Having ‘slept on’ my thoughts about this session, sadly yesterday’s audio wrap-up comment about my ambivalence still stands this morning.
Sarah Thornton is an amazing speaker and clearly an incredibly intelligent and talented writer, and I remain committed to reading her book (it’s in my suitcase right now). However, I really did find the session hard-going. Granted, it was at the end of a long and busy day, and as I said, I have not yet read the book.
However, this shouldn’t have made any difference – you can never assume that a festival audience is as heavily invested in a work as you are, or that they know and recognise every name and artwork and quotation you are offering. This is not, by the way, a criticism of Sarah Thornton, but rather of the chair who, somewhat ironically, I thought, perfectly illustrated some of John Carey’s comments from the What Good Are the Arts? session.
I guess all I can offer from this session is the comment that for those who do move within those fabled ‘art circles’, it would have been hog heaven. And there were those in the audience who clearly do, and are, and were. For the rest of us, I think, though, it was a little like being thrown into a combination dictionary/encyclopedia/phone book.
I am not unintelligent, not badly-read, and not without an openness to discovering new things and learning new ideas. But there is no point of entry if you have no idea who these people are, what they do, and why they said what they did. And surely the point of a public festival session such as this is to make more people more invested in reading, expanding horizons, and discovering newer and deeper ways of appreciating the arts, rather than leaving us adrift on a sea of name-dropping and intellectual show-off-ism.
I’m now hiding under the bed, waiting for the intellectual wolves to start pounding at my door and climbing down my chimney. Oh, and I’d also be really keen to hear from anyone else who was at the session and who may have had a different experience of it. Anyone?