State of the Arts

Thou shalt cap films at two hours! Ten commandments for a superior arts experience in 2020

From making the theatre more affordable to banning actors from mumbling on TV, our arts columnist Fiona Sturges has a new set of rules for the year ahead

Thursday 02 January 2020 19:51
In the firing line are (clockwise, from top left) exorbitant theatre prices, dithering literary prize judges, overcrowded galleries and interminable movies
In the firing line are (clockwise, from top left) exorbitant theatre prices, dithering literary prize judges, overcrowded galleries and interminable movies

In the 21st century, popular culture has never been so wide-ranging and available. Truly, we are spoilt for choice. But standards have started to slip, a situation that cannot be tolerated. Behold, then, my 10 commandments for a superior arts experience in 2020.

Thou shalt stop drooling over dead women

The past few years in TV and podcasting have shown there’s little audiences like more than a gruesome murder case. Give them a pretty dead white girl – think porcelain skin and artfully smudged mascara – and they couldn’t be happier. Crime stories have sustained popular fiction for decades, but it’s time for a reversal of the tropes. Where are all the furious women chopping men up into lardons and repurposing their testicles as earrings, hmmm?

Thou shalt stop wearing plaid shirts

I’m talking to you, whey-faced man with guitar. I know you’re a sensitive soul who has no interest in the trappings of success, and you’d like everyone to know it. In your mind, your earthy woodsman aesthetic speaks of gentility and authenticity. But how, pray, are we to separate the Capaldis, the Ezras and the Sheerans from actual earthy woodsmen? We need our pop stars to be larger than life, to take us out of ourselves, to inject colour and pizzazz into our drearily monochrome world. Seriously, guys, would it kill you to make an effort?

Thou shalt make the theatre more affordable

Several hundred quid for a Hamilton ticket is not OK.

Thou shalt bin off the blockbuster exhibition

You booked months ahead. You were given a timeslot. You imagined acres of space and time to gaze and reflect upon the wondrous works in front of you. What you didn’t envision was boiling temperatures, jostling crowds and a sea of camera phones clustered around each piece. I gave up and left the Royal Academy’s Antony Gormley retrospective last autumn after the central gallery reached gridlock. When I visited the Banksy exhibition at the Moco Museum in Amsterdam, a queue had formed in front of The Rude Copper, in which a policeman gives the viewer the finger – said queue was largely made of people waiting to be snapped next to it striking the same pose.

Clearly, the crappy manners of visitors is not the fault of the galleries, but overcrowding is. This is no way to experience art. When I am put in charge of everything, galleries will allow no more than 50 people in per hour. Silence will be mandatory. Selfie seekers will be shot on sight.

Thou shalt cap films at two hours

Joe Pesci as Russell Bufalino and Robert De Niro as Frank Sheeran in The Irishman

Word has it that the release of Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman coincided with a spike in visits to the doctor as cinema-goers offered up their traumatised backsides for inspection. The situation improved when the film transferred to Netflix where hourly exercises at least staved off the threat of DVT. You can’t hurry genius, Marty, we get it. But three and a half hours for a film? Really? It’s largely for comfort reasons that I have now sworn off Marvel movies; Tarantino films and the Star Wars franchise are off the menu too. I want to be entertained, not tortured. And don’t think describing your film as “epic” makes it any better.

Thou shalt not mumble on TV

Actors! Enunciate!

Thou shalt stop launching new subscription services

The fight for our eyeballs, and our bank details, has never been more brutal. We are already drowning in TV. So please don’t ask me to shell out another tenner a month for a streaming service that I definitely don’t need, save for the one show that has been deemed unmissable and has thus given me a severe case of Fomo.

Judges! Thou shalt stop dithering and pick a winner

Margaret Atwood and Bernadine Evaristo

Arts prizes are tricky. Working out what constitutes “best” can be hard when faced with a glittering smorgasbord of talent. Last year’s decision to share the £50,000 Booker Prize between two writers – Bernadine Evaristo and Margaret Atwood – may have seemed a neat solution, but was ultimately a fudge. Ditto the shortlisted artists for the Turner Prize who bypassed the final judging round and instead shared the winnings. Arts prizes will always prompt disagreement – it’s all part of the process. They also elevate and celebrate the work, and transform careers. This isn’t primary school and you don’t give people an apple for just taking part. Just pick a winner already!

Thou shalt lock down all phones at gigs

When I was told recently I’d need to hand over my phone before watching the Australian comedian Hannah Gadsby’s Douglas, my first impulse was to contact the European Court of Human Rights. I despair of those that hold their phones aloft at gigs as much as the next person, but you actually want to take my phone? What if I miss a crucial text about next week’s dishwasher delivery?

In the event, no one confiscated my phone. It was just popped into a bag that couldn’t be opened until after the show. Thus, there was no flash photography, no glowing screens in my sightline and no one obscuring my view as they attempted to film the whole thing and upload it on YouTube. It was glorious.

Thou shalt stop writing medical memoirs

Junior doctors, GPs, heart surgeons, neurosurgeons ­– consider yourselves seen.

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