jump to navigation

Vultures Circle March 15, 2010

Posted by markswill in Media, That's Entertainment.

“Clarity is the last hiding place of the man who has nothing to say.” – Friedrich Waismann.

Taking that on face value what follows, whilst woefully bereft of meaning or worth, may well be a shining model of lucidity . But of course that won’t stop me… and arguably ‘twas ever thus. But that quotation from a rather obscure Austrian mathematician and philosopher has been exercising me somewhat of late. As has the little matter of philosophy itself, because for the past few weeks I’ve been attending a course of evening classes in the subject run with a delightful informality by a retired professor of same in our local greasy spoon (or ‘multi-purpose venue’ as we prefer to call it).

Don’t worry, I’m not going to ram a load of epistemology down your throats – not least because I’m still wrestling with the very basics of what I’m trying to learn – but as Ms. S surmised when I had to scamper back home for the following evening’s lesson, for a sleepy border town of just some 2000 souls, there’s an awful lot of culture going on.

Back in January I mentioned the inaugural salon that I was co-launching and which is now well established and a modest success, and we also have music nights two or three times a months in my local pub with a quite surprisingly eclectic range of performers, classic and cabaret nights two doors up at the Assembly Rooms and the fortnightly film society in the same venue. (And let’s not forget the Xmas panto. Or on second thoughts, let’s). The film soc. is affiliated to the Bordelines Film Festival, a now well established, 14-day orgy of the indie, the arty and, um, the borderline mainstream which, whilst based in Hereford’s glitzy Courtyard Arts Centre, has screenings in remote village and town halls throughout the Marches.

Our own contribution was a showing of Rumba, a charmingly amusing if very derivative (of Jacques Tati) little flic directed by its lead players, Dominique Abel and Fiona Gordon which attracted a healthy audience for a such an obscure work. But as I pointed out to Ms. S as I was going off to see the rather better known Me & Orson Welles – albeit the last of its three performances at the Courtyard – the fact that there is so much happening culturally hereabouts, it is but a fraction of what’s available in her hometown, i.e. London. Where of course there must be more philosophy evening classes than you could shake a stick at (but exactly what, you ask, is a stick?), and certainly more music and film in a week than you could attend in a year or two down here.

As a consequence I think that the culture vultures who live here tend to be less discriminating in their patronage than those in the big cities because a sense of gratitude that there’s anything available overwhelms the specifics of their taste, however eclectic they might be. Of course much of what actually is available exists relies heavily on public subsidy and private sponsorship, and it will be interesting, and perhaps depressing to see how art in the sticks fares when the next slew of budget cuts kick in. And in a worst case many of us lucky liberals may reverse the flight from the cities that brought us here and return to London, Bristol or Birmingham where if nothing else, we can be sure of a nice night out at the Camden Town Odeon or shaking our ageing butts to Aerosmith at the O2.

Please pen a comment, read previous blogs, sign up to get ’em automatically and/or access my website using the links on the right.

The Broader Church March 2, 2010

Posted by markswill in Navel Gazing, Politics, Schmolitics.

Raising the suspicion that I have nothing better to do with my time, once again I find myself noting that what follows stems from something I heard on Radio4. Even worse, in this case it was merely a trail for a programme hosted by that master of garrulous drollery, Will Self, the premise of which was that art has become a new religion. An interesting observation I thought at the time, but then I found myself week trotting round Tate Modern and the V&A last week prompting further rumination which, for all I know may well mirror Mr Self’s albeit weightier and syntactically more convoluted thoughts from the bowels of Broadcasting House.

I am actually quite a fan of churches, but for their architecture and decoration (including paintings, natch) rather than the behaviour that goes on within them. Bludgeoned into moderate-to-high C-of-E supplication at an early age – being sent to a cathedral boarding school was the kicker here – I perhaps not unnaturally rebelled against worshiping an invisible, unsympathetic and arguably perverse deity just as soon as I left home. Reckoning that fear mixed with self-loathing is not a recipe for a worthwhile and satisfying life, I have nonetheless occasionally wondered if a set of rules handed down from an essentially good and kind superior being would at least remove the self-doubt that, equally occasionally, gnawed at my soul and obfuscated my decision making. But when that deity permits, even encourages bloody wars and institutionalised paedophilia (to cite just a couple of avoidable atrocities), then I’m afraid I don’t buy it.


But I don’t think I’m alone in wanting to believe in a greater good and since we long since have lost confidence in politicians or royalty to supply a moral compass by which we can steer our way through life’s confusion and treachery, many of us have invested in the relative certainties of art to at least provide a comfort blanket we can snuggle under.

Given the well-worn cliché about knowing what we like even if we know sod-all about art itself, I personally have made it my business in later life to glean a little education, even flirting with a history of art degree course at the OU, but that seemed like too much work at the expense of earning a living. Instead I’ve just visited as many exhibitions of as many different artists’ work as I can and read as much about the daubers and chisellers and their relevant schools as time permits. And whilst I am also similarly enthusiastic about other non-career related stuff, I have noticed that a passion for the tangible expression of creativity is, well, a much broader church and one occupied by many millions more than invest their leisure time under the bonnet of, say, an old car or in a cinema.


At Tate Mod last week there were the usual well-dressed, middle-aged couples peering through their bi-focals, clutches of Japanese tourists squeaking in hushed tones to one another and startlingly coiffed art students sketching away furiously in front of Van Doesburg’s impressive avant-garde works and even Arshile Gorky’s totally derivative and not-very-moving abstractions, the ‘wow factor’ shared by all of us in many instances and to different degrees. Now I know that similar responses can be observed amongst theatre or cinema audiences, and we also marvel at a well-turned phrase in the books we read or the radio programmes we listen to, but my contention regarding the religiosity of art stems from the very fact of these temples, variously grand, austere and even daunting, where we worship in quiet reverence the manifestations of those whose talents and skills we do not ourselves possess… or at least not in the same measure or combination. Thus inclined to view the world as they see it – I’m grossly oversimplifying here, but lah-di-dah – we leave these latterday shrines to creativity uplifted and even provoked into revaluing aspects of our lives. Or sometimes, as in the case of the Gorky show, wondering what all the fuss was about.

But even if it’s the latter, we share and debate our views with others of the same calling just as religious evangelicals claim to do with the words handed down from the bearded gent up in the clouds although they, of course, ultimately rely on the alleged certainties of a volume or two of polemic masquerading as historical fact to ward off any niggling doubts they may have about What Really Matters.


The worship of art has therefore become a creed we can indulge and believe in knowing that it is universal in every sense of the word, and also pervasive amongst myriad levels of society that are not mutually exclusive in the way that they might be with, say, music or motorcycles (actually, certainly with motorcycles). We can also – and this is perhaps the most telling parallel with old-fashioned smite-ye-down faith-followers – convince ourselves that we don’t need to know what’s good or bad about it in order to believe in it, and that’s because a Nicholas Serota or a Charles Saatchi tells us that’s cool.

Which is, of course, cool with a feckless disciple of faddism such as yrs. trly.

Please pen a comment, read previous blogs, sign up to get ’em automatically and/or access my website using the links on the right.