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

The Week in Arts

Share
Related Topics

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.

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Salesforce Developer

£50000 - £65000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Due to continued business growt...

Recruitment Genius: Internal Sales Executive

£20000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity has ari...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive

£20000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Finance / Accounts Manager

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Well established and expanding ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Ed Miliband contends with difficult questions from Jeremy Paxman  

Battle for Number 10: Miliband survives a rough ride but Cameron takes the edge in first TV battle

John Curtice
Prime Minister David Cameron is interview by Jeremy Paxman  

The TV non-debate: Miliband does better than expected, but not better than Cameron

John Rentoul
The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

The saffron censorship that governs India

Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

How did fandom get so dark?

Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

Disney's mega money-making formula

'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

Lobster has gone mainstream

Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

14 best Easter decorations

Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

Paul Scholes column

Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

The future of GM

The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

Britain's mild winters could be numbered

Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

Cowslips vs honeysuckle

It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss