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If only art imitated sport

Football writers and broadcasters have scored a stunning victory over their artistic peers when it comes to the accessibility of their words and deeds.

Robert Bound

Is writing about football better than writing about art? Not in terms of Godliness, I mean; more in the quality of the words and the keenness of the analysis.
If you go down to the back page of your newspaper today, you’re in for a big surprise: the analysis of the big game, the warts-and-all story of the sacking of the chosen one, the merits of one coach over another, an unstinting technical analysis of key personnel; man, they’re good. In short, the best bit is the sports bit by a country mile. The features pages? Leave it to a magazine. This one? Why not?

Every now and again during the course of reading this issue you’ll have seen reasons to inspect and celebrate the upcoming World Cup in Brazil. We’ve got some Panini sticker-style profiles of the men who might just be the key characters of these crucial campaigns and we’ve had a word or two with some of the broadcasters and writers who will put narrative flesh on the bones of the scorelines, in pages and on screens. These pundits aren’t just media makeweights, priming their opinions as they apply the slap for their close-up: they’re professionals from whom the straight-to-camera arm-wavers of art broadcasting could learn a trick or two. This World Cup will be a great opportunity for the media as well as the teams – who can revolutionise tried and trusted content? Who’ll become a part of the family for the summer?

There’s a dearth of go-to guys for arts. Sure, biennales are a harder sell than football championships but narrative, drama and expectation shouldn’t be missing from the way that arts are reported. Sport has a result: a winner and a loser. That binary resolution makes authorship easier but art critics could learn from sports writers about how not to play the pub bore.

It’s not a matter of knowledge. Much art writing is laden with the stuff but it’s not learning worn lightly enough to attract the casual reader; the reader who’s flicked to the Hockney critique instead of his usual bedding-in among the familiar numbers and graphs of the business section. Where the sport is whacked on the back of the main beast – great at attracting the eyeballs of passing trade – the arts sections feel like flyover states where specialist knowledge remains just that.

Job-swapping is always a nice fantasy and a bit of a parlour game. But what vim and vigour – and what tight deadlines! – us arts cats would inherit from our sporting brothers and sisters. Maybe those art fairs, biennales, film festivals, opening nights and author interviews need a bit more agony and ecstasy, a bit more last-gasp victory, nail-gnawing, hanging on against the odds, a bit more drama. A bit more art?




The Zhivago Affair

Peter Finn and Petra Couvée

Boris Pasternak’s Dr Zhivago was refused publication in the USSR – but the censors didn’t have it so easy. The manuscript, smuggled out by an Italian publisher, became a preoccupation of the CIA, keen to smuggle it back into the country and into the hands of Soviet citizens. High dudgeon, high stakes, high art.



A Good Place to Die

James Buchan

“We will survive, Shirin, and be reunited, even if we have to wade through blood and stand on heaps of corpses, the whole world dead or dying, and just you and I to laugh at it.” James Buchan’s lyrical novel tells the story of the young John Pitt, who leaves England behind to make a life for himself in 1970s Iran after he falls in love. Pitt narrates his experiences, revealing how our differences dictate our lives.



An Encyclopaedia of Myself

Jonathan Meades

A 300-page skeleton key to Meades’ dazzling, odd and unputdownable oeuvre. He grew up in post-war, ration-book-ruled, grey rural Wiltshire in the 1950s. Yet he paints it as thrillingly mid-Cold War, handsomely fed by his father’s trout-fishing obsession, garishly Technicolor in packaging, marketing – and in his gargoyle-range of relations and locals. A touching, hilarious masterclass (again). Take me back.



A Philosophy of Walking

Frédéric Gros

Friedrich Nietzsche and Immanuel Kant proved it’s good to be able to think on your feet – and contemporary peripatetics Iain Sinclair, Patrick Keiller and Robert Macfarlane have reinvented the journey as the end itself. Gros’s neat and witty meander, meanwhile, is a primer for the prime-movers but beautiful too.



The Hunger

Lincoln Townley

“But work is just the skin of my life, taking in enough money to feed the Hunger, and that Hunger is the reason I stand on the face of the earth. Nothing else matters.” The Hunger is the raw and brutal account of Lincoln Townley’s life of insatiable excess. As the marketing man of an infamous club in Soho, Townley is immersed in a world where girls, drugs and drinks come in “wraps” – and far too often. Living on the edge of a chaotic world, Townley narrates his memories in an honest and terrifying style.

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