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A Man of a Few More Words - by Swan Morrison

The Creative Arts

‘Hello Rufus, how’s my favourite broadsheet art critic?’

‘I’m very well thanks, Max. How are you?’

‘Flourishing. What are you up to at the moment?’

‘I’m on the panel of judges for the National Poetry Competition. We’ve been working on the shortlist this morning.’

‘Any front runners, Rufus?’

‘No, although it will be one of the usual contenders that gets it.’

‘How can you be so sure? Aren’t the identities of the writers kept secret from the judges until you’ve selected the best work?’

‘God no, Max! That would lead to complete chaos.’


‘Well, there’s no way of telling, just by reading it, whether a poem has been written by one of the greatest contemporary British poets or by a dyslexic fourth former from Neasden Comprehensive. If we awarded prizes to other than credible, established poets, the whole literary edifice would collapse.’

‘In that case, Rufus, how do you choose the winner?’

‘It doesn’t matter. We usually drop all the shortlisted entries in the toilet and then flush it. Usually one doesn’t go down the pan properly, so we fish it out and declare that poet the winner. It’s the shortlist that’s critical.

‘In what way?’

‘Well, Max, shortlisted writers must be publicly recognised as poets and be able to talk knowledgeably about poetry and literature and about those who have been their literary influences. If someone can convincingly expound the right pseudo-intellectual bullshit, it will be accepted that his or her writing must be suitably profound to be, somehow, special and different. As long as such a person wins, then the credibility of the art-form is maintained.’

‘Is that also true for the rest of the Arts, Rufus?’

‘Mostly. Take photography: These days there’s no knowledge required to take a technically good photograph. Any spotty kid with a camera on his mobile phone will regularly take pictures that are indistinguishable from those of leading creative photographers. If that fact got out, it would never again be possible to hold fashionable photographic exhibitions or launch stylish photo-websites.’

‘I must admit I had wondered about the Turner Prize.’

‘A very good example of the same thing, Max.’

‘Why should we be conned into believing in a fantasy world? Shouldn’t this deception be exposed?’

‘Too dangerous, Max.’


‘Because Art reflects Life, Max. People use it as a way to understand the world. If people saw through the Art Delusion, where would it all end?’

‘I don’t understand.’

‘We saw in the stock market crashes after 9/11, Max, how financial stability is based on investor confidence. Just think of the consequences if people really understood that the money in their pockets was only real for as long as they believed it was real? What would happen if religious beliefs were seen as a convenient collective understanding rather than as objective fact? There would be financial and moral meltdown.’

‘So, Rufus, if the creative arts are ever seen as meaningless self-indulgent fantasy, people might start to recognise other critical institutions in that way too. That could lead to the end of civilisation as we know it!’

‘Absolutely right, my old friend. Now, I’ve got the shortlisted entries for the National Poetry Competition in my briefcase, do you know the way to the nearest lavatory?’