Wednesday, June 18, 2008
Yesterday I posted about the decision-making and reasons that the arts get lousy coverage (or so it often seems). In that post, I mentioned that often, writers with little to no art background are asked to tackle the arts.
Imagine my surprise when I ran across a series of articles/reviews in The Guardian where they’d adopted that premise, if only for a day. “What would happen if the Guardian's sports and arts writers swapped jobs? In yesterday’s G2, arts critics tackled sport. Today, the sports team take on sculpture, opera, dance and music.
Here it is appropriate to pause for a moment and remember that though these are writers out of their usual place, they are still writers for one of the world’s foremost publications. One may assume that they have a persuasive grasp of language and descriptors.
That said, both sides had some rather elegant thoughts on the subjects they knew nothing about. Even though most of the essays were couched in first-person, mildly autobiographical terms. A way, I suppose, to remain humble and not end up making an enemy of a co-worker by discounting his or her work.
Though not terribly insightful, the essays are nonetheless delightful to read in an almost P.G. Wodehouse-esque manner: slightly farcical and elegant. From Thomas Castaignède’s (rugby writer) description that he found the opera to be a “revelation,” to Judith Mackrell’s (dance critic) admission that horse racing is (initially at least) “addictive.”
However, the more surprising aspect of the two “sides,” was that the arts writers seemed to be universally less engaged in sports, than the “jocks” found themselves to be in art. In fact, Steve Bierley, the tennis correspondent, wrote (tellingly) of Louise Bourgeois’s Pompidou Centre exhibition, “Watch sport and you think about sport. Observe art and you discover yourself. Spirals, nests, lairs, refuges. Bourgeois leads you to dark places you are not sure you want to revisit. Sport is the toyshop; Bourgeois proffers no hint of a welcome. Even the “je t’aime” embroidered on the pillow in one of her claustrophobic rooms seemed like a threat…This woman is deeply dangerous.”
Perhaps it illustrates something about the very nature of art: though not always ideologically accessible, it is perhaps more readily synthesizable than sports which have seemingly endless arcane rules and leave little time for reflection. On the other hand, it might just illustrate the hauteur with which critics often approach the opiates and entertainments of the hoi polloi.
And then there’s this, from Kevin McCarra, chief football writer, on contemporary dance: Tero Saarinen’s Next of Kin “Next of Kin is meant to be a tale about the struggle of an individual, but it had no drive or direction. You want existential crisis, Mr. Saarinen? I'll give you existential crisis. Three days before, I watched John Terry miss the penalty that would have won the Champions League for Chelsea. Maybe it's a terrible fuss for a supposed grown-up to make about a mere sport, but it was striking to witness a millionaire whose wealth is no consolation when his life has been invested in this game. Saarinen's work did not grip me like that.”
Perhaps it boils down to nothing more than a matter of taste. But it is fun to read anyway.