Saturday July 9, 2005
Art becomes a puzzle when we don’t know what else it’s for. Take a look at the nation’s bookshops and galleries and you might think art and literature have never had it so good. Queues wherever there’s an exhibition and three novels for every two you’re willing to shell out for. Philistinism, the lot of it. We’re not looking or reading, we’re solving. We’re cracking the code. What does it mean, the Mona Lisa smile? What was Michelangelo “really” up to?
There’s no explaining the success of The Da Vinci Code, which is ill-written and fatuously conceived, outside of the satisfaction it offers to the code-breakers. When art no longers answers to a religious or intellectual impulse, yet residual respect still attaches to it, the idea that it exists to smuggle secrets is appealing.
The other proof of our philistinism is our politicising of literature. I am not thinking only of the hijacking of book programmes and literary festivals by the current-affairs mob, I also mean the excitement generated by the idea that a novel, or indeed a clutch of novels, has, say, 9/11 as its subject matter. There is, of course, no reason why it shouldn’t. But there is equally no reason why it should…