May 17, 2010

AWRF10 - Friday May 14: What good are the arts?


Yes, this was clearly an Event event, not a Talk event nor even a Debate event. Up on stage they were all having fun and so were we. The Gus Fisher Gallery’s Linda Tyler set the tone right from the start with her warm, clever and stylish introductions. Her eyeglass frames were super stylish as well, definitely the Festival’s tops.

Then it was "On with the show!" To one side, we had Denis Dutton’s oversize silvery blow-dry (pointing to North American origins I hadn’t suspected in the founder of Arts & Letters Daily, but confirmed the minute he opened his mouth) bobbing about in energetic appeciation of his own wit and wisdom. John Carey, who started it all with his book What good are the arts? perched in the middle, with a glint in his eye, a bit like a rapacious bird anticipating the pleasure of the hunt. And then we had Sarah Thornton, strongly giving the impression of being a top-of-the-class, yet for my money, being irredeemably outclassed by the afore-mentioned "two old cats like us" (cf Hank Williams jr).

Some of the best lines:

John Carey: “I was brought up to believe art made you a better person, but looking at artists’ lives – as a specimen of humanity they’re abysmal!”

Denis Dutton: “Value judgments about art are always subjective. There are three types: “Art is what God loves”, “Art is what lights up your brain on an MRI scan” or “Art is what you know how to judge”.” 

When Sarah T curls her lip and says that John’s book “mentions” the superiority of literature over the visual arts (nb, it’s the thesis of an entire section of the book), he sings out “Just my view!” with a self-deprecating wave and a cheerful tone which is positively demonic.

John Carey:  “You can’t know what’s inside another person. That’s why God was created. I’m opposed to the claim that there are eternal values. When Marghanita Laski was studying ectastic states she discovered that people named all kinds of different things as causing them to have transcendental experiences: childbirth, sex, football… Art and literature were quite far down the list.”  

Sarah Thornton on Duchamp’s urinal (after reminding us in an Art 101 kind of way that it is called “Fountain” and is signed “R.Mutt”). “Most people still don’t think it’s art (Omigod, really?).  I realised this while writing an article on rogue urinals.”

John Carey: “You cannot develop an idea except by language.”

Sarah Thornton, in reply to a question from Denys Trussell, poet and musician, about the position of music in all this: “My PhD was in popular music. I can’t speak properly to Shostavokich.” (yes, sic)

Denis Dutton: “Why do University Art Schools own art and the rest of the world can go to hell?”

John Carey, in response to a member of the public’s statement that an experiment in Toronto showed that people who read fiction were more empathetic:  “Empathy yes, but what about behaviour? On the contrary, I think that if you get your kicks out of weeping over people in fiction, you’re quite likely to ignore them in real life.”

The audience:  loud gasp!

Ditulis Oleh : tosca // 02:30
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