Sunday, December 06, 2009

Culture? Go to the bottom of the class

Today's Herald carries a big piece on the anger of the arts world at the philistines who rule us - triggered on this occasion by the "demotion" of Fiona Hyslop to the lowly business of managing the nation's culture. Iain Gray, the hapless Labour leader, has stupidly led with his chin on this one, but hey, he's saying no more than the news reports earlier in the week. It's official: Culture is way down the scale of importance when you're an ambitious politician, and I didn't notice Mike Russell hanging on to the post and regretting that his bum had barely had time to warm that particular ministerial seat.

But hang on. Education ... what are we saying about Education, here? You'd be hard put to it these days, if you dropped in from Mars, to know if culture was part of our educational system. What culture am I talking about? The difficult stuff, the stuff you need cultured, well-educated, well-read, thoughtful, skilled teachers to help you with; the stuff that knows there was culture before 1960 (to pick a date at random); the stuff that layers of knowledge and insight build on to create excitement and excellence.

I feel too similar to the excellent Malcolm Tucker to be persuasively coherent this gloomy, flu-ridden afternoon, an afternoon in which we've had to cancel a carol service because two out of the five singers were too ill to sing. Even that small drop of culture is all to often misunderstood: people seem to think that excellence just happens, like magic, because - hey, you've got gifts, you know, it comes easily to you. Rubbish. It comes now because people like us have spent our lifetimes working to sing better, to learn to sing stylishly and in tune, to produce the sound suited to the music, to be the very best we can at any given performance. And if nobody notices, if nobody really listens, if nobody knows the difference - fine. We do.

And that too is culture.

Picture from the BBC

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