Centralized web or a Decentralized one or both?

Loss of Face

Andrew Mitchell, the Conservative Chief Whip, is getting a whipping from the media for being rude to policeman outside 10 Downing Street – and so he should.  He has forgotten what for me was a basic lesson I learnt early in life in Japan – Loss of Face.

Loss of Face simply refers to losing honour, or more simply put being made a fool of.  In my view there is rarely if ever a need to be rude to anyone, to make them look foolish – and to do so only makes you foolish too.  This applies particularly in a work environment – nothing is to be gained by shouting and berating people.  Not only does it discourage the person being berated, it demotivates others around them too.  You won’t get people to come to you with ideas and help if you have a tendency to make others lose face – they will feel like your ire may be focussed on them at any time and will do what they can to avoid that; it’s just a basic human response.

There are plenty of ways to upbraid someone without making them lose face, a quiet word in a coffee break, a personal note, a private meeting, etc.  And if someone is being obstinate, or being a “jobs-worth”, one thing is for sure, shouting at them won’t make them change.

The corollary also applies – you can effectively give Face.  Do all ideas have to be your own? – certainly not.  Welcome contributions, especially those that correct your errors, provide critical insight or additive to yours – and be happy to publicly acknowledge such contributions.  Don’t always insist that your ideas must be attributed to you – help others outside of meetings to improve their ideas and let them gain the credit.  You will be thanked by them and they will usually return the favour (and if they don’t you’ll have a learnt an important lesson about their character anyway).

All too Utopian for you? No it isn’t – I have tried (but not always been successful – though I have never shouted at anyone in a work situation) to follow this principle ever since I was a lad and really understood what it meant.  My Loss of Face light bulb was finally switched on for good as a result of an embarrassing lesson from my childhood which thanks to my father’s good sense has stuck with me to this day.

I was an intellectual lad and was at the upper end of my class in terms of achievement.  This meant that often I and some others could get bored as we waited for others to catch up and I am sorry to say I was occasionally disruptive as a result with the weaker teachers.  This led to me being changed to the Head of Geography’s class, a rather stricter, but excellent lady teacher.  I recall we studied glaciers and rivers – physical geography.  One day I turned up for class early, on the day we were going to do a test.  I was enjoying lessons with this teacher and I certainly had no need to cheat, but temptation overcame me when I saw the questions and answers on her desk.  I am sorry to say I cheated and looked at the answers.  The result was I got a ridiculously high mark and was accused of cheating to which, a little to my credit, I admitted straight away.  Cue one letter to my parents and one rightly cross father.  However instead of punishing me for cheating he used the occasion to reinforce my understanding of Loss of Face.  I recall his words: “Julian, I am not going to punish you for cheating, as many would have done the same with the temptation, even though you didn’t need to; I won’t punish you for the crass stupidity of showing off and getting near perfect marks, which made your cheating obvious; but you of all people, raised in Japan, should know that you have made your teacher lose face – she looks foolish to all her fellow teachers because she left the questions and answers on her desk for you to look at. Through your dishonesty you have made her lose face and it is for that I am going to punish you.  I was punished and I learnt that lesson and have tried to follow it to this day.  Thanks Dad.

UK student exam changes

Well the timing if my  blog 2 days ago (that I have been thinking about for ages) couldn’t have been better – one day after I published it the Government announces a shake up of the English exam system with the introduction of an English Baccalaureate.

The basis of the change is more rigour in the exams to tackle grade inflation.  A common criticism in the last few hours since the announcement has been that “surely we can’t have children failing exams” – this does seem somewhat daft to me because if you’re going to have a test not everyone is going to pass it, and we all don’t succeed at everything we do (at least I don’t).  However, referring to my previous blog, it is noticeable that I didn’t mention passing or failing – simply where you are in the year in terms of ability in that one subject.  With standard percentage grade boundaries there is no pass or fail, simply a position relative to others.  You can call a C or above a pass, but in reality a test just grades everyone, from 1 to 10 in the new system I believe so there is no pass/fail point. So the pass/fail criticism fails!

