David Lister: How quickly holier-than-thou turns into dog eat dog

The Week in Arts

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The rather fine but now largely forgotten 1970s band 10cc had a song called "Art for Art's Sake" with a chorus that could be written on every arts organisation's door at the moment. It went simply: "Art for art's sake. Money for God's sake."

These are tough times for the arts, and they seem to get tougher every day with more cuts either announced or threatened. The trouble is that some of the reaction in the arts is not terribly helpful. I have noted before that the attitude that the arts are 100 per cent sacrosanct won't wash in a climate of austerity, and decisions by major art galleries and museums to build multimillion-pound extensions while the country is cutting back in every area is absurdly provocative.

But now other reactions are becoming evident, and they are also disturbing. The first is a holier-than-thou attitude. This can often go down well within the arts but far less well in the wider world. Sam West, a top-notch theatre director and actor, recently argued against the cuts, saying that a civilisation is judged by its culture. He concluded his article by saying, "Name me one ancient Greek accountant."

Well, OK. But some of my best friends are accountants, and is it necessary or even helpful in defending the arts to attack other areas of working life? It's a risky approach as well. A closer scrutiny of theatres, galleries and other publicly funded arts institutions might find that quite a sum is spent on non-frontline services – marketing, publicity, consultants, even accountants.

Another worrying reaction is for the cultural sector to squabble among itself and for one organisation to "volunteer" another for the chop.

This happened this week with Nick Starr, executive director of the National Theatre, suggesting that the quango Arts and Business should lose its £4m of public funding. I suspect that any organisation with the word Business in its title will not endear itself to some in the arts, but Arts and Business does a valuable job in bringing corporate finance and individual philanthropists into the arts. It's not a frontline service, but many frontline services (theatres, museums, opera and dance companies to you and me) owe it a lot.

What arts leaders clearly have to do over this summer is find an argument that will impress the Government and stop it in its tracks from making cuts that sound as if they could be alarmingly damaging. I'm far from convinced that a holier-than-thou attitude, as hospitals, schools and jobs also feel the effects of austerity, is helpful or even very attractive.

I do believe that the arts occupy a very special place in the life of this country. And somehow that message has to be got across to the Culture Secretary and Chancellor, both of whom have been having meetings with arts leaders. But I don't think one gets that message across, or makes that argument, by knocking other professions or by turning on fellow workers in the arts.

And the award for best casting goes to...

I had never previously thought of Sherlock Holmes as the ultimate buddy movie. But the current, brilliant adaptation on BBC1 makes me think that Conan Doyle was ahead of his time in this respect. Sherlock on Sunday nights has updated the Sherlock Holmes stories to the present day, and last week's first episode was so compelling, witty and full of suspense that I can't wait for tomorrow's.

However good the writing and direction, the real secret of this series' success is the chemistry between Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman, who play Holmes and Watson. There's a tension, humour, warmth and electricity in their dealings with each other. It might be going too far to say there's almost a sexual charge, but there almost is. Casting directors are one of the least acknowledged breeds in the arts. But whoever is responsible for this piece of casting deserves a Bafta.

Mind the gap in Tube knowledge

It has long been a bone of contention for me that the announcements at Underground stations and on Tube trains in London don't do enough to draw attention to nearby cultural attractions. So I was pleased for a second that a museum was highlighted on one of my journeys this week, before being rather irritated.

As my Tube train pulled into Covent Garden station, the recorded announcement that is on all trains stopping at the station advised passengers more than once that they should alight there for "London's transport museum". I was niggled. The famous museum in Covent Garden is not London's transport museum. It is the London Transport Museum. OK, it's just a matter of a rogue apostrophe and a rogue letter S. And one risks being called a dreadful pedant or worse, but I do think that if London Transport, or Transport for London as it is now known, can't get the name of the London Transport Museum right, then something is wrong somewhere.

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