Magazine article Management Today

Books: A Golden Age That Turned to Lead

Magazine article Management Today

Books: A Golden Age That Turned to Lead

Article excerpt

Publicly funded art lost its credibility thanks to Blairite neo-liberalism, claims the author. But that's no bad thing, says Stephen Bayley

Cultural Capital - the rise and fall of creative Britain

Robert Hewison

Verso, pounds 14.99

'Wenn ich Kultur hore...

entsichere ich meinen Browning' is usually slightly mistranslated as: 'When I hear the word 'Culture', I reach for my gun'. Playwright Hanns Johst's famous line is usually attributed to Goering or one of the other Nazi brutes. Robert Hewison feels much the same about culture, but reaches, instead, for his pen. I mean keypad. Hewison and I are old friends. Let's hope we remain so by the time we reach the bottom of the page.

Hewison is professorially waspish in the best and brightest way. A long-serving theatre critic for the Sunday Times, he has two major academic interests. One is that complicated and fascinating High Victorian phenomenon art critic John Ruskin. Then there is cultural policy, the other bee in his left-leaning bonnet. Surely this is one of the most boring subjects on earth. Personally, when I hear the words 'arts administrator', I reach for any lethal weapon I can find. Not so my friend Robert. Like his hero, Ruskin, Hewison is moving from the enjoyment of art to hectoring about political economy. Ruskin's own journey, let it be said, ended with howling-at-the-moon madness.

My problem with cultural policy is that, as an idea, it is contradictory and nugatory. Wondering about cultural policy is like asking a fish if it has a water policy. Culture is not defined by committees. Culture is not the 2% of activity that is neither work nor sleep. Culture is everything and everywhere. Culture includes lunch and the ads on the Tube.

In any case, great artists are not interested in policies, targets, protocols, consensus, votes, quotas, funding climates, task forces or mission statements. Art is fugitive. Jean Cocteau was asked what he would save if his house was burning down. He said: 'The fire.' You cannot administrate creativity. That's the whole point. The Turner Prize was an arts administrator's attempt to institutionalise outrage and it turned into a bad joke with less intellectual or artistic integrity than The X Factor.

But Hewison is hewed from the granite of old left certainties and the jungle drums of 'social capital' are ever in the background. He wants lots of arts funding, but why? Artists are better off and make better art when they have to struggle and sell and make a case. But in his utopia of arts administration, with grants being dispersed by culture's equivalent of drunken sailors, Hewison believes 'the existence of trust is essential to creativity'. …

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