The Curmudgeon


Saturday, January 05, 2008

Renaissance Men

The Glorious Successor's policy of repeating the tragic farce of the Blair years as farcical trash continues with a megalomaniac report, commissioned by James Purnell, the Secretary of State for Cultchah, claiming that Britain may be about to produce "the greatest art yet created", ushering in a "new Renaissance" comparable with that in fifteenth-century Italy.

The report, "Supporting Excellence in the Arts", claims that, thanks presumably to the likes of Dan Brown, J K Rowling, Damian Hirst and Big Brother, "the society we now live in is arguably the most exciting it has ever been", and that the arts "have never been so needed to understand the deep complexities of Britain today". It argues for a new "appreciation of the profound value of the arts and culture" by somebody or other, and for "the reclamation of excellence from its historic elitist undertones", excellence being, apparently, not an elite thing at all. The Cultchah Secretary agrees: "Instead of just focusing on things you can measure," he said, "people have got to have the space and the courage to say, 'Actually, this is better than that, and we're going to fund the stuff which is going to be world-class.' " The judgement as to what particular stuff is going to be world-class will no doubt be the responsibility of those best qualified to foresee the cultural climate of the next hundred, five hundred, or possibly thousand years. Purnell also noted that "the review's logic was in keeping with Labour's belief that funding decisions are best taken in the context of reform", whether reform is needed or not; or even whether the idea of "reform" has any meaning in the context of the greatest art yet created. "If you just put the money in and don't take decisions to go with it, then three years down the line you won't have used the money as effectively as you could have done." Great art is nothing if it is not cost-effective within a three-year fiscal period.

Maybe it's because I'm an elitist, but I have my doubts. Of course, fifteenth-century Italy is a place and period whose devotion to good government, humanitarian idealism and public probity is startlingly similar to that of Britain under New Labour; but, Orson Welles' great speech in The Third Man to the contrary, such enviable cultural conditions do not necessarily guarantee any great artistic flowering. They might not guarantee it even if Gordon Brown and his apparatchiki had the wide interests and artistic sensitivities of a Rodrigo Borgia, rather than the penny-pinching instincts and vulgar prurience of a slightly subnormal Daily Mail reader.


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