Letters: Nicholas Serota answers Toby Young on arts teaching

Plus: saving the elephant; what to do about Corbyn; 40 is an issue for everyone; Ingrams on Frost

7 November 2015

9:00 AM

7 November 2015

9:00 AM

The power of creativity

Sir: A rounded education should encourage creativity as well as maths, English, science and history if Britain is to compete in the modern world. Toby Young’s claim that the arts world is exaggerating the decline of arts in secondary schools therefore deserves to be challenged (Status anxiety, 24 October).

In spite of his confidence, teachers do think that there is a problem. They fear that the focus on ‘core’ subjects means they shouldn’t offer arts subjects. Students worry that studying the arts will damage an academic profile. But encouraging creativity makes people more adaptable, and helps prepare them for the uncertainties of life. The new head of Eton has argued that the arts are important in his vision for education, and he wants his pupils to develop emotional as well as academic intelligence. Do we want to deny state-school pupils similar opportunities?

George Osborne has championed the UK’s achievement in arts on a global stage. Educational policy should support his belief in the power of creativity, and reflect the wishes of young people who want to achieve excellence across a full range of subjects.
Nicholas Serota
Director, Tate galleries

Wrong end of the elephant

Sir: Writing in his Notes (24 October) that ‘If we want to save the elephant, we must legalise the ivory trade’, Charles Moore has bumped into one small part of a complex beast and guessed the wrong conclusion.

The truth is that the global trade in ivory is finished. In February last year, five African leaders launched the Elephant Protection Initiative, which calls for domestic ivory markets to be closed in line with the 1989 ban on international trade (which marked the collapse of western markets). Among them are Botswana and Gabon, which have the world’s largest remaining savannah and forest elephant populations. Five more countries have now joined, including Kenya. And the world’s two largest ivory markets, China and the US, agree. On 25 September, Presidents Obama and Xi announced that they will close their ivory markets, and the US has already stopped all import and export.

That is not to say that the poaching crisis is not acute. It is. My inbox is constantly bombarded with the fallout from the illegal trade: dead elephants, dead people, corruption and serious organised crime. Now is not the time for muddled thinking.

The future of both elephants and rural communities across Africa depends on peace, security and tourism dollars. That future depends on us acting now to protect living elephants, not dead ivory.
Alexander Rhodes
CEO, Stop Ivory, London SW7

Deradicalise Corbyn

Sir: Nick Cohen calls for the conversion from far-leftists into social democrats of 250,000 Corbyn supporters (‘Converting the Corbyn cult’, 31 October). Surely it would be simpler to convert Mr Corbyn himself? The Home Office has had considerable success in deradicalising jihadists through their ‘Channel’ programme; could not their proven technique be applied to Mr Corbyn?
Mike Gross
Braunton, Devon

Forty is a male problem, too

Sir: I was amused to read Melissa Kite’s protests about the sexism that women over 40 suffer in the workplace (‘Forty is a feