All sensation and little explanation

arts notebook
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The Independent Online
The members of the Royal Academy who protested this week at the inclusion of Marcus Harvey's painting of Myra Hindley in next week's "Sensation" exhibition are implicitly taken to task for their philistinism in an art journal produced before the Academicians entered the row. The journal's editorial, thinking the only protests would come from the press, condemns the "extreme emotional response" of the protesters who "bitterly resent the idea that art can tackle important issues". The journal is the Royal Academy Magazine, published before it realised that some of the RA's own leading lights were about to become "extremely emotional".

But this rather embarrassing irony for the Royal Academy was matched by an even better irony when art critics and others gathered to debate the Hindley painting on ITV on Thursday night. One of the "Sensation" artists described his painting "White on White", an all-white canvas. The programme's chairman, Andrew Neil, roared with laughter asking if it was a snowstorm. An all-white canvas is in fact the star of the satirical play Art currently in the West End. The denouement finds one of the characters coming to terms with the picture by thinking of it as a snowstorm.

What was depressing about this debate involving critics, artists and members of the public was the sneering and refusal to explain on both sides. Surely by now the champions of conceptualist art should be able to articulate their passion, rather than merely condemning as old-fashioned and philistine anyone who disagrees them. The visual arts seems to be seething with cultural snobs, and light on cultural communicators. A mission to explain is needed. And the troubled and vacillating Royal Academy could begin the mission next week by explaining the artistic worth of the Myra Hindley painting, rather than simply accusing their detractors of "prejudice" as they did this week..

The literary world seems suffused with irony. Take the fall-out over the Edinburgh Book Festival. Publishers are complaining about alleged poor organisation. For example, Iain Banks was billed as talking about the intricacies of adapting his book The Crow Road for TV, though he had had nothing to do with the adaptation. But surely this was a way of challenging a top author's imaginative powers. My favourite complaint though is about the event at the Book Festival which looked at eating disorders. The sponsor was a delicatessen, and the talk was followed by a food-tasting session. Incompetent organisation? Not at all. Martin Amis would kill for such a deliciously grotesque plot.

The BBC Symphony Chorus performs in The Last Night of The Proms tonight. The singers, whose day jobs include vicars, policemen and accountants, recently returned from a triumphant debut at the Salzburg Festival. One assumes their time between concerts there was spent practising for the mother of all music festivals. One would only be half right. The vicars, policemen and accountants were spied re-creating favourite scenes from the film The Sound of Music in situ. Finding that they were performing in the actual avenue where the Von Trap family gave their last performance before fleeing, members of the BBC Symphony Chorus climbed up the arches, yelled "They're gone, they're gone" at the top of their voices and broke into a rousing chorus of "Edelweis".

A touching tale from the French piano- playing Labeque sisters, Marielle and Katia. They tell today's issue of Classic FM Magazine how they lived for seven years in a London flat above the actor Dirk Bogarde. Fans of his, the two sisters were thrilled when he sent them a letter. "I was very happy," says Katia, "I thought he wanted to meet us." In fact, he was writing to complain about the noise, and continued to complain on a regular basis until they moved out.