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Other Writings > Letters to the Sydney Morning Herald — The Arts

Sydney Morning Herald

Like so many others I love to voice my opinions on the Arts. Are letters to the Sydney Morning Herald an art in themself?


The question Edmund Capon should be asking is why art boffins think art should be robbed of place, abstracted from its culture, and reduced to some sort of commodity suitable for easy consumption in elite white global hamburger galleries ("Capon: our art is not popular overseas", September 12).

Given a strong sense of place (sometimes called country) is part of what kept the world's oldest cultures vibrant and relevant, perhaps our allegedly unpopular artists are leading the world by not pandering to its lesser forces?

September 13, 2014


Richard Lynch (Letters, June 14), why don't we show we're smarter than the Canadians? 
Instead of spending hundreds of millions of dollars building venues suited only to the costly staging of work by dead Europeans written for another time and place, let's spend a fraction of that developing a canon of Australian work that fits the venues and budgets we have, reflects who we are not where some of us are from, and creates a vibrant living culture instead of an tawdry imitation dead one. 

June 12, 2013


On the Herald's piss-poor coverage of new music...

Several paragraphs on the familiar work of a dead European, but only a couple on the stunning world premiere of an exciting new Australian piano concerto that was barely mentioned in the advertisements (''Wolff feasts on delicacy as intricate interpretation shows off its true colour'', August 24).
It is as if the Herald reviewer and the Sydney Symphony marketing department are conspiring to kill off Australian music. Shame.

August 25, 2012


The real curse of the Scottish play (during an outbreak of gastric during Bell's season)?

Is it the Macbeth curse striking the guts of our performers or merely a gentle reminder from the Gods that we should be doing more new plays?

April 4, 2012


What can students possibly learn from studying the imported classical detritus of a 2500-year-old society that died out after a mere few hundred years?

If they need something ancient and inspiring to study, students should take a long hard look at the living cultures of the first people to leave Africa some 70,000 years ago; truly venerable cultures that make so-called ancient Greek look so gen Y, and the only cultures that can speak with the authentic voice of this country on which we live.

October 19, 2011


The 2011 NSW election…

With neither side of politics showing any demonstrable signs of creativity or imagination, perhaps their not having an arts policy is a blessing.

March 22, 2011


The 2010 federal election…

I keep waiting to see the photos of a prime ministerial candidate in a theatre, gallery, music venue or grown-up's library, and wonder why cultural policy and inspiring imagination aren't seen as vital to national leadership and our future as a creative nation.

August 12, 2010


There was I thinking Australia was a nation of world-beating creative thinkers, researchers, writers and artists building a culturally prosperous future in the imagination-based weightless economy.

It turns out, though, according to the budget, that we're a mob of unhealthy illiterate miners and sportsmen who hate accountants.

May 13, 2010


A minor bunfight between David Williamson, the STC, and Barrie Kosky demanded a bard-assisted riposte…

I write to bury Kosky, not to praise him. 

The evil that directors do to a nice night’s entertainment lives long after we return home, so it was with Kosky.

The noble Williamson hath told us Kosky is Theatre with a Capital T.  If it were so, it is a grievous fault, for Williamson is an honourable man.

Kosky was magnificent, awesome, inspiring, just to me, but Williamson says not, and Williamson is an honourable man, who hath bought many captives to the theatre, and whose ransoms did many company coffers fill.

Did Kosky do this?  He stirred imaginations instead, believing we were made of sterner stuff, but we have fled to brutish beasts with easy laughs and happy endings.  And men have lost their reason!

My heart is in the theatre with Kosky, and I must pause till he come back to me.

May 15, 2009

This letter was described by Terry of Gordon as "insufferably pretentious" (Letters, May 18, 2009). Moi?


Contemporary classical music reflects the unconscious life of both its listeners and society. If the big names are sounding anachronistic, infantile or eclectic, it may be telling us something about how we treat our souls in this age of economics and so-called reason. If it hurts our ears, it may be pointing to a failure of imagination, broken so it can no longer hear new harmonies in seeming dissonance.

It seems churlish to blame the mirror for reflecting our current ugliness, and plain ridiculous to stop listening: how else will we evolve to hear our future?

July 25, 2008


What's the point of preserving the architectural integrity of the Opera House if what goes on inside remains a museum for dead European culture?

If we are going to spend $700 million tarting up our icon, we should also find a way to ensure that more than once a year we get a chance to ascend the steps to see something contemporary, or even dare I say it, something of our own.

March 29, 2008


Unfairly heckled, I was permitted a reply, quite unusual for the Herald Letters page

The un-dead European delights listed by Meg Packham (Letters, March 31) are precisely the shows I'm prejudiced towards seeing "more than once a year" at the Opera House. Alas, while the bar is crushed with the pop hits of Bizet, Rossini and Sullivan, there is only a meagre taste of such delights, and a patently ignorant absence of contemporary classics such as those of John Adams and Philip Glass.