I mentioned two main points in my blog – standard grade boundaries and a single exam board for each subject.  The latter point has been adopted, but the former is not yet clear.  One report says that exam boards can offer ‘norm referencing’ (the term for what I suggest) rather than the current ‘criterion referencing’ where standards are attempted to be equalised from year to year (but quite clearly unsuccessfully – hence the underlying grade inflation problem).  I hope that when the proposals are firmed up in a bill brought before Parliament that ‘Norm referencing’ becomes the norm.

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(P.S. Everyone’s English is going to have to improve just to spell Baccalaureate correctly without the aid of a spell checker!)

Grade inflation – inevitable and holding the UK back?

As an engineer I am passionate about education. We need more students to learn the STEM subjects (Science Technology Engineering Maths) if we are to be a knowledge led economy and for this we undoubtedly need an excellent education system.  As the world gets ever more technological it frightens me that these two truths are not evident to all.  I have spent some time and my own resources in helping in this area and one concrete result was the When STEM report I helped sponsor and create along with the IMechE.

I try not to veer into political minefields in my writings, but sometimes it is just unavoidable. In this case I feel that the overall UK education debate is cheapened by the continual yearly squabble about grade inflation and exams becoming easier.  There seems to me, with an engineers view, that there is a very simple solution which will allow all of us and “the system” to move on from this debate and consider the real changes that are needed.

Before I give my solution – which I hope more informed readers in this subject area will criticise, refine or reject with reasons – I will give my position on the main areas of criticism.    Has there been unwarranted grade inflation over the years? – almost certainly yes when I see what my own children have studied and achieved and when I see what younger staff bring to the table; however, do we have an intelligent and able youth – yes, it’s just harder to distinguish who shines in what subjects. Have tests got easier over the years? – yes and no I think.  The topics in each subject area and hence the questions have changed – and they have to as the world progresses so making comparisons from one decade to another is inherently difficult. There has been some clear “dumbing down” which the “scandal” (it should have been a big scandal, but was reported as a misdemeanour) of certain exam boards helping teachers effectively cheat for their pupils showed.  My view is that one of the big reasons for the obfuscation has been school league tables.  What gets measured gets done is the business mantra – very true and if you measure the wrong things the wrong things get done, and if you’re not good with your management the people being measured will work out how to game the system.  In STEM this has been particularly virulent where the combined science award is rated as 2 GCSEs rather than the one it is, so instead of being taken by that minority of pupils who find the single sciences excruciatingly difficult, it is now taken by the majority of pupils in England & Wales because it helps boost table places.

So what to do? Well the first thing is to work out what the exams are for.  They are to position you as someone who can study and know a particular subject well (or not).  They are used to determine your suitability for the next step on the education ladder, or for your first/next step on the employment ladder.  They are essentially ephemeral, meaning that after you have taken the next step it is what you do in that next step that counts for your subsequent progression and not your previous exam results.  It matters not what GCSE (O-level) results I got 30+ years ago, but what I did afterwards in getting A-levels which got me into a degree course from where the degree got me my first job from which my ability in my first job got me my second job and so on.  Now there might be some longevity to your results beyond 1 step in your education/career progression, but at most it will influence 2 steps except in rare circumstances.  Therefore there is no real need to compare exam results from one generation to the next – they are for comparing individuals within a single year (or cohort).

Therefore if the results are only for in year comparison, we simply need to be consistent in what we give an A* for, an A, etc so that, for each individual subject, anyone can be placed in rank order.  This is what statistics has the normal distribution for (or poisson or other distributions if more applicable to the shape of exam result distributions) – simply align grades to whatever standard deviation boundary you like, or being simplistic the percentage of the cohort that is relevant for each grade.  So for example you could have top 5% of results for a particular subject getting A*, next 10% get A, next 15% get B, next 20% get C and so on.  The particular mark for each grade boundary will change for each subject each year – as a result of ease/difficulty of exam and cohort ability, but this is no issue as we get an absolute in year ranking.

There is still one area open though – if there are different exam boards with different degrees of difficulty then an A in one may not match an A in another.  This is an issue that has been around for years – I remember back in 1979 some of us being told we were doing Cambridge exams as they were harder and would be better regarded, but for those in the class who would not get an A in Cambridge they would be entered into the AEB exams as they would get one grade higher in those as they were easier – a nonsense!  We have a single national syllabus so why don’t we have a single national exam?  So my second change would be to have only one national exam for each subject.  If the exam boards want to pitch for the right to set and oversee that exam then great we can have different exam boards, but only one for each subject.

These two simple changes (fixed percentage grade boundaries and a single national exam board for each subject) would I believe remove the thorny subject of grade inflation and exam dumbing down from the agenda allowing everyone to concentrate on actually improving the overall standard of achievement and providing a much needed clarity to schools, universities and employers on what grades actually mean and the ability to compare people from different education and location backgrounds.

I’d be interested in hearing from anyone who thinks I may be being too simplistic here or plain wrong (and of course if you think I am right!) – what is the logic for the current situation if I am wrong or what is a better alternative system?

(One comment I received on an early draft of this blog, was what happens if someone wants to compare one year to the next.  Firstly this is always difficult because curricula change so year on year comparisons are always difficult, but if you did want to do so then by publishing what the grade boundary marks are each year that information would be in the public domain for those with a specific interest.)

Digital age wiping our memories clean

There is an interesting leader article in The Times today entitled “The digital age is wiping our memories clean”.  The central premise is that with digital data what is their to pass on to our families when we die?  No physical photos, books, collections, diaries, etc.

This leader article was written in association with the #digitalcrystal exhibition at the Design Museum where various designers have created (fairly esoteric in my view) answers to this conundrum.

A simple way to pass on your digital data would be to create a single “digital locker” of everything that might be of interest to your children and future generations, but how to create such a locker?  The biggest issue of course is in collating all your far flung digital data into a single Locker and then of course extracting from that if you want to pass on only an edited memory.

Interestingly this falls right into the sphere of two of my businesses.  The first SocialSafe (www.socialsafe.net) brings together all your social network data into a single collection, owned by you on your computer, searchable as a single collection and viewable by date across all your social networks – so the first part of your digital locker then.

The second, DADapp, whilst primarily a private sharing app today, has the vision of creating your complete Life Catalog or Digital Locker (many aspects are already within the application) – see www.dadapp.com/vision.

So it is possible to automatically and simply bring your data together; however, The Times poses that extra question – what to leave to future generations?  Do you want to leave your entire digital history for others or just an extract, and if an extract, are you up to doing the work that that might involve or are there clever algorithms one could create and tailor to do that for you?  One thing is for certain this is an area where there will be a) a lot more debate and b) a lot more development before we reach a steady state (if we ever do).

Team GB top the 2012 Olympics medal table …. Oh yes they do!

Great Britain has received near universal praise for hosting an enthusiastic and well run Olympics and to have achieved 3rd in the medal table is much better than any Brit could have hoped for – or is it?

There are two common methods for calculating medal table placings.  The first used by GB and many others is to rank by Golds, and if even on Golds by Silver, and likewise by Bronze.  This places US first, followed by China, GB, Russia.  The US use an approach with total medals won as the primary key and on this system, GB falls to 4th swapping places with Russia.

If there are two methods of calculating table positions are there others and how would GB do based on these?

It seems to me that to be fair to small nations that just cannot expect to win tens of medals we should base the tables on best use of resources.   Surprise, surprise GB comes top of the table based on this “best use of resources” criteria, the top five in the medal table are as follows – the ranking is based on “Resource number”, the lower the better.

Nation Ranking Number
Great Britain 12.08
Jamaica 12.09
Republic of Korea 15.21
Democratic People’s Republic of Korea 18.05
Hungary 19.19

So I can happily announce that Team GB are the best Olympic team in the 2012 Olympics!!

