Artists shouldn’t have to endlessly demonstrate their value. Coalition leaders used to know it

Bell Shakespeare’s recent Hamlet tour was cut short by COVID-19.
Photo: Brett Boardman

Julian Meyrick, Griffith University

For more than 190,000 Australians employed in the cultural sector, the last month brought a quadrella of horror.

First, having spent decades promoting flexible labour markets, the federal government is now using those same conditions to exclude thousands of casual cultural workers from its JobKeeper assistance scheme.

Second, though it is pumping $189 billion into the economy it is offering a “rescue” package for the arts of just $27 million, the latter being 0.14% of the former, and 13.5% of what the Queensland government alone is offering Virgin Australia.

Third, the results of the last Australia Council funding round for key organisations show a reduction in its client base of 34% over the last five years. The kicker came when the arts minister announced the scrapping of Australian content broadcasting requirements and launched an Options Paper on their future.

For a sector where 53% of business have recently closed their doors, this is catastrophic. The olive in the dog-wee martini is that when the debt for supporting the country through COVID-19 arrives, cultural workers will be expected to pay it off just the same. Some governments subsidise their cultural sectors, and others do not. Only the Coalition, it seems, has found a way of getting its cultural sector to subsidise them.

Ibrahim Mahama’s No Friend but the Mountains (2020) during the Sydney Biennale. Installation view at Cockatoo Island.
Photograph: Zan Wimberley

Stop telling the arts to do better

The response so far to this right-royal example of policy ineptitude has been a predictably economic one. The Australia Institute has put out a report on the economics of the creative arts and called for the sector to be more “confident” in dealing with government on the basis of that data.

Arguments for Australian culture often focus on what it should say to demonstrate its worth. Rarely considered is the government’s capacity to listen, or the extent to which it is able to meaningfully interpret the truckloads of evidence put to it. The sector can present all the data it likes. In the end, the government has to choose which to accept and act on. For this, it needs its own cogent idea of culture.

A genuine cultural policy vision has certainly existed on the conservative side of Australian politics in the past. It was Prime Minister Alfred Deakin who established the Commonwealth Literary Fund in 1908, Sir Robert Menzies who started the Australian Elizabethan Theatre Trust in 1954, and Harold Holt – son of a Tivoli theatre manager and husband of a fashion designer – who signed the charter for the Australia Council in 1967.




Read more:
Coronavirus: Australian arts need a stimulus package. Here is what it should look like


Conservative leaders used to get the arts

After Holt was presumed drowned, the contest to replace him lay between Paul Hasluck, a publisher and poet, and John Gorton, founder of the Australian Film School and the Australian Film Development Corporation. If it was Gough Whitlam who brought culture into the Cabinet, it was the Liberal Senator Tony Staley, one of the better arts ministers we have had, who took it to the next level of policy consideration and kept it there.

Of the state premiers, Sir Thomas Playford oversaw the first Adelaide Festival of the Arts in 1960, Sir Rupert Hamer wrote the Historic Buildings Act into law in 1974 (and saved the Regent Theatre), Joh Bjelke-Petersen founded the Queensland Performing Arts Complex and Jeff Kennett made Melbourne a cultural powerhouse in the early 1990s. Steven Marshall’s Arts Plan is a good example of conservative cultural policy-making today.

Culture wars

It is absolutely not true, therefore, that a proper appreciation of arts and culture is to be found only on the Australian political Left. But it begs the question what on earth has happened to create this perception? Why has a deep-rooted and persuasive cultural policy vision by and large vanished from Coalition beliefs and values?

Its absence is good neither for the government, the sector, nor the country. Bipartisan cooperation on matters of national interest – and the fate of Australian culture is surely one of these – is not a matter of pat verbal agreement.

Politics is not a game of ideological Snap. It arises when different parties advance their own interpretations of particular domains, and these are then incorporated into what the sociologist Norbert Elias calls “the social fund of knowledge”. When no such interpretations are advanced, the process of arriving at beneficial policy outcomes breaks down.

Sydney Chamber Opera will host an online season of Breaking Glass this weekend.
Photo: Daniel Boud

It’s not only the hole in the emotional heart of Coalition politicians the cultural sector should be concerned with right now, it is the hole in their corporate memory. However confidently the sector puts forward its numbers to government, the context for turning them into coherent industrial strategy is missing in (in)action.

It doesn’t have be that way. The right way to interpret abstract economic data is via a meaningful connection to history. Looking at the list of MPs who voted against extending the JobKeeper legislation to the arts there are many who would know exactly how disastrously the sector will fare as a result, not least Paul Fletcher, the minister in charge of it.

