Thursday, 14 December 2006

Like Clockwork

Robin Usher is at it again. In a completely predictable turn of events, the day after it was announced that Kristy Edmunds would helm the Melbourne International Arts Festival until 2008, Usher offers us another taste of that same old argument about everything he thinks is wrong with Edmunds' programming of MIAF.

I get the feeling that Rob is on auto-pilot. Old favourites such as the 'paltry' $1.2 million return; hey, look at Sydney Festival! they bring out people who's names we know; and Edmunds 'inexperience'; are all exhumed and deemed worthy of another airing. But again it's not all that surprising when most of the article laments the disregard of festival traditions and past programming.

I will follow this up more in the morning...

As ever, Alison Croggon expertly dissects the argument at theatre notes with David Williams unravelling Usher's comparison to Sydney Festival, in the comments. As Alison correctly points out, the issue Usher has with Edmunds' programming is not a question of lack of variety or, insultingly, inexperience but of aesthetics. Usher is wrongly equating 'high art' with good art. High art is not a measure of quality, creative/technical prowess or intellectual depth. It is merely a word to group works which conform to recognised forms; eg. opera, ballet, a play. Judging by his examples of past festival highlights, Usher is particularly fond of events recognisable in form and large in scale. Events which usually come with price tags beyond what is affordable for those with average incomes. It seems to me that the "widespread criticism" Usher speaks of is confined to those who can afford to see these types of work. Now, don't get me wrong. There are merits to this type of work. And I love it too when done well but these are not the only forms. The arts change with time as does everything else. Edmund's festivals (and Robyn Archer's) have reflected this. How limited and uninspiring a festival it would be if only Usher's version of 'high art' was on offer.

Usher and co.'s inability to accept artworks taking forms not obviously recognisable seems so unadventurous and not dissimilar to John Howard's inability to comprehend new social forms since the 1950s. With so many provisos as to what they like, I wonder why they bother claiming to appreciate the arts. Surely openness to new ideas and willingness to engage with what we don't understand are essential to experiencing the arts. Edmunds may be alienating unadventurous types who don't understand that adventurousness was part of the deal in the arts. For everyone else, though, she curates a program that allows us to create new understandings not simply reinforce the status quo.

Unlike Usher, I look forward to experiencing the works Edmunds programs in Melbourne for the next two years.


Lauren said...

which morning, in particular, did you mean?

vlad said...

Ah, Lauren you worked out my escape clause! Whichever moring I want. I had every intention of following this up sooner. Alas, as you are well aware, I am attempting my best impersonation of being a 'real' (read: paid) artist. As a result, staying up all night to perfect funding applications became the more important (and less fun) venture.

rhyspeaking said...

A lucid (for once) and restrained rant. All good sucking up for when we're invited to be part of the festival.

Right on.

lisa said...

Hi there, I'm here on Rhys' recommendation. Looking forward to reading more about Melbourne theatre :):):)

vlad said...

Thanks for stopping by Lisa. I too hope that you'll be able to read more about Melbourne theatre here. It's a bit quiet at the moment but things should be picking up soon as the theatre starts up again.