So is this a true conclusion, or just fiction?  It is in fact true, but as that great line “There are lies, damned lies and statistics” suggests, you need to understand how I came by these figures – and whilst 100% true there is a level of fitting the figures to get the conclusion needed, for which I blame Jamaica (the Lightening Bolt factor) and Grenada (so small in resources that their one Gold medal is a distorting factor).

To start the process I went to the CIA World Factbook  and copied in details of Geographic Size, Population, GDP and GDP per capita for each nation with at least one Gold and entered these details into a spreadsheet with the basic medal data from the 2012 Olympics – a copy is here: Olympics table.

I then divided each of these four Resource Factors by the number of Golds each nation achieved and separately by their total number of medals too.  I then sorted the nations by each of these 8 Resource Achievement columns.  For each sort the nation with the best use of resources (lowest number) was ranked 1, the next 2 and so on.  If you then add up the total of each of these 8 rankings you get a total Resource Number for each nation.  The top five on this basis are: Jamaica; Hungary; Cuba; Granada; GB.

This of course does not put GB first.  My first modification was to remove GDP and Population as they are already represented by GDP per Capita; working on best uses of resources in terms of available territory and money per head of population we get a resource based table that seems much fairer.  Then I considered only Golds as this is the most common factor used in medal tables.  However, in this case the UK is tied equal with Jamaica, and so we’re not quite there yet.  So in the event of a tie it seems fair to work on basis of lowest GDP per Capita for all medals won, in which case GB in position 8 just shades Jamaica in position 9.  (This “tie ranking” is given in the overall Ranking Number by addition of a fraction equal to GDP per Capita place/100.)

(As always there is also another small assumption used to make things better for my intended result – I used the Purchasing Power Parity version of GDP posted in the CIA World Factbook, rather than the official exchange rate version of GDP posted in $.  My justification is that exchange rates are artificial banking inspired numbers and purchasing parity makes more sense – in reality smaller nations usual have a larger PPP GDP value that pure GDP value which makes GB figures overall better!)

If you’re read this far, there is a business lesson to all this.  Be careful of figures representing anything in position order – it all depends on what criteria you use and its easy to find criteria that present the data in the order you’d like to see (or more appropriately the originator wishes to see) – and to make that selection seem fair when presented too!

My network graph

As I approach nearly 1,000 contacts on LinkedIn, I though I would return to an interesting feature I found in LinkedIn Labs previously – a map of how all my contacts interconnect.  You can see my map below (click on the map to see a larger version).

What is striking for me is how the various groups in my life are so clearly delineated – there are overlaps and people who connect through the groups, but as my annotations show each group is fairly distinct.  You can drill down into who each dot is which makes from some interesting discoveries – mine are personal are you would expect, but if you have a fair number of LinkedIn contacts you might find doing the same exercise an interesting one.

Privacy Policies

Too many Privacy Policies are lengthy and opaque, the result being that users don’t understand what they are signing up to.  This can of course be blamed on the users who are supposed to be responsible adults and should look into what they sign up for; however, I don’t consider this a reasonable view.  It is not beyond the whit of companies to make simple summaries of their policies whilst referring to a more legalistic version for the absolute ground truth.

I was reminded of this today when reading an email from Path stating “Today, we’re happy to share with you our updated Terms of Use and Privacy Policy that are easier to understand and better reflect our strong commitment to your safety, privacy and enjoyment of Path.”

This all seemed quite good until I read the Privacy Policy – certainly in clear English for which a tick, but unfortunately deliberately obfuscating.  You get 8 specific bullet points of what they use the information for and then the last bullet:

“for any other purpose for which the information was collected.”

This is a classic of bore you until you can’t be bothered and then give you the ‘sucker punch’ of “oh and anything else we can think of, so don’t complain later we didn’t tell you”.  I am not impressed.

The email was intended to reassure me, but the result is the reverse.  Its a pity I’m probably in a small minority that will have a) clicked through to read the Privacy Policy and b) read it all to understand it was all PR flim flam, and they are the same company that took my address book and other data without asking me the first time.  More fool me and others for not insisting on clarity in the first place.

