The Week in Arts: Revealed, a psychological profile of artists

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It's festival time, and in between the Isle of Wight and Glastonbury there is a particularly fascinating one happening not only in the middle of London but also indoors.

It's festival time, and in between the Isle of Wight and Glastonbury there is a particularly fascinating one happening not only in the middle of London but also indoors.

Morrissey's Meltdown festival on the South Bank is achieving something no other festival aspires to: it offers a psychological profile of its curator.

The two-week programme, at first glance, just looks like an eccentrically eclectic mix from the wacky Los Angeles pop outfit Sparks to the New York Dolls to Alan Bennett reading from his work.

But then consider Morrissey's own work and character, and yes there is an element of the campness of the New York Dolls, a much bigger element of northern wit, introspection (and chip on the shoulder) by Alan Bennett, and plenty of the melodic humour of Sparks. No one would have guessed until now that Sparks were an influence on Morrissey, but of course they were.

And let me break off from my paean of praise for the South Bank Centre to request a ceremonial ducking in the river for whoever compiled the official Morrissey Meltdown brochure and announced in bold type on the first page a concert by "The Sparks". One careless definite article gives the lie to the institution's boast that its staff embraces all music with equal fervour. Would they have written "The Stockhausen"? I doubt it.

Back to the praise. Over the decade it has been going, Meltdown has given us insights into a number of its artist curators. Morrissey may have shown his hand more blatantly than some of his predecessors, but looking back at previous programmes, they were not without clues. Nick Cave's dark humour and music rich in atmosphere saw him choose Sir Les Patterson and Nina Simone. Likewise, David Bowie chose the comedy of Harry Hill and the tuneful lyricism of Coldplay, while Scott Walker probed his own studiedly opaque psyche with the music of Radiohead and Mark-Anthony Turnage, and the theatricalism of both Luc Bondy and the Richard Alston dance company.

What the festival ought to do in future years is broaden the range of curators to include visual artists, choreographers, film and theatre directors and authors. So far, they have been predominantly musicians. It would be interesting to probe, if only culturally, the make-up of Damien Hirst, Mike Leigh or Jeanette Winterson.

Indeed, after 11 years, it is more than time to see a female curator of Meltdown, the country's only arts and psychology festival. Morrissey says in his introduction to this year's festival: "Some of you have iPods, I have Meltdown." But he could just as easily have said: "Some of you have therapists, I have Meltdown."

Imagine a Lennon/Jagger conversation ...

It was disconcerting to see the pictures this week of Sean Lennon and Elizabeth Jagger (right) out on the town together. While Elizabeth takes after her mum, Sean looks uncannily like his dad, circa 1969. I'm sure that John and Mick never said to each other in the Sixties: "Wouldn't it be nice if we had little ones, and that some day they would be 'walking out'." It wasn't the sort of conversation they would have had.

But I do wonder what sort of conversations their offspring have. They will, as in every relationship, one day take a dig at each other's parents.

"Your dad couldn't half be a poseur on stage."

"Well, at least he stuck it out on stage for 40 years; he didn't give up after half a dozen."

"Excuse me, my father was busy writing the likes of 'Strawberry Fields Forever'."

"Yeah, there's another one you couldn't possibly dance to."

It'll end in tears, I tell you.

*Much has been made of the new scheme to train leaders of arts organisations better. The scheme boasts the former Culture Secretary Chris Smith as a patron, and the names of a host of budding chief executives have been released.

One problem, though. If one looks at the traumas in arts organisations in recent years, they have been caused as much by chairmen as by chief execs. The English National Opera has a particularly hands-on chairman. The Royal Shakespeare Company's last chairman was closely associated with the on-off plan to demolish the theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon. Yet I see nothing in this new scheme about the training of chairmen. Without that, I wonder if the whole thing adds up to a row of beans.

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