Popular Posts

Monday, 17 December 2007

Richard Eyre and The Great Divide

Richard Eyre in the Guardian Review 15.12.07 (Yes, still picking up on that; there is ever enough there to keep a body thinking well into the following week) is concerned about an issue dear to my heart and, I believe, of no little importance: what he calls "the great divide". No, actually his preferred word for it is apartheid. It is the seemingly unbridgeable gulf that exists between those with access to the arts and those who are, or feel themselves, excluded.

There are many issues at work here, and it does not do to over-simplify the situation. Eyre mentions class, race and gender, and indeed they all play their various parts, but behind them, and interacting with them and with many other issues in a continuous feed-back, is the individual's self-picture. The self-picture comes about from the ganging together of countless min-experiences. From, in fact, the ganging together of those mini-experiences whose effects tend to reinforce each other, from the thoughtless remark to, say, a ten year old ("You would say that, wouldn't you?" or "You're not a bit like your brother!"), through all the different levels of teen-age peer pressure and the attitudes of parents, to the mores of their particular sub-culture, to relative wealth ("relative" being the operative word), to their own successes and failures, to the successes and failures of their heroes, to what connects them with the pleasure centres of their brain, and many more. What is important to the individual, and what has contributed to that situation, a situation more complicated than the meteorological patterns that determine our weather, will vary infinitely, but each will, fairly early on, develop a self-picture that will largely determine their openness to life's various offerings. So any schoolteacher knows that it will be of no use to tell John that he could be the next Ted Hughes if all he wants is to be the next David Beckham.

But I am speaking here of something deeper than mere interest. Interests do not of themselves contribute to the self-picture in its final, more inflexible form. Eyre recounts an interesting episode from his own youth when he went to see "Hamlet". His interests had, until that point been largely confined to maths and physics. The play, he says "capsized me", and he quotes Berlioz's experience of the same play: "Shakespeare... struck me like a thunderbolt.... I recognized the meaning of grandeur, beauty, dramatic truth". When I was at college one of the mantras was "Interests grow into habits". ( I forget the Latin! ) That is when the self-picture begins to take final form, for as habits they are but a hair's breath from becoming desires. There is no point, I guess, at which it becomes impossible to capsize us, but it is certainly easier before we have formed our life-determining desires. At that point even winning the lottery may not capsize us.

"Art," says Eyre, "is the expression of the voice of gifted individuals with a point of view." He grew up in a rural backwater where there was no easy access to anything cultural. I can relate to that, though my experience was different. I didn't actually get to many (there was a war going on) but I could imagine myself going to art galleries, plays, operas even, but ballet - never! There was an invisible curtain, as effective as any iron one, between me and it, which took years to break down. Correction: it took years for me to come to see that it did not exist. Maybe the great divide runs through the arts themselves.

No comments: