Archive | Uncategorized RSS for this section

Turning Digital Part 2

The post-pandemic world will be different in many ways that we can’t yet anticipate, but I can predict one personal change with a high degree of certainty: I’ll be visiting charity shops a lot less frequently.

Scouring charity shops for books, CDs and DVDs has long been one of my favourite pastimes.  Work used to mean that I got to travel a lot across Scotland, and I always tried to allow time in each destination to nip in to one or more of the local outlets.  I had certain favourites that I’d be sure not to miss: Oxfam in Oban for books; Shelter in Raeburn Place, Edinburgh for CDs. I found there was an almost Zen-like quality to getting myself into the zone where, scanning a lot of shelves quickly (before the parking ticket ran out) I could ensure that that special title leapt out at me. More recently, the very handsome boutique Highland Hospice shop in nearby Beauly has often offered temptation beyond endurance in both books and DVDs. 

But, what with turning digital, all that has changed.  And with it, an entire mindset.  The process began when I bought my first iPad back in 2013, and was able to plug Spotify into my hifi.  In the eight years since then I’ve not bought a single CD, new or second hand.  Worse than that, I’ve barely played any of the 1000+ CDs we already own, let alone the 1500+ LPs from my time as Evening Times music critic, back in the 70s. The stacks of LPs and CDs remain, taking up loads of space, and a part of me can’t bear to part with them (a) because they have so little cash value and I can’t even give them away (the LPs, anyway) and (b) because a little bit of me worries that the whole music streaming world might yet collapse (has Spotify reported an annual profit yet?).

Unlike many music fans, I’ve never been that wedded to the recording as a physical object. I’ve never had any nostalgia for the LP, being delighted to leave behind all that snap, crackle and pop, never mind the time-consuming ritual of cleaning each side before playing. And I’ve written in the previous blog about how Spotify has changed my approach to listening (I think) for the better.  

The same is true for DVDs.  We’ve never been big buyers of DVDs, not having the need to ‘own’ a film or TV series, and long having been used to recording off air to VHS tapes, then to digital recorders.  So, when we marked my becoming an OAP last October by buying a Smart TV, I felt no regret that there’s now so much realchoice available that I’ll never need to buy another DVD.  It’s not just that outlets like Netflix (via the BFIPlayer) and Amazon Prime now make it possible to have ready access to a wealth of world cinema, old and new. There’s also all the other ‘content’ that’s available.  The arrival on Freeview of Sky Arts has been a real gamechanger, presenting so many films of ballet, opera, theatre and exhibitions originally made for the ‘event cinema’ market, as well as otherwise inaccessible programmes such as the wonderful concerts of film music from the Wiener Konzerthaus under the banner ‘Hollywood in Vienna’.  

And having Youtube on the new TV allows access to an extraordinary range of new experiences, from ‘living room’ (wohnzimmer) lockdown concerts from that same Wiener Konzerthaus, to real time 4K walks through the hearts of major cities, from Bruges to Barcelona. For the first time we can enjoy the kind of ‘choice’ that was always promised as part of the deregulation of national TV, but for so long just meant more channels recycling the same content (Midsomer Murders, anyone?).

So, no heartbreak about leaving either CDs or DVDs behind, and some relief that no more storage space will be needed. But I never thought I might feel something similar about books.  I don’t know how many books we own, but a conservative estimate would be over 4,000.  It partly depends on how you count things like exhibition catalogues, or an almost 40-year run of The World of Interiors. As a child I always wanted to live in a house full of books, and since lockdown my place of work has been the room we call our library, stacked floor to ceiling with Ikea ‘Billy’ shelves. We both love books.  We have so many they are double stacked on the bookshelves and sitting in precarious piles on the floor.  

Part of me always felt, pessimistically, that one reason for building up our own library might be to prepare for the day when public libraries disappeared. Of course, even pre-Covid, that loss had become a reality for many communities, though fortunately not here in Highland.  So, when the first lockdown started, a year ago, and libraries closed, I was happy to get down to reading a large number of books that had been sitting waiting to be finished, or even started.  But by October I had run out of new ‘light’ reading—suitable genre fiction for relaxing to, especially whodunnits.  And then I made two discoveries about Kindle that changed everything.

First, I realised that, unlike the Bluefire Reader app I sometimes used on my iPad, you can set the Kindle app up to show two open pages side by side, exactly like a normal book. And then I saw that the catalogue for Kindle Unlimited included almost the whole range of British Library Crime Classics reprints.  I binged, I gorged, in the first two months I read 12 whodunits on the Kindle app.  Since October I have only finished reading one ‘real’, physical book. Everything else has been on the iPad. Part of the pleasure comes from having my iPad sit in a special keyboard, so it can perch on my lap, making reading a wholly hands free experience, so I can juggle coffee mugs, biscuits, and stroking the cat.

I’m alarmed at how quick and complete this change has been. Books as physical objects have been at the centre of my life since I first started going to the wonderful Dennistoun library when I could barely read. My shelves groan under the weight of the hefty tomes that, in those days, you were not allowed to take out on loan (such as the fabulous 10 volumes of the Thames and Hudson history of civilisations) and which as an adult I hunted down and bought second hand. I love being surrounded by them—as Virginia Woolf said, they do furnish a room.  But just as I no longer keep back copies of magazines such as the Gramophone or the London Review of Books, because I can access their archives online, do I still need to keep these thousands of books? If I ever do want reread old favourites such as, say, one of John Harvey’s Resnick novels, or Anthony Price’s spy thrillers, I can pay a small fee and download them. Just how digital, how virtual, is my future going to be?

Turning Digital Part 1

Beethoven in 1804 by Joseph Mahler

So, Ludwig, that was the year that wasn’t.  A shame that your big 250th birthday bash had to coincide with a pandemic, and a tragedy that so many concerts and other live events had to be cancelled.  But, three months into a new year, and the flood of new recordings of your works shows little sign of abating. It’s as if absolutely everybody in the classical world wanted to make their mark in your semiquincentennial year.

Almost exactly five years ago I blogged about a new set of the complete Beethoven piano sonatas which had entranced me. So, it will come as no surprise that throughout 2020 I had a wonderful time comparing no less than fivecomplete new sets of the sonatas on Spotify.  Four of these, perhaps not coincidentally, were from pianists from Russia, or of Russian extraction. More telling though, is the common factor that all five pianists were men.  

There are of course many wonderful female pianists who have recorded individual sonatas but, for whatever reason, very few have committed the entire cycle of 32 sonatas to disc. One writer, back in 2019, thought that only four women had ever done so  , but I’m pleased now to prove him wrong.  Back in the early 2010s a Japanese pianist based in Berlin called Yu Kosuge recorded a complete cycle for Sony in Japan. In the past, that would have meant the recordings could only have been available in the UK as expensive and hard to get imports, but of course, in the world of streaming services, they’re just a Spotify search away (other streaming services are available). 

So here’s one answer to a common question: just how many more Beethoven recordings do we need? Well, if Yu Kosuge’s set is indeed just one of five compete sonata cycles ever recorded by women, then we clearly haven’t reached saturation point. Last year there was also an astonishing glut of new sets of the five piano concertos (six if you count, as some pianists do, the piano version of the Violin Concerto) but only two of those sets, as far as I can tell, featured female soloists and neither, to my ears was particularly distinguished. 

Yu Kosuge’s piano sonatas, however, are in a different class entirely.  And although I haven’t listened to all the sonatas yet, I’m going to stick my neck out and say that, for me, her recordings surpass all the five new sets from men that I’ve listened to.  And yes, that includes the Gramophone Artist of the Year, Igor Levit. Yu Kosuge has it all: technique (that goes without saying), a sure sense of architecture and form; passion, pacing, and above all, humour.  She brings just the right level of fantasy and imagination to performances that are intended for repeat listening. I really hope that, some day, when the concert halls have returned to some kind of normality, I get to hear her play live. 

But why isn’t she better known? Why are the CD versions of her Beethoven recordings only available on Amazon UK as imports at extortionate prices? Perhaps she’s the kind of dedicated musician who shuns the limelight.  Or maybe it’s just because she’s a woman.

Even more startling is the fact that, as far as I can tell, no female conductor has ever recorded a complete cycle of the Beethoven symphonies. I believe I read once that there are something like 150 complete symphony cycles on record, and a huge number of those are readily available as record labels try to make as much income as possible from their archives.  And there are many female conductors well up to the task: Marin Alsop, Simone Young and Jane Glover among the older generation, Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla among the rising stars.  So, what’s the problem?

Well, I’m glad to say that one female conductor has taken up the challenge, and Estonian-born Kristiina Poska has embarked on what may very well be the first ever recordings of Beethoven’s nine symphonies with a female conductor. Ok, it’s with an orchestra most of us will never have heard of, the Flanders Symphony Orchestra, and on an equally obscure label, Fuga Libera. But at least, thanks to Spotify, it’s readily accessible for all to hear, and I can report that I thoroughly enjoyed the first disc in the series: refreshing, intelligent, and no sense that I wasn’t listening to one of the world’s top rank orchestras.  Roll on the next instalment!

But, in all other respects, as the dust gradually settles down from the anniversary year that wasn’t, is it time to call a moratorium on further new Beethoven recordings for, say, a decade? Here’s why I don’t think so. The idea of owning, and listening to, only one recording of a major work (or a handful if you can afford different versions) is less than a century old, from when the first complete recordings of symphonies, sonatas and concertos started to emerge.  Now perhaps it’s time to think about how really odd it is to be able to repeat a single performance endlessly, to get to know every nuance, to analyse every key stroke or bar of music, to wait in anguish for that click or scratch, if you’re listening to vinyl. To replace a sense of adventure with one of cosy familiarity.

For me, Spotify has been wonderfully liberating. Every time I choose to listen to a favourite piece, I can select a different performance, hear a different perspective, find something in the music that I’d never spotted or appreciated before.  And in this past year, with no live concerts to go to, that has been a real boon. Even something as familiar, as jaded, you might say, as Beethoven’s Fifth or the Moonlight Sonata, can be fresh, surprising, and engaging if you’re listening to a performance or recording that’s new to you. As I write this I’m listening to Bruckner’s Third Symphony from a complete set recorded by the Korean Symphony Orchestra, no less, conducted by Hun-Joung Lim.  It’s terrific.  Perhaps not up to the Berlin Phil, but full of the excitement and energy of discovery. Here in the West, the death of classical music is regularly, and prematurely, announced.  In the East, they’ve barely got started.

The Robin Hood Effect

Boys of my age (mid-60s)—and many girls as well, I’m sure—will have very happy memories of those dramas shown regularly (endlessly!) on ITV in the children’s slot in the 1950s and early 60s. Before the rise of SF with Gerry Anderson and Dr Who, we pre-teens were all immersed in historical dramas: Sir Francis Drake, The Adventures of Robin Hood, the Buccaneers, William Tell, Sword of Freedom, and many others.

Now, thanks to the marvel that is Talking Pictures TV, we’ve got a wonderful opportunity to revisit some of those seminal series, and to see how the reality lives up to our rose-tinted memories.  And the result, I have to say, is surprising.

Just looking at the titles, you might have thought that these series would play into a ‘loss of Empire/Englishism/proto-Brexit’ agenda, like the earlier Boy’s Own Paper and the novels of John Buchan and G A Henty.  And inevitably, any historical dramas made at that time can’t wholly escape such elements. But there was something much more interesting, much more subversive, going on.

Almost all the series I’ve named above were produced by the same company, or by people who had worked with that company: Sapphire Films. And Sapphire Films was created by a very remarkable woman: Hannah Weinstein (who seems to be no relation to the other cinematic Weinsteins).  This is where fact becomes stranger than fiction: Hannah Weinstein set the company up with funds from the Hollywood branch of the American Communist Party (and you thought the Coen’s ‘Hail Caesar’ was a fantasy….), and created ‘The Adventures of Robin Hood’ specifically to make work for no less than 22 left-wing writers blacklisted by the House Committee on Unamerican Activities. One can only assume that arch-media capitalist Lew Grade had no idea of this background when he agreed to back the series! Especially as all the writers (who included some of Hollywood’s biggest names, like Ring Lardner Jr, who would go on to write the original ‘Mash’ movie) were either anonymous or pseudonymous.

Robin Hood is of course the perfect vehicle for communitarian/anti-authoritarian/anti-capitalist views, but several of the other series also embody similar values.  William Tell, with its much more serious tone of jeopardy and echoes of wartime Resistance movements, is even more explicitly rebellious. In its first few episodes The Buccaneers did a 180 degree about-turn, from being about the historical King’s representative, come to bring the buccaneers back to the flag, to focusing on free-wheeling, devil-may-care Buccaneer captain, Dan Tempest, played by the wonderful Robert Shaw.  Even Sir Francis Drake is about a man prepared to go against authority and break the rules for what he believes in, a man his enemies consider a mere pirate.

There’s another fascinating aspect that several of these series have in common: very strong female role models.  Queen Elizabeth is played (brilliantly, by Jean Kent) as a powerful and commanding figure easily able to dominate the courtiers jostling for her favours and undaunted by the threats of (male) enemies.  Maid Marian can match Robin in archery and horse riding and is often shown as more emotionally mature than the overgrown public schoolboy that Richard Greene portrays.  And William Tell’s wife Helga similarly can take just as many physical risks as Tell himself, and often ends up having to save him from the consequences of his own rashness.

These three series, as well, are surprisingly rich in historical detail.  Though playing fast and loose with chronology, Sir Francis Drake has episodes about merchant venturers, the disastrous Roanoke colony, the imprisoned Mary Queen of Scots and her Catholicism, and much more. William Tell has a lot to say about the power politics of the Holy Roman Empire. Robin Hood explores quite serious themes about witchcraft hysteria, an oppressive aristocracy, and corrupt officials. Compared with the a-historical nonsense produced in recent years for adults—the Tudors, Great, all those Roman epics—these Sapphire Films and their offshoots did quite a good job of giving their young audiences a grounding in history.

Above all, they don’t condescend to those young audiences. Of course, there’s no sex, though some of the violence (especially in William Tell) can still be surprising. And there are touches of farcical humour that help to keep younger viewers entertained.  But they tell strong stories efficiently (in less than 25 minutes an episode, leaving time for the adverts) and don’t shy away from themes that would normally play out in ‘grown up’ dramas.  I found the same, recently, when rewatching another favourite of my childhood, the BBC adaptation of the Further Adventures of the Three Musketeers, with the peerless Joss Ackland. This gripping drama immersed itself in the power politics of the infant Louis XIV, Cardinal Mazarin, and the Fronde insurrection, with few concessions to the youth of its target audience.

And, now that I’ve had the chance to relive these childhood influences, what effect do I think they had?  Did it matter that I was—as some might say—being fed left-wing propaganda? Well, for my entire working life I’ve relished leading small, distinctive and somewhat off-the-wall teams, made up of strong and characterful individuals.  I’ve shied away from working for large, bureaucratic organisations, and when I’ve done so, have tried to recreate that team ethos within them.  Though no radical, I’m a natural non-conformist, equally sceptical of authority and crowds, and unwilling to accept orthodoxies.  And I married a very strong woman who has been a wonderful life partner (and I do have a beard that resembles that of Sir Francis Drake…). So, thank you, Hannah Weinstein, you laid the foundations for a pretty good life, and it’s time we recognised and honoured your achievement.