April 1, 2008


David Hockney is missing the point: the real problem with iPods is they reinforce the fallacious view that the true experience of music is something you can have by listening to downloaded commodities on your own, rather than in the presence of musicians and participating in the community-building activity that is live performance. iPods cannot "play" music, they can only reproduce it for anaesthetising consumption, which is not good for awareness in any medium

June 15, 2007


Responding to a long letter decrying the Opera Bar…

One has to question the validity of a high culture so fragile its elite patrons cannot walk past a crowded bar without it spoiling their night out (Letters, April 14).

April 16, 2007


Does anyone else miss the fringe, that weird and wonderful periphery that creates a festival by providing both the edge and heart for an otherwise random assortment of shows linked only by a brochure?

January 23, 2007


The award for best [un]intentional joke in the Sydney Biennale goes to the Art Gallery of New South Wales which, under a large work made of sheets of Braille, hung a sign saying "Please do not touch", thus inspiring the riposte: "Am I allowed to look at it?"

August 26, 2006


Following the announcement of a new anti-terrorism policy…

Until the Opera House can protect us from suicide performers dying for art in interpretations hijacked by political ideology causing us to flee at half time from the bombs onstage, then we'll never be truly safe from terrorism under its sails.

August 15, 2005


During celebrations of 50 years of rock…

While we sleep through the anniversary of baby rock (Letters, July 8), don't care about childish jazz, and ignore the sullen operatic teenager, let us pause to forget the august veteran of the performing arts: theatre, proudly numbing audience posteriors for at least 2542 years.

July 9, 2004


On a spate of ABC board resignations…

Why doesn't someone resign from the ABC board for a really good reason, like the organisation's failure to fulfil its charter obligation "to encourage and promote the musical, dramatic and other performing arts in Australia"?

June 19, 2004


On another Archibald prize legal scuffle…

If the role of the artist is to show us ourselves, then perhaps Tony Johansen is our of our greats. By suing the Archibald trustees over the definitions of painting ("Artist brushed off as Archibald winner", Herald, May 13), he's showing us how culturally deprived and disenfranchised we've become, how our artists are more interested in form and style than content and revelation, and how we've lost the desire to examine and explore ourselves, preferring instead to argue over money and semantics.

Johansen's "work" is a scathing indictment of a society in decline and is thus really good art.

May 14, 2004


On the USA Free Trade Agreement discussions…

In typically antipodean fashion, we've got this culture and free trade thing upside-down. Why isn't the onus on the Government to make a case to even consider putting out culture on the table at the negotiations for this perverse agreement with the world's greatest exponents of cultural imperialism?

Why isn't the Government obliged to stand up and convince us that there is something substantive to be gained by putting our culture at risk and then explain, in real terms, how we would hedge that risk so that our children continue to grow up in a world where the people on the stage and screen say "g'day" as they begin to tell our dreaming?

November 27, 2003


Looking down the theatre directory today I noticed something I believe is noteworthy: all our major theatre spaces are currently running Australian plays. Sydney Theatre Company (two shows), Griffin (an outside hire), [Belvoir], Ensemble, Marion Street and Glen Street, as well as at least six other venues (some amateur) are all presenting plays by Australian playwrights. And, as far as I know, all those playwrights are alive. In my 10 years in Sydney, I've never seen this happen. What a contrast to this time last year (during the Olympics) when there was no Oz theatre to be seen.

September 27, 2001

Published in the "Spotlight" column not on the Letters page


Boo, Australia Council, boo! ("Art in a cask is Everyman's tipple", Herald, 22 June).

The arts are not a passive, consumer-oriented, comfortable product. They are an opportunity for vibrant, active participation, and as such cannot be made "more accessible" to the lazy, idle, or wilfully stupid.

To participate in sport, as distinct from just watching it, requires sweat. To participate in art requires metaphorical sweat by the intellect and by the heart; there is no place in it for the passive spectator. If holding such a view makes me elitist, so be it.

June 23, 2000


The Nugent report would be laudable if you accept its basic premise that the arts are a commodity, a sort of uplifting entertainment put on by highly professional providers for the discerning arts consumer.

What would happen if we viewed the arts as an ongoing journey of self-discovery, with our artists revealing the divine and therefore the human in each of us, and in society as a whole, as they have done in more enlightened times?

The Nugent report dangerously reinforces the bean-counter's view of the arts and subverts them from their true potential.

Dare we ever value the arts in terms of the 'inner gold" they produce instead of the base metal they cost?

December 22, 1999


How appropriate that the Really Useful Company's casino theatre contract was announced in the same week as significant arts funding cuts. Not only are we assured of foreign content, we make it even harder for local artists to survive the early years of their careers. Both result in a form of bankruptcy.

August 16, 1996


The Tax Office seems to think that unless artists make a profit, they are not really artists (Herald, July 12).

The great galleries, concert halls, stages, and libraries are filled to overflowing with the "unprofitable" works of artists of vision and talent. Many of these artists lived in poverty, but the world is richer for their efforts. In a world filled with violence and destruction, it seems paradoxical we should persecute those who attempt to create a wealth you cannot put in a spreadsheet. Is money now the only thing of value?

Mammon may be winning, but the opera isn't over…

July 17, 1996


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