The way forward for Australian cultural policy lies in the minds of our politicians, not the attitudes of the sector. This does not mean Coalition ministers and their advisers should accept ideas and arguments they do not like or agree with. It means they must come up with ones of their own.The Conversation

Julian Meyrick, Professor of Creative Arts, Griffith University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

 

How to read Shakespeare for pleasure

Martin’s Droeshout portrait of William Shakespeare (1623)
Bodleian Library, Oxford.

Emma Smith, University of Oxford

In recent years the orthodoxy that Shakespeare can only be truly appreciated on stage has become widespread. But, as with many of our habits and assumptions, lockdown gives us a chance to think differently. Now could be the time to dust off the old collected works, and read some Shakespeare, just as people have been doing for more than 400 years.

Many people have said they find reading Shakespeare a bit daunting, so here are five tips for how to make it simpler and more pleasurable.

1. Ignore the footnotes

If your edition has footnotes, pay no attention to them. They distract you from your reading and de-skill you, so that you begin to check everything even when you actually know what it means.

It’s useful to remember that nobody ever understood all this stuff – have a look at Macbeth’s knotty “If it were done when ‘tis done” speech in Act 1 Scene 7 for an example (and nobody ever spoke in these long, fancy speeches either – Macbeth’s speech is again a case in point). Footnotes are just the editor’s attempt to deny this.

Shakespeare plays hand bound by Virginia Woolf in her bedroom at Monk’s House, Rodmell, Sussex, UK.
Ian Alexanber/Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-NC-SA

Try to keep going and get the gist – and remember, when Shakespeare uses very long or esoteric words, or highly involved sentences, it’s often a deliberate sign that the character is trying to deceive himself or others (the psychotic jealousy of Leontes in The Winter’s Tale, for instance, expresses itself in unusual vocabulary and contorted syntax).

2. Pay attention to the shape of the lines

The layout of speeches on the page is like a kind of musical notation or choreography. Long speeches slow things down – and, if all the speeches end at the end of a complete line, that gives proceedings a stately, hierarchical feel – as if the characters are all giving speeches rather than interacting.

Short speeches quicken the pace and enmesh characters in relationships, particularly when they start to share lines (you can see this when one line is indented so it completes the half line above), a sign of real intimacy in Shakespeare’s soundscape.

Blank verse, the unrhymed ten-beat iambic pentamenter structure of the Shakespearean line, varies across his career. Early plays – the histories and comedies – tend to end each line with a piece of punctuation, so that the shape of the verse is audible. John of Gaunt’s famous speech from Richard II is a good example.

This royal throne of kings, this sceptered isle,

This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars.

Later plays – the tragedies and the romances – tend towards a more flexible form of blank verse, with the sense of the phrase often running over the line break. What tends to be significant is contrast, between and within the speech rhythms of scenes or characters (have a look at Henry IV Part 1 and you’ll see what I mean).

3. Read small sections

Shakespeare’s plays aren’t novels and – let’s face it – we’re not usually in much doubt about how things will work out. Reading for the plot, or reading from start to finish, isn’t necessarily the way to get the most out of the experience. Theatre performances are linear and in real time, but reading allows you the freedom to pace yourself, to flick back and forwards, to give some passages more attention and some less.

Shakespeare’s first readers probably did exactly this, zeroing in on the bits they liked best, or reading selectively for the passages that caught their eye or that they remembered from performance, and we should do the same. Look up where a famous quotation comes: “All the world’s a stage”, “To be or not to be”, “I was adored once too” – and read either side of that. Read the ending, look at one long speech or at a piece of dialogue – cherry pick.

One great liberation of reading Shakespeare for fun is just that: skip the bits that don’t work, or move on to another play. Nobody is going to set you an exam.

4. Think like a director

On the other hand, thinking about how these plays might work on stage can be engaging and creative for some readers. Shakespeare’s plays tended to have minimal stage directions, so most indications of action in modern editions of the plays have been added in by editors.

Most directors begin work on the play by throwing all these instructions away and working them out afresh by asking questions about what’s happening and why. Stage directions – whether original or editorial – are rarely descriptive, so adding in your chosen adverbs or adjectives to flesh out what’s happening on your paper stage can help clarify your interpretations of character and action.

One good tip is to try to remember characters who are not speaking. What’s happening on the faces of the other characters while Katherine delivers her long, controversial speech of apparent wifely subjugation at the end of The Taming of the Shrew?

5. Don’t worry

The biggest obstacle to enjoying Shakespeare is that niggling sense that understanding the works is a kind of literary IQ test. But understanding Shakespeare means accepting his open-endedness and ambiguity. It’s not that there’s a right meaning hidden away as a reward for intelligence or tenacity – these plays prompt questions rather than supplying answers.