J's photos oct-nov 14 024 (2)Welcome to my blogsite, and to the website for Kirkhill Associates, an arts, heritage and culture consultancy.  You can read my latest blog post below, browse past posts, download a copy of my current CV (where you’ll also find my contact details) here and check out past and current Kirkhill Associates contracts here .

Robert Livingston


Palace Green Library, Durham

Palace Green Library, Durham

Worshipped any good books lately?  I have.  And if ‘worshipped’ sounds a bit extreme, perhaps even sacrilegious, how else would you approach a book which has survived, largely intact, for 1300 years, including evading Viking raids, being taken on lengthy peregrinations across the North of England, and even, according to one popular legend, emerging unscathed from complete immersion in the North Sea?  I’m referring, of course, to the Lindisfarne Gospels, the centrepiece—until the end of September—of a superb exhibition in the Palace Green Library of the University of Durham.

We had taken a flat in Alnwick for the week, with a London-based friend who is an expert in museums management, and our main reason for being in the North East was to visit this exhibition. So on a day that can only be described as Mediterranean, we arrived in a Durham that can rarely, if ever,  have looked more sunny, exotic and welcoming. I felt some trepidation about this excursion.  How do you build an entire exhibition around a book of which, unavoidably, only one page can be seen at any one time?  Indeed, I understand that only two different pages of the Gospels in total are being displayed during the entire three month run of the exhibition.  I needn’t have worried. As we all agreed—including our museums specialist friend—this was a superb and unforgettable experience.

First of all, it was a model of visitor management.  We had booked timed tickets for 13.30.  Arriving a few minutes before our time, we could join the rest of our cohort seated in the sun, while cheery stewards encouraged us that ‘we’ll get you in shortly’.  With the same friendliness and courtesy we were gently ‘processed’ through the entrance stages but, once inside the exhibition proper, we were left to ourselves and could stay as long as we liked.  The results of all this attention to detail were that at no time did we feel crowded, or that we had to move along without allowing enough time for a particular display, and then, when we finally entered the inner sanctum that housed the Gospels, the three of us were able to view the book itself for as long as we wished, without a queue forming behind us.

All of which would have been of little benefit had the exhibition itself not been a triumph of the combined skills of curation, display and interpretation.  Unobtrusively, almost subliminally, we were given a very clear and integrated understanding of the political, historical, religious, social and artistic context for the Gospels.  We came to understand why the Gospels had been made, where they were made, when they were made, and how they were made.  We explored the fusion they represent of Celtic and Anglo-Saxon artistic forms, the world of the book in the so-called ‘Dark Ages’, and the tensions between the Celtic and Roman churches that formed the background to the book’s production.  Nothing was ‘dumbed down’—children were offered a host of ways of getting involved in a completely separate space, which also housed a meticulous account of how the book was physically produced.  I doubt if anything in the exhibition could have troubled a believer, but nor was there the slightest hint of sanctimoniousness.

Particularly impressive was the use of video technology.  In the ante-room to that which housed the actual Gospels there were two giant video displays drawing on images of every page in the Gospels, and blowing up the illuminated pages in sequence at a scale that left you breathless with wonder at the skill of Eadfrith, the monk and bishop who is credited with both copying and illuminating the Gospels.    Then, in the separate display at the end, there were several PCs where you could explore each page in similar detail at your leisure.

The third thing that impressed us was the range of people visiting the exhibition.  Folk in the North East are very proud of the Gospels, and that was demonstrated by the diversity of ages and social backgrounds of those going round the exhibition with us.  This was a popular exhibition, without needing to be populist.  I understand there is a campaign to locate the Gospels permanently in the North East, resisted by the British Library.  It’s a campaign that deserves to succeed.

