The Collected Writings of Jon Thompson
Suchin, Peter, Art Monthly
'Underlying all the writing in this volume', observe Jeremy Ackerman and Eileen Daly in their foreword to The Collected Writings of Jon Thompson, 'is a depth of first-hand knowledge backed up by formidable amounts of study.' 'Thompson', they continue, 'is ... one of the most influential British teachers of his time, so it is no surprise that all through his writing there is much to learn.' The very phrase 'collected writings' has the ring of something definitive, a summation of a practice as a writer that has run, in the present case, tightly in tandem with what is indeed widely regarded as an important contribution as a teacher and artist. Reading these broad-ranging essays, interviews and revised transcripts of talks--there are just over 30 texts in the book--one can certainly concur with the editors' enthusiastic stance. Thompson writes with considerable fluency on a diverse range of artists, among them Mat Collishaw, Richard Deacon, Marcel Duchamp, Jannis Kounellis, Piero Manzoni, Stephen McKenna, Steve McQueen, Panamarenko and Mark Wallinger. There are also essays examining Minimalism and the art of the 1960s, Jean-Francois Lyotard and the sublime, Realism and Pop Art, art education, contemporary painting and the philosophy of Simone Weil. The texts are laid out in chronological order, allowing the reader to get a clear sense of Thompson's development as a writer over a period of some 30 years.
In the discussion between Thompson and the editors that opens the book the author himself expresses amazement at the sheer volume of what he has written, a factor borne out by the book's 500 pages of closely printed text. He explains what motivated him to write for publication, an activity he began in the late 1970s: 'there were whole areas of art that weren't being written about at all, and I felt that if nobody was going to write about them then we'--by which Thompson means artists--'should do it. I've never been that comfortable with writing, but I just thought at the time that a space had opened up, which needed to be explored.' Such an almost apologetic attitude permeates the book, an engaged and confident approach to writing that is nevertheless void of pompous presumption. Thompson's remark about how he felt artists should write about neglected work suggests a sense of responsibility towards what he saw as important developments in art, as opposed to what might be regarded as more fashionable topics of discussion. No doubt this willingness to engage with the marginalised or the 'unvoiced' has been an important component of Thompson's ability to get to the heart of matters within teaching too, as has his consistent stance of regarding education from the perspective of a practising artist. Concluding the paper 'Campus Camp', Thompson proposes: 'To put the artist at the centre of. …