Would Macbeth have killed the king without the witches’ prophecy? Exactly – that’s the question the play wants us to debate, and it gives us evidence to argue on both sides. Was it right for the conspirators to assassinate Julius Caesar? Good question, the play says: I’ve been wondering that myself.

Returning to Shakespeare outside the dutiful contexts of the classroom and the theatre can liberate something you might not immediately associate with his works: pleasure.The Conversation

Emma Smith, Professor of Shakespeare Studies, University of Oxford

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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eL Seed’s New Scripts – Interview by Johnny Hanson for ARAMCO WORLD

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EL SEED SPOKE BY PHONE
FROM HIS DUBAI STUDIO
Let’s start with “calligraffiti.” There are quite a few artists who do it now. Did you coin the term?
No, to be honest with you, this is a term that has been used the first time in New York for a show, I think in ’84. A show created by Jeffrey Deitch for some calligraphy artists and some graffiti artists from New York. He had this vision 30 years ago that calligraphy and graffiti would merge together. To be honest with you, me today, I don’t even use this word to define myself. I’m just using calligraphy in my artwork. I do sculpture, I do canvases, I do art installations. I’m trying to get out of the box that I think I used to be in a few years ago.
elSeed
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More: http://www.aramcoworld.com/en-US/Articles/July-2017/eL-Seed-s-New-Scripts

Cracking Coconut’s History Written by Ramin Ganeshram From ARAMCO WORLD

For thousands of years, the coconut palm has entwined itself in history, from tropical coasts to typical shelves in global groceries. Called the “tree of life” by the many cultures that have depended upon it through time, it provides sustenance, succour and shelter. While it now grows on every subtropical coastline around the world, genetic testing underwritten by the National Geographic Society in 2011 showed the coconut originated in India and Southeast Asia. From its original home,  the nut—which can float—made its way independently, traversing both hemispheres. 

But historians also agree that coconuts travelled at the hands of men, and it was most likely seafaring Arab traders who carried coconuts from India to East Africa as much as 2,000 years ago. Even the name they conferred on the fruit— zhawzhat al-hind, which means “walnut of India”—survives in Arabic today.

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BIBLIOTECA ESTENSE / BRIDGEMAN IMAGES

The cocuruto (“crown of the head” in Portuguese), from which the South Asian drupe takes its modern name, was hinted at in the illustration at left printed in a 15th-century edition of Dioscorides’s Tractatus De Herbis; the merchant’s scales allude to the coconut’s value in Europe.

These mariners encountered coconuts as they traded with their Indian counterparts who sailed small, nimble dhows, coast-hugging boats made from teak or coconut-wood planking lashed together with coconut fibre (coir). The dhow was adopted by Arab merchant mariners themselves, and the boats continue to be made today, but with modern materials.

These same traders also introduced coconuts to Europeans, first along the trans-Asian Silk Roads. Among them was the Venetian adventurer Marco Polo, who encountered the tree in Egypt in the 13th century, calling its fruit “the Pharaoh’s nut.”

Beginning in the early 16th century, the coconut came to Europe through the “maritime Silk Road” following explorer-colonizers like Vasco da Gama, who pursued a direct trade route between Portugal and India, guided by maps and navigational information charted by the famed Arab navigator Ahmad ibn Majid a half century before.

From da Gama and other Portuguese traders came the coconut’s contemporary and most recognised international name: They called it coco-nut because it resembled a cocuruto, or skull, with three dots on its ends like two eyes and a mouth and coconut fibers that resembled hair.

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G. DAGLI ORTI / BRIDGEMAN IMAGES

Carried much earlier by Arab traders into Mesopotamia, a coconut palm was depicted in a bas-relief, in the Aleppo Archaeological Museum.
More: http://www.aramcoworld.com/en-US/Articles/January-2017/Cracking-Coconut-s-History

 

(Interview) Yazan Halwani: Uniting The City.

middle east revised

action_shot_yazan_halwani/Photos: Yazan Halwani (private album)/

Although he’s only in his twenties, Yazan Halwani is a name you will hear a lot in Beirut. For the last couple of years his work is among the most notable ones when it comes to Arab street art. Halwani has adorned walls of Beirut (and cities all over the world) with portraits of the writer Khalil Gibran and legendary singers Fairuz and Sabah, as well as everyday local heroes like Ali Abdullah, a homeless man who died one winter’s night in 2013 and Fares, a 12-year-old flower seller from Hamra street.

I meet Halwani in a quiet cafe in Gemmayzeh, a vibrant area of cafes and small shops in downtown Beirut. He’s relaxed and easygoing, with a big smile on his face, and remains of paint on his fingers. We move from topic to topic, he speeks with ease and eloquence. We talk about…

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