So, when I finally found myself standing in front of the book itself, able to view closely that one visible page, what did I feel?  Awe, of course.  Awe at its survival, at its incredible artistry and technical achievement, and awe also at the evidence it provides (as had the rest of the exhibition) of the richness of Northumbrian culture in the 8th century.  Pace Lord Howell, the North East was no more culturally ‘desolate’ 1300 years ago than it is today.

Warkworth Castle: the Keep

Warkworth Castle: the Keep

And awe, indeed, was what we felt throughout our week based in Alnwick—awe at the magnificence of Durham Cathedral (despite misguided attempts at modern and community art which threatened to diminish that glory), awe at the power and strength of the immense medieval  strongholds of Warkworth, Bamburgh and Alnwick, and at the 19th century industrial might that transformed all three of these great castles, and led to Lord Armstrong building the fantasy that is Cragside, awe even at the ambition that has led to the creation, in the last decade, of the wonder that is The Alnwick Garden.

The Alnwick Garden

The Alnwick Garden

And at all these locations we found hundreds, no, thousands of local people enjoying their heritage, often with a very well-informed perspective. At the Alnwick Garden we experienced a glimpse of the ‘peaceable kingdom’, as hundreds of families—and especially young children—experienced what I can only describe as ‘joy unconfined’ among the marvels that the Garden offers.

In many ways the Lindisfarne Gospels symbolise unity—embracing both Anglo-Saxon and Celtic artistic tropes, and also two languages and two scripts, thanks to the translation in Old English which the priest Aldred added to the text 250 years after Eadfrith’s work.  The Gospels speak of a time when Britain, no matter how fractured politically by warring kingdoms and Viking incursions, shared a culture of belief, literacy and artistic creation. Judith is a Geordie.  The Lindisfarne Gospels, and the architectural wonders of Northumberland, are part of the heritage she grew up with.  But I also feel they’re part of my heritage.  If independence comes next year, how will that change my feeling of a shared heritage?  I wish I could tell.

(all photographs: Judith Livingston)

Mind Your Language!

Matthew Arnold, author of 'Culture and Anarchy'

Matthew Arnold, author of ‘Culture and Anarchy’

Words are slippery things, especially in my world. When do you use art, or arts? What exactly is an artist? What does culture cover? What constitutes our heritage? What is a community, and who belongs to it? Where are the limits of creativity?

And it becomes worse when you start linking those words. What exactly are the creative industries? There are various definitions currently in circulation. What are community arts or voluntary arts, and are they the same thing? And what exactly is cultural heritage?

Add the words Scotland or Scottish into the mix and you’re really in trouble. I wonder how different Creative Scotland’s reception would have been if it had adopted a name that didn’t yoke those contentious terms together. The amount of ink spent on defining Scottish culture could probably fill Loch Ness, and as we near the referendum debate, it may be blood that gets spilled on the subject rather than just ink.

Consider some of the contortions we get into in trying to make these words and phrases work for us. The Act which set up Creative Scotland referred to it being the ‘lead cultural body’ for Scotland. Yet most definitions of culture would include heritage, and Creative Scotland has no remit whatsoever for heritage, not even a coordinating role such as, after much heated debate, it was given in the creative industries.

Officers of Creative Scotland gave a presentation on their funding schemes during Go North recently. They split their schemes into the three categories of arts, film and digital, and creative industries, and then split the last term into those areas of the creative industries which Creative Scotland actually funded, and those for which it only had an overview, such as architecture and design. There could not be a clearer demonstration of the extent to which Creative Scotland is not yet more than the sum of the disparate parts from which it was made. Those categories make no sense to an artist who uses film in their gallery-based practice, and works as, say, a film editor to pay the mortgage.

This confusion between ‘the arts’ and ‘the creative industries’ has direct and largely negative impacts in the actions of other public bodies. The economic development departments of Local Authorities can prioritise the creative industries at the same time as their education or community departments are cutting their arts budgets, in apparent ignorance of the fact that many, if not most, successful initiatives in the creative industries will have their origins in some form of arts funding, whether it be an arts school course, an arts centre, or a bursary scheme.

