David Lister: So if there was an award for Arts Personality of the Year, who would we honour?

The Week in Arts

Share

As I watched the BBC Sports Personality of the Year the other day, I felt that something was wrong.

Is it really just sport that produces "personalities"? You only have to go to a First Night party to know otherwise. So, to (almost) round off the year, I hereby launch the Arts Personality of the Year.

And because I'm doing the launching, I will also do the choosing. In theatre, there has been no shortage of personalities, the intermittently hilarious James Corden in One Man Two Guvnors and the mesmerising Mark Rylance in Jerusalem. But there are personalities behind the scenes, too. Michael Grandage has been consistently superb at the helm of London's Donmar theatre. His new production of Richard II with Eddie Redmayne had me buzzing days after seeing it. Now that he is stepping down, a medal is due.

On television, several of the cast of Downton Abbey have grown into personalities that stretch way beyond the series. A new generation has learned to love Maggie Smith; the three sisters have become stars; and its creator, Julian Fellowes, is probably the most in-demand TV writer of the moment. But none of them gets to pick up the trophy. The TV drama personality of the year has to go to the jumper of the year, Sarah Lund. The Killing and its protagonist have made the Danish thriller the television breakthrough of the year.

In opera and ballet, the Royal Opera House scored a personality double with the stars and directors of Anna Nicole and Alice in Wonderland stretching the boundaries of their respective art forms. Mind you, in dance, it is still hard to look beyond the sleek, enigmatic and gravity-defying Sylvie Guillem, filling houses well into her forties.

With film, it took to the last week of the year for the biggest personality to take one's breath away. Leave the family on Boxing Day and go and see The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Rooney Mara's androgynous, vengeful and strangely sexy heroine makes two hours 40 minutes go by in a flash. She is stunning on screen – violent, provocative, disturbed and dangerous. Ms Mara, herself, is of course a very different animal off screen.

And that is precisely the problem. For, as much as one wants an arts personality of the year, what precisely does it mean? Are you a personality if, as with Mark Rylance, you are larger than life on stage and turn in the performance of the decade? Are you a personality when your lines have been written by someone else, or a stunning cast has made a director look good? You are great in the arts because you can immerse yourself in an alter ego. I must confess I can't even recall the name of the actress who plays Sarah Lund. Besides, she may have a rotten personality. It is Lund herself that I would want to win the trophy.

Of course, you could argue – and I would – that the same argument is true of sport. Being a supreme athlete does not of itself make you a personality. But in the performing arts, we must be more honest. You can have great performances and fantastic achievements in the arts. So, reluctantly I must withdraw the prize. There can't be an arts personality of the year. It's a contradiction in terms.

Some concepts are just so last century

The impressive, newish director of Tate Modern, Chris Dercon, is a 21st-century man. I asked him the other day which exhibitions he would be masterminding, and he told me that a curator making all the decisions was "so 20th century". Today's curators bring together great minds and adopt a collegiate approach. That's me sent back to the last century, then.

But he did say that he was particularly excited about delving in the Tate's extensive archives and putting on an exhibition of artists' letters, diaries, etc. It should be an illuminating show, and it's interesting to learn that looking back in the archives is so 21st century.

What an absolutely fabulous idea

One of the highlights of Christmas Day TV tomorrow is sure to be the return of Absolutely Fabulous. I was amused to read this week that a BBC executive rang up Ab Fab's creator and star Jennifer Saunders to ask if the programme should be scheduled before or after the watershed. Ms Saunders ranted afterwards that idiots were running television, and of course it had to be after the watershed.

Actually, I find it rather endearing that a BBC exec asks the writer where her programme should sit in the schedules. I think Jennifer should have kept her temper, stayed in character and said: "Marvellous, darling, put it on directly after the Queen's Speech and repeat it in prime time. Cheers, sweetie."

d.lister@independent.co.uk // twitter.com/davidlister1

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Birmingham

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: SThree Trainee Recruitment C...

Recruitment Genius: Interactive / Mobile Developer

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This digital production agency ...

Recruitment Genius: PHP Developer - Midweight

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This digital production agency ...

Recruitment Genius: Junior Front End Developer

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This digital production agency ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
The UCAS clearing house call centre in Cheltenham, England  

Ucas should share its data on students from poor backgrounds so we can get a clearer picture of social mobility

Conor Ryan
A study of 16 young women performing light office work showed that they were at risk of being over-chilled by air conditioning in summer  

It's not just air conditioning that's guilty of camouflage sexism

Mollie Goodfellow
Giants Club: After wholesale butchery of Idi Amin's regime, Uganda’s giants flourish once again

Uganda's giants are flourishing once again

After the wholesale butchery of Idi Amin's regime, elephant populations are finally recovering
The London: After 350 years, the riddle of Britain's exploding fleet is finally solved

After 350 years, the riddle of Britain's exploding fleet is finally solved

Archaeologists will recover a crucial item from the wreck of the London which could help shed more light on what happened in the vessel's final seconds
Airbus has patented a jet that could fly from London to New York in one hour

Airbus has patented a jet that could fly from London to New York in one hour

The invention involves turbojets and ramjets - a type of jet engine - and a rocket motor
10 best sun creams for kids

10 best sun creams for kids

Protect delicate and sensitive skin with products specially formulated for little ones
Tate Sensorium: New exhibition at Tate Britain invites art lovers to taste, smell and hear art

Tate Sensorium

New exhibition at Tate Britain invites art lovers to taste, smell and hear art
Ashes 2015: Nice guy Steven Finn is making up for lost time – and quickly

Nice guy Finn is making up for lost time – and quickly

He was man-of-the-match in the third Test following his recall to the England side
Ashes 2015: Remember Ashton Agar? The No 11 that nearly toppled England

Remember Ashton Agar?

The No 11 that nearly toppled England
Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
The male menopause and intimations of mortality

Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

Bettany Hughes interview

The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

Art of the state

Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

Vegetarian food gets a makeover

Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks