might have thought that this question had already been answered by British Airways. Long before BA's participation in the recent and ongoing Terminal 5 launch happening – a multimedia event which has reinterpreted the connection between passengers and their luggage – BA turned the tailfins of its aircraft into display areas for modern paintings.
Though the BA PR brains who conceived the tailfin art initiative were convinced that their handiwork vouched for the nation's thrusting creativity, the travelling public made it clear that they felt safer in an aircraft that had no visible connection with an art gallery.
They felt "safer". Really?
There might be an art gallery in the city that the passengers left, and another art gallery in the city they were flying to, but they didn't want to be in an art galley as they flew between art galleries.
Or rather, they don't mind flying in an 'art gallery' one bit so long as it sticks to displaying a 'traditional' style of art.
Correcting the error cost almost as much money as committing it, but eventually things were put back more or less the way they were.
If turning the coinage into an art gallery similarly proves to be a mistake, it's going to be harder to find the money to correct it, because this mistake is being made with the money.
Does James imagine that the Royal Mint would issue a recall notice, requiring us all to hand in our coins over the course of a few weeks to have an old design stamped over with a replacement?
The wider argument Clive James makes – that there's a tendency for modern organisations to rebrand themselves far more frequently than is strictly necessary – is perfectly fine; the specific example he used to kick off his argument is deeply silly.