Privacy – layers of disclosure over time

Earlier this week I highlighted how privacy is a many-layered issue.  Its not just about considering right now what you’re sharing and with whom/what app, but also about what those you share with may choose to share themselves about you (knowingly or unknowingly).  A further complication is the time dimension.

A big difference between sharing verbally (at the pub say) and on a non-private social network is that in the latter your share remains there for history (or a good Google/Bing search) to find.  I am enormously glad, now that I am a seasoned businessman, that some of my more daft youth fueled excesses are not available for posterity to look at.  But surely, if you lock your Facebook data down to Friends only and are careful about what friends you invite then all is OK? Well probably not, no – the time dimension must be taken into account.  Friends now are not necessarily friends then, i.e. when we make new friends we don’t always tell them our whole past, we edit and select what is pertinent to the new friendship.

An easy example of this is when we’re in our early courting years – so I have a girlfriend for a few years and unfortunately we break up and move on, and then I get a new girlfriend.  Do I mention all the things I did with my old girlfriend – I suggest highly likely not!  Yet, with access to my Facebook timeline my new girlfriend can see everything I posted with my old girlfriend, from smoochy thoughts, photos, events, etc.  Time moves on and none of us can cope well with comparisons – “you didn’t take me to Venice 2 months after we met!”.  Is this just a theoretical example? – probably not as the edited extract from the timeline of one of my Facebook friends shows (I did ask permission!); I’m not sure his new girlfriend is going to fully appreciate his old ‘couply’ photos!

Privacy is complicated, both directly with whom you share and what, with apps that may or may not take more than they should, with your friends inadvertently exposing more of your data, or with the passage of time.  Whatever the uber-sharers would like us to believe, I do not think we’ve scratched the surface on what this means to us in terms of relationships or social mores.  Until we know how to live socially within this over-sharing world then caution should be exercised – unless you’re using a really 100% private sharing system, then only share that which you are probably happy with the world seeing – now AND forever.

Privacy – layers of disclosure through people

There has been a lot of furore about apps that you may download to your iPhone or Android phone which then extract more personal data than you may have thought was necessary for their purposes.  Recent examples are accessing your private address book or your location.  These things do matter and you should be aware of what each app does – but the truth is that it is very difficult to know and police for the average user.

However, what if you are careful and read all the privacy policies for apps and the rest – all is then OK isn’t it?  Well not 100%, no.  If you use Facebook and have your settings set to Friends only to see your data and you’re careful what apps you use surely there is no issue?   Well no.  If a friend uses an app, that app can have access to whatever your friend sees, including your data.

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Yes that’s right, your friend can use an app without you knowing that can then send your data to that app’s owners.  See the security options to the right to see that nearly all your data can be sent to an app you have no knowledge of if used by a friend.  You can switch off this sharing of your data by friends to apps they use by unchecking the boxes.

So why raise this issue now?  Primarily, to show that Privacy is a many-layered item – it’s not just what you share with whom, but what your friends choose to share with whom too – whether that is knowingly or unknowingly.  However, it’s not just the people domain, the time domain matters as well – I’ll blog about that later this week.

Users often express it best ..

Any business must spend a lot of time and effort in trying to encapsulate their product messaging, both in succinct titles/strap lines and in expanded (but still brief!) product descriptions.  Once you’re out in the market though it pays to listen to your customers and see what they think you are and do; they often express it better than you.

SocialSafe, one of my iBundle businesses, is a social media backup tool for both personal users and businesses.  Jason White of DragonSearch just wrote a review of SocialSafe after using it for several weeks for the DragonSearch internet marketing company; in his introduction he makes the case for SocialSafe very succinctly.  The whole of the blog is definitely worth a read if you’re interested in ScoialSafe, but his intro is definitely worth highlighting:

” I’m an agency guy, so how could I have not known about social media archiving? I calmed down and thought through it; our web properties are just as important as and no less vulnerable than the documents stored anywhere else. The harsh burn of document loss has been felt by many, so why do we treat our web properties differently? With Twitter recently turning 6 years old, many of us have a startling amount of data within the social sphere that is simply housed on the servers of our beloved social networks. With the ability to backup connections, photos, and interactions, SocialSafe is the set-it-and-forget-it tool that allows users to keep control over their online personae.”

Wantatshirt hits The Mirror – Serendipity is wonderful

The coincidence of being in the right place and the right time can do wonders for any business.  Through my innovation hub, iBundle, I am part of the Wantatshirt business with our partners Propaganda Creative and Fanela.  The aim of the business is to source high quality rights images, apply these to high quality T-shirts designed to a high quality, and then printed on demand to a high quality such that they are indistinguishable from stock T-shirts – clearly our emphasis is on high quality.

The innovation is do this in the print on demand space and this requires technology which is where we at iBundle come in – being able to manage the sale process through our own Wantatshirt site, others special websites such Don’t Talk To Me About Heroes, and through other channels such as our Amazon shop – and then collating all sales to be printed and dispatched by Fanela each day.

So where does serendipity come in to this story?  Well we have been talking to The Mirror about putting some of their iconic images on T-shirts and selling through Wantatshirt.com – this is good for both sides as we get exposure obviously and our licence partners get sales income without anyone having to outlay for stock.  Discussions were going well and then out of nowhere Kylie Minogue, that ever so slightly popular singer, wears a T-shirt on her UK tour with a Mirror front page on it.  24 hours later after some frantic activity on all sides and we have a selection of the best historical Mirror front pages ready to go on our Wantatshirt site and a large reader offer published in The Mirror this morning, with more to come.

Fashion (Propaganda Creative) meets technology (iBundle) meets manufacturing (Fanela) meets serendipity (Kylie) meets a brand (The Mirror) meets our customers (You!) – hopefully pleasing everyone!

File Transfer Woes – or the Sneakernet again

I just love the cartoon below from xkcd.com.  Sending files, repeatedly, from one computer/person to another is still too painful – why?  Home networking is still not easy to use for file sharing – finding computers, understanding shared folders, other’s passwords, etc – using email or sneakernet (i.e. using USB devices and running between computers) are the common methods – why?

This is one reason we created DADapp – simple drag and drop sharing available today, whether on a home network or over the internet.

Hailo raises $17M – Solving the “duality” problem

Congratulations to the team at Hailo who have just completed a $17M fund raise from Accel, along with previous funders Atomico and Wellington.  I invested in Hailo last year as part of their launch funding and it is fantastic to see the excellent team progress so swiftly in meeting and exceeding their targets.

The key to any investment is a top quality team and Hailo have that in spades led by Jay Bregman.  The other key to Hailo is that they had a great answer for solving the “duality” problem that comes with trying to innovate in the taxi space.  In order to get customers to use a new app to book taxis with, you need to have a large number of taxis; however, to get a large number of taxis, you need to have a large number of potential customers – the duality problem; you need both parts of the puzzle at the same time.  How do you solve this enigma? – Uber, the leading contender in this market up to now, tends to solve this by buying up taxi space, but this gets expensive.  What set Hailo apart for me was the innovative solution they had – first create an app that the taxi drivers would want to use even if there are no customers bringing money.  They created an app that helped taxi drivers monitor their fares, meet up with their mates, note when bursts of customers were available, take credit cards, and more – using this Hailo signed up over 1,000 black cabs in London in months, without having to buy capacity.  Then when they launched the consumer app, users could get a taxi within minutes as they had a large supply – ingenious.  There’s a lot more to Hailo’s success of course, but solving the duality issue was the key.

Many other business models have the duality problem when starting up – finding innovative solutions to solving this, without buying into the market, is a strong indicator of potential success.

And now for something completely different …

In a complete change from my usual business or technical blogs, this is a blog about art.

