Arts: `Artist' is not a dirty word

COLUMNIST BITES columnist is an unpromising way to begin, but I am unable today to contain my anger against Richard "Mad Dog" Morrison, who writes a powerful piece every Friday in The Times in a place very similar to this and who chose last week in returning to the subject of the Royal Opera House to turn his fire on an extraordinarily undeserving target, the dancers of the Royal Ballet, for resisting the management's proposals to make them work more hours for less money.

In an access of uncharacteristically incoherent aggression, he denounces the dancers ("My dears, get real") for balking at working more than a 160-hour month "in a job you love or, say you love", suggesting that they might go to the people of Walsall or Wigan or Wapping and explain their problem. This is part of the fall-out of his rage against the Opera House itself, an "ivory tower with its sterile museum repertoire and its staggeringly vain indifference to the cultural needs of modern Britain". Well, columnists go mad from time to time; it's an occupational hazard born of the twin and simultaneous delusions that you have great power and that no one is listening. The voice rises to a shriek, the tub is thumped, the word processor turns white hot as the keys are mercilessly hammered, every one an opponent whose heretical voice is stifled. The piece appears, the fever passes, and they start to think more or less clearly again, dimly, perhaps, remembering having been a bit rude about someone or something.

C'est la vie. In this instance, however, it matters rather more than it might otherwise, because the writer is the arts editor of The Times, and his position is one of such potential destructiveness, that it is altogether possible that like-minded people will take his tirade as having some sort of authority. What we hear in last week's column is the ancient voice of resentment against performers (let us not even dare to use the word "artist", because then Morrison's incipient cardiac arrest will instantly be precipitated) who have the audacity to say that their work is different from the work of others: not harder, not nobler, not more important - though nonetheless hard, noble, and, we hope, important - but different.

I shan't go into close detail of the financial conditions of the deal under discussion, any more than Morrison does. But let us consider the circumstances of a classical dancer's life. Training generally begins at age seven, with a programme of classes, both practical and theoretical, making demands of discipline and stamina which a child of the same age who was not a dancer would simply laugh at. The work continues at an increasing pace until the dancer gets her or his first job. From now until the end of their active lives as dancers - which in the majority of cases will be about 20 years - they will do a strenuous class (far more exhausting than the training of a footballer or a runner) in preparation for rehearsal and performance every single day, rain or shine, in order to give their 160 hours a month of performance. The job requires not only stamina and application, but intense concentration: picking up complicated steps on one swift demonstration; surmounting technical challenge to give an interpretation, to lend meaning to the difficult manoeuvres they're called on to execute.

It is hard to keep them away from the barre even on Sunday. Many things can be said about dancers, and are said about them - by themselves, not least - but no one can ever say that they don't work. They work like slaves; they push their bodies to breaking point and beyond. Many fully active dancers are, technically speaking, crippled - and in great pain and permanently exhausted.

I suspect that the people of Wigan and Walsall - though not, on this showing, of Wapping - would be filled with nothing but admiration for this level of work, but would certainly require several times the paltry sums involved to do the same. Moreover, they might note that these are the dancers of the Royal Ballet and the Royal Opera House, the very summit of the profession. Is it not customary for those who have reached the top in their chosen field, whatever it may be - those who are in possession of exceptional skills and outstanding talents - to receive some commensurate remuneration? Is Morrison saying that being an artist (there, I've said it; sorry, Richard) should be sufficient reward? In that case, we shall have a ballet and a theatre entirely peopled with dilettantes, which seems to be the direction in which he would like us to go.

Who is there in our society to cherish the artists? Today, at the end of the 20th century, increasingly few, either in government or in the press. Clearly, for The Times, "the cultural needs of modern Britain" do not include breeding and nurturing artists.

God help us all.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Martin Freeman as Lester Nygaard in the TV adaptation of 'Fargo'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre
theatreReview: Shakespeare in Love has moments of sheer stage poetry mixed with effervescent fun
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson stars in Hercules

film
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'

film
Arts and Entertainment
<p><strong>2008</strong></p>
<p>Troubled actor Robert Downey Jr cements his comeback from drug problems by bagging the lead role in Iron Man. Two further films follow</p>

film
Arts and Entertainment

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Tycoons' text: Warren Buffett and Bill Gates both cite John Brookes' 'Business Adventures' as their favourite book

books
Arts and Entertainment
Panic! In The Disco's Brendon Urie performs on stage

music
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Radio 4's Today programme host Evan Davis has been announced as the new face of Newsnight

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams performing on the Main Stage at the Wireless Festival in Finsbury Park, north London

music
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Mathison returns to the field in the fourth season of Showtime's Homeland

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Crowds soak up the atmosphere at Latitude Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Meyne Wyatt and Caren Pistorus arrive for the AACTA Aawrds in Sydney, Australia

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rick Astley's original music video for 'Never Gonna Give You Up' has been removed from YouTube

music
Arts and Entertainment
Quentin Blake's 'Artists on the beach'

Artists unveils new exhibition inspired by Hastings beach

art
Arts and Entertainment
MusicFans were left disappointed after technical issues
Arts and Entertainment
'Girl with a Pearl Earring' by Johannes Vermeer, c. 1665
artWhat is it about the period that so enthrals novelists?
Arts and Entertainment
Into the woods: The Merry Wives of Windsor at Petersfield
theatreOpen-air productions are the cue for better box-office receipts, new audiences, more interesting artistic challenges – and a picnic
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

    Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

    The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

    Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

    Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
    German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

    Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

    Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
    BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

    BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

    The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
    Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

    Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

    Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
    How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

    Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

    Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
    Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

    Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

    Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
    10 best reed diffusers

    Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

    Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

    Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

    There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
    Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

    Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

    It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
    Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

    Screwing your way to the top?

    Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
    Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

    Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

    Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

    The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

    Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
    US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

    Meet the US Army's shooting star

    Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform