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This is a tricky question that comes from the Great British Art Debate. The Great British Art Debate is a partnership between Tate Britain, Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums, Norfolk Museums & Archaeology Service and Museums Sheffield, working together to use historic British Art collections to explore questions about nationhood and identity in Britain today.

This question actually raises many more questions, so this week’s debate is quite open. We’d really like to hear your thoughts more widely on art and nationality, both in the UK and beyond.

Comedian Simon Munnery interviewed some visitors to Tate Britain to get their thoughts on the question. 

So is it possible to categorise British art? Is there something peculiarly British about art made in Britain, or by artists born in Britain? Could you categorise the works made in a certain place more than works made in a certain time? How far does the culture an artist works in influence their work? We’d love to hear if your work has changed after a change of location.

Is art a large part of constructing a nation’s identity? Does the UK culturally think of itself very differently to other nations? Perhaps it’s changed over time – do historic British artworks say something real about the Britain of the past? Or do they contribute to a fantasy about what Britain is and was, that has little relevance in today’s global world?

The Great British Art Debate is a partnership between Tate Britain, Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums, Norfolk Museums & Archaeology Service and Museums Sheffield, supported by The National Lottery through the Heritage Lottery Fund, and by the MLA’s Renaissance programme.


Hasan Kurtoglu

Well,British or not,art is art!


Do we know what is British any more?


Well, having studied Fine Art in London (graduated last year), but being foreign, I felt a very big emphasis on British Art and felt that they were really trying to forge British artists. And the stress, in this sense, was on subtlety and on being referred to British art only. I rarely was recommended to look at international artists, the only exception being the odd American artist (too famous to be ignored), or Sophie Calle. And the same goes with lectures. So, I guess it is not so much of a fantasy, although it is stereotype in the sense that it mostly includes white middle class British and those few foreigners who have conformed and adopted that language. It strikes me that it does not really include much of the Commonwealth countries for example. Anyway, it seems that there is a desperate need to have a British artistic identity and feel like this is one of those set of values that have been carried from the Empire, and that it is going to disappear, sooner or later.

Goetz Kluge

There is British art as much as any art has some regional features. But the faster and easier people, art and information can travel, the less there will be significant regional differences.

I think that there also is something like "national" art as long as there is regional history. Significant regional differences may be disappear sooner or later, so rush to collect what you can get in North Korea ...

As for British national art, Millais' "Christ in the House of his Parents" is an good example for art which, in 1921, was considered to be so British that the Australians were stopped from buying it. The British perhaps were afraid that they would display it upside down. Whatsoever, The British defended the painting successfully, which is why it now is owned by Tate. Unfortunately, perhaps apart from Henry Holiday, Britains didn't get Millais' jokes in that carpenter's shop yet.

Nigel grima

What British artists say becomes our nationality.

Nigel grima

Its easier to define a a foreign country. Foreigners see us as pub goers who like football and cant cook. Its all stereotypes. This debate is silly. Its probably a marketing stunt. Like the Tate knows anything about art anyway, its concerned with reputation..yes money!

Nigel grima

Yes, the stereotypes. The motif. And that we are a first world country with a privelage to do art. Throughout history it always relied on money.

Nigel grima

As money has no residence and because most big galleries are preoccupied with it (such as the Tate) you wont see British art there.

Alex Flett

As a student I knew the likes of John Bellany and William Crozier who despite working in England were always refered to as Scots artists. I also knew Tony O'Mallay who despite living and working in St Ives for years was always an Irish artist. At the same time I knew Pat Heron and Roger Hilton who were always portrayed as British rather than English. As a born Scot I also worked at the Slade where I would argue the concept of "British Artist" had its most powerful use as an art terminology. It was not usual for Scots to go to the Slade in those days, most Scots operated around the Royal College perhaps (I hypothesis) because it protected the concept of Scottishness more than the Slade. Personnaly I dont care how an artist is labeled in regard to his birth place. The important point is "How good are they?" And one has to ask "How many artists born in these Islands has a name which rings art historicaly in a manner of say Duchamp, Beuys, Picasso?" non of whom one tags as German or Spanish. The name alone conjures the importance of the art. Those names can be used anywhere in the world without geographical reference. I was born in Scotland but my secondary and collegiate education was in England and I live and work in Scotland - so what am I as an artist? Geneticaly I am an ancient old Pict with a surname which comes from the Vikings! It could be argued in the same manner that Picasso was a Visi Goth! It simply doesnt matter in art because it is now such an International thing; and great art in the 21st century can - like it has always done - come from anywhere. That is why art is so wonderful. geographic labels simply dont matter. Best wishes Alex Flett

Ash Summers

As Britain is no longer really British I would say it is a lot harder to categorise work as being British

Liên Guidon

I would go along with the person who says there are British Artists... Why should we want to speak of nationality when art is concerned?