I have the absolute pleasure to be in business with a great artist, Katie Tunn.  Katie is one of those natural artists that seems to me as a non-artist to have talent to spare – she creates masterful pieces, whether it is the polo series she did last year (one of her pictures was given to the world’s leading player at an award last year by Guard’s Polo Club), the painting of an MP (Adam Afriyie MP), or her latest St Sebastian series which I show below.

What I wasn’t aware before working with Katie is how artists document their inspiration in an “Artist’s Statement” – for those interested I have included the statement as a PDF below, and also extracted the text for easier reading.  Does knowing the Artists Statement change your opinion of the pictures? – interestingly it did for me.

Now as a businessman I should point out that if you’d like one of these pictures – contact me.  If you’d like to commission Katie to paint a member of your family, your business, a horse or any other animal, or anything else (she creates the most amazing life-like paintings) then – contact me.

Enjoy the art:

A decorative version of Katie’s Artist statement is available.  The text is as follows:

KATIE TUNN: THE BEAUTIFUL BOY

A SERIES OF SIX PAINTINGS EXPLORING THE AESTHETICS OF THE MALE NUDE

‘This is a book about male beauty. There are some who think the expression ‘male beauty’ oxymoronic, even perverse.’ – Germaine Greer, The Beautiful Boy, 2003

This series of paintings is created as a joyful celebration of youthful male beauty and colour. A combination of traditional realistic painting and stark, vivid hues and high-gloss finishes. They are a pared-back, minimalist approach to an iconographic-style.

Taking inspiration from photographs created by French duo Pierre et Gilles, they also give a slight nod towards other current artists including Jeff Koons and David LaChappelle.

Initially inspired by the reclining sculpture of Saint Sebastian by Antonio Giorgetti at San Sebastiano fuori le mura of Rome, these pieces draw from the historical portrayal of the saint as one of the most physically attractive characters in Christianity.

The swift elevation of the female nude as the artist ideal and the reduction in interest in religious scenes during the nineteenth century meant that portrayals of the saint began to dwindle. In the late twentieth century, his ‘beautiful boy’ representation has meant that Saint Sebastian has been resurrected as a gay icon with many artists and photographers using his image or imagery as inspiration for glamorous pictures. Although not traditionally associated, the stylised kitsch of Catholic art fits perfectly into the high camp much associated with gay media. Germaine Greer writes about St Sebastian in the Beautiful Boy, a book which examines our relationship with the image of the young man. With Saint Sebastian as a starting point, this series of paintings takes inspiration from this book to explore the image of the beautiful boy as a whole.

When commenting on the aesthetics of the young male, an interesting perspective is added by the fact that the artist is female.

Does this add a feminist perspective to the pieces, considering the way male artists have treated the female subject, or is it a simple case of enjoying beauty in any form? A number of people have remarked on this subject matter, but why should portraying a man in this way be seen as more aggressively sexual? Why should a male nude hold different meaning to a female nude?

Alongside the artistic (Koons, Pierre et Gilles, LaChappelle) and religious influences, there are a number of cultural sources that these paintings draw from. Probably the most interesting of these is twentieth century political propaganda; this is mainly due to the heavy stylisation of shape and the creation of the idol figure. The comparisons to posters created by the Nazi party in WWII that presented healthy, smiling youths suggests that our cumulative interest in what is beautiful and true is not always entirely innocent. Is there something sinister in the glowing figures or is it simply in the mindset of the viewer or creator? Perhaps the sinister element is echoing society’s obsession with beauty and perfection.

The paintings portray a realistic representation of the model on a background of bold, flat colour to create a pared-down image of the idol figure. Stripped of the embellishment and ornamentation, we are left with nothing but the man depicted in the centre. Without the symbolism of, say, a Catholic shrine painting, with its gold leaf and floral borders, the viewer is left to contemplate the figure alone in his frame. Are they showing off? Are they beautiful? Are they an idol or are they vulnerable?

Katie Tunn is a young artist with a BA in Fine Art from Central Saint Martins. She describes her paintings as conceptual figurative and works to merge traditional skills with new media styles and techniques. Having begun her career painting polo and military subjects, she now works from a studio in the Surrey area.

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