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Thursday, April 11, 2013

Mathieu Weggeman and The Indecent Musician


It's old news, sorry, but I remember I wanted to react on it when I read it last year but forgot to do so. And now one of my Facebook friends re-posted it: a column by professor Mathieu Weggeman, well-known in management circles and a member of the National Arts Council.

Weggeman announces that the Dutch  grow more and more stupid and more and more impolite. To make us smarter again he proposes to do away with managers who are managers; instead we need managers who know about the subject they are managing because that prevents 'stupid mistakes'. I leave that argument for what it is, although I must say I don't see a one to one relationship between stupid mistakes at work and being stupid in general.

Now about impoliteness, or maybe indecency ('onfatsoen', in Dutch). The remedy is education in 'arts & culture'. I quote Weggeman: "The declamation by heart of William Blake's 'The Tyger' (within the English lesson) is just as relevant as having a Socratic conversation together about the value of Marina Abramovic's performance 'The artist is present' (for example in the biology lesson)." And all that can be paid for by lowering the budget for physical education in schools, argues Weggeman - kids spend lots of money on sports gear anyway so let the market do its job.

Yes, he really wrote it. No kidding. Professor Weggeman, yes. Speaking of dumbing down.

But the best part are the final two sentences: "Especially from reflection within a frame of reference formed by arts & culture we may expect that the need for indecent behavior will decline. Isn't it so that there are few violinists, poets and sculptors in jail (other than for political reasons)?".

There is too much ignorance in and behind these sentences to even try to argue against it. The usual confusion between a relationship and a causal chain. The uncontrollability of the assertion about the number of imprisoned violinists. The unproved assumption about the effects of reflection. The usual unreflective ‘arts & culture’-thing popping up. Et cetera.

But two things annoy me specifically. One: the equation of ‘arts & culture’ with ‘high arts & culture’. He doesn’t say it. But he implies it. Blake. Abramovic. The violin. Rather than IceT, PSY, or the scratcher’s turntable. No no; it’s not about arts & culture, it’s about 'our' arts & culture. (May I point out, as a side remark, that even in this specific realm of ‘our’ high arts & culture there’s a lot of indecency going on? And, especially in the visual arts, a lot of reflections on indecency which I think are sometimes very indecent themselves? Think of Jonas Staal’s ‘New World Summit’ and you’ll know what I mean.)

Two: the use, as always, of the ‘the arts are inherently good’- argument. I wrote about it before, and before – it is a claim loved by arts educators, and a claim which is refuted as soon as you simply open your eyes and look around. As I argued earlier: the arts do not consist of beautiful things; they consist of human behavior. And we know what that means.

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