Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Who's dumbing down?

"People tend to talk in terms of art for art's sake on the one hand, or art as a form of social engineering on the other. In fact the debate about the arts should be much more sophisticated than this; it has been going on since Plato's Republic, through Kant, the Enlightenment, Orwell, Leavis, Eliot and Williams." Sir Christopher Frayling has been moaning - "it's all a bit beer and skittles at the moment."

It's all very well to complain as you leave the top job at the Arts Council! I haven't been aware of a sophisticated debate being conducted by that institution. The bulletins I get in the post from the region (south) never cease to be tedious, worthy and predictable. Perhaps if there were some artists (a majority) on arts boards, there'd be a more interesting debate. Perhaps, too, if the arts council hadn't got rid of the specialists with vast experience of an artform, there'd be more challenging discussions, too about art.

You can talk more authoritatively about art if you know your subject through and through. I'm not interested in a debate about art if it has to be conducted within constraints that the arts council has promoted relentlessly, if it has to be conducted through arts council approved organisations, if it refuses to acknowledge the need to support individual artists, if it is squewed by interest groups.

When the arts council got rid of specialists, when it turned its back on individual artists, it hastened that dumbing down that he's so pissed off about. Where is the opportunity for poets, for example, to debate the role of poetry in this society? When did the arts council celebrate one of the most challenging of art forms?

But what does that "beer and skittles" insult mean? I don't think beer and skittles equates to dumbing down. I think it equates to the life most of us experience and where the debate needs to be held. How does poetry relate to our everyday experiences, what can it give us, how can it slot itself into those moments staring out of the kitchen window at the winter jasmine in the snow?

I'd say John O'Donoghue and I had a pretty sophisticated discussion about poetry and writing in the Park Crescent pub the other night. And about funding......John's new book, "Sectioned, a Life Interrupted" is launched on Friday. Buy it.