Mosaic’s bright future

Apparently Nicolas Serota has said something like – anything can be displayed in Tate Modern, except mosaic. Probably the gentleman has been taken out of context; but a man with the finest of post-modern sensibilities must be allowed a cut-off point. We do need boundaries.

Mosaic is part of our classical, Byzantine and medieval heritage. Titian considered it to be the finest and highest art form. Mosaics’ historic decline co-incided with the rise of painters and the merchant class, people who wanted likenesses of themselves and whose primary interest was making money. In short, perhaps accidentally, mosaic’s decline coincided with the rise of capitalism.

From the renaissance onwards painters were able to approach realism; they took the art of painting to new heights, and when photography arrived, painting with all its depth and breadth of expression, exploded into hundreds of new movements and forms, proving that it was not tied down to sameness. For all its variety and brilliance painting is generally limited to being an interior art form. So we can agree with Nicolas Serota and leave the inside of Tate Modern to the genius of the likes of Rothko, Pollock and Miro. But the outside of Tate Modern, I’m not so sure?

Mosaic is strong and exterior. It’s opulence is still used to decorate the atriums of large institutions and buildings where power and awe require display. But its future lies outside. Mosaic is at home with the elements, its lustre rests comfortably with nature. Mosaic’s future gallery is the street, the park and the square.

Mature and bold, this most ancient of art forms looks after itself – it does not need attendants to patrol a no-touch policy. On the contrary, our hands instinctively reach out to feel, stroke and experience the texture of stone, tile and glass. This is an emotionally literate art form. There will be occasional need for maintenance, but this is the duty of a society interested in its roots and keen to preserve its heritage. Haven’t we got enough people tapping away on computers, wading through the reeds of information? Wouldn’t it be sensible to employ a few people on making our towns more beautiful and keeping alive their lustre? Could this be a way of creating meaningful employment and at the same time improving the quality of life?