‘Sticks and Stones may break my bones but website comments pages will never harm me’. No matter how much we may tell ourselves that the deluded souls who append their angry online comments to stories on arts funding, don’t know whereof they fulminate, it still hurts. Why don’t the general public ‘get’ the value of the arts, after all the evidence that research has produced? Mostly, because they don’t speak the language.

You will have to take me on trust when I tell you that I had written this much of the blog before I thought to apply these arguments to Fiona Hyslop’s Talbot Rice lecture of June 5th.  In this much commented-on speech of some 7000 words, the Cabinet Secretary used the term ‘culture and heritage’, or such close variations as ‘our culture and our heritage’, some 50 times. She used the term ‘arts’ just five times.

So, what kind of definition of culture is Ms Hyslop using, that does not include heritage? Certainly not one that, for instance, the European Commission would recognise. To compound the confusion, Ms Hyslop also used the phrases ‘culture and creativity’ and ‘cultural and creative industries’, suggesting that the creative industries are not culture, and that culture is not about creativity. I’m sure that wasn’t what she meant.

This is not mere nit-picking semantics. It suggests that we have developed a deep-seated embarrassment about using the term ‘arts’. I include myself in that ‘we’, having in recent years shifted my strapline for HI~Arts from an arts development agency to a cultural development agency, although that was intended to reflect our increasing engagement with the museums sector.

More than twenty years ago, when I was at the Scottish Arts Council, I, and Combined Arts Director John Murphy, had dinner with Shetland’s then Director of Education, and we had a revealing discussion about the culture/arts dichotomy. The Director of Education stated that, in Shetland, they were more comfortable with the inclusive notion of ‘culture’; John and I, on the other hand, wanted to stick with ‘arts’ because, at least, we could be clear about what we were talking about, and where our remit began and ended. As many people have commented, there is much that is positive and hopeful in Ms Hyslop’s speech, but that troubling imbalance between the terms ‘arts’ on the one hand, and ‘culture and heritage’ on the other, suggests that language may still be an obstacle to real consensus and progress.

And what, then, of the term ‘artist’? In the lexicon of arts bureaucrats such as myself, ‘artist’ means everyone who creates artistic stuff—musicians, writers, actors, theatre directors, dancers, and so on. People who paint and sculpt are visual artists. It’s a clumsy arrangement. But even within the visual arts the term ‘artist’ is a contested one. A couple of discussions that I’ve been involved in recently have suggested to me, indeed, that ‘artist’ has become a limiting term. On the one hand, art-lovers of a more conservative taste can’t understand why people like Damien Hirst or Martin Creed can be termed ‘artists’ at all. Pickling a shark or switching the lights on and off is not painting a picture. On the other hand, I heard one ‘artist’ decry the term as applied to himself, because it means that people expect him to make things when his work is much more about actions, connections, critical debate and challenging norms.

I think we need a new word. Not a different word, a new word. The term ‘scientist’ did not exist before it was deliberately coined in 1833. Before that, people had ‘done’ science all the way back to the Greeks and the Babylonians, but they were usually called something like ‘natural philosophers’ (or, sometimes, ‘alchemists’). But by the early 19th century the increasingly technical practice of people like Humphrey Davey and Michael Faraday demanded a term that would distinguish their experimental approach from those who just thought about how the world worked.

I’m not going to be rash enough to suggest a suitable neologism. But I suspect that inventing a truly new term would help to get us out of the confusion we’re now in, where arts, culture and creativity are bandied about, even in the one speech, with a reckless abandon that makes it very difficult for anyone to get any real traction on what’s actually being proposed. If we really want to change the minds of those philistines who spill their bile in online comments, we need to take the slipperiness out of our language. Otherwise, with apologies to Matthew Arnold, our approach to culture will remain anarchic.