PRESENTED, as we have been these past few days, with the sight of a soap and towel posing as a work of art in a Blackburn gallery and by the disclosure that, in Burnley, a grant-aided musician and artist have been chatting to bus passengers to respectively discover what songs and, even more bizarrely, what notions of riding on a Wild West stagecoach might be going through their heads, some questions inevitably arise.

One, naturally, is: "Is this art?"

The sane and sober among us would say: "Is it heck as like! How much is this costing us?"

In the case of Burnley commuters being pumped for inspiration as part of the so-called Buslife project and its contribution to the Year of the Artist celebrations, we learn that chatters-up Paul Rooney and Michael Robinson and three others are backed by £4,000 from the North West Arts Board. So, what of the cost of a couple of lost hip operations against our lives being enriched when their resultant work is displayed on the outside of the buses next November?

But, when it comes to the exhibition at Blackburn Art Gallery by New Zealand artist Wendy Bornholdt -- with the crackpot title "Vellum Subspace (Home Office) -- we are not told how much it is costing taxpayers to have "the cutting edge of contemporary art," as curator Steve Whittle puts it, brought to their town.

In view of the council finding it unaffordable to save the old Revidge Tank from destruction despite it being a piece of the town's industrial heritage, perhaps we might be told how much the apparently more valuable contribution to its culture of Ms Bornholdt's bar of soap on a towel and row of darkened cubicles with mirrors in them is worth in cash terms.

Priceless, however, is the notion that this bunkum is inspired by the gallery's collection of mediaeval manuscripts bequeathed to Blackburn by industrialist Edward Hart more than 50 years ago.

Old Hart made his brass by making rope and spent it well on acquiring these treasures. I'm sure he would spin in his grave at the thought of them being associated with a load of old rope today.