Visitors to the Tate Britain William Blake exhibition of 11 September 2019—2 February 2020, were met by a sign reading
The art of William Blake containsstrong and sometimes challengingimagery, including some depictionsof violence and suffering.
Please ask a member of the staff ifyou would like more information.
I thought this a reasonable warning to any parent taking a child to the exhibition. But a handful of journalists reporting on the exhibition tried to make hay out of this sign, claiming that it was tantamount to censoring Blake, seemingly unaware of Blake’s Stedman engravings and the horrors they depict in such careful detail.
Do visitors need to be told at the William Blake exhibition at Tate Britain that his art contains “strong and sometimes challenging imagery” and “depictions of violence and suffering”?
Since when has it been the business of public institutions in a free society to instruct its citizens how they should react to an exhibition and what they should think?
The Deputy Chief Minister of Guernsey, Gavin St Pier, invited me to the Trafalgar Day dinner at the East India [and] Public Schools Club. This was a first for me. Union Jack waistcoats predominated and we sang Jerusalem at least twice.
This anecdote makes me wonder if I’ve got Blake completely wrong. Perhaps Blake really was the Kipling of 1804. But then any attentive reader of Rudyard Kipling’s Barrack-Room Ballads (1892 and after) will be aware of how Kipling himself skewers the cruelty and rapacity of Empire.
Deprived of funding by successive Conservative governments, our NHS continues to struggle to provide an adequate service for millions of sick and elderly citizens. William Blake’s powerful portrait of a health service driven to its knees, in the person of Job, stands as stark testament to the artist’s place in society, and his responsibility to convey the message of the necessity of social change. A specially commissioned Lavender and Basil Tate Ointment for Boils, Chilblains and Blisters is on special offer at £19.89, 10 percent off for members, in the Tate shop, with a Blake-themed tube design by Dame Tracey Emin.
Reprinted in Private Eye Annual 2022. Edited by Ian Hislop.—London: Private Eye, 2022.
Reviewed in the TLS (18 March 2022).
Ripley discusses reactions to the content warning sign at the entrance to the Tate Blake exhibition, as well as the reception of the exhibition more generally.
A comprehensive history of one of the most famous poems in English literature. Whittaker traces the complex social, political, and cultural contexts in which the hymn has been used over a hundred years.(Due for publication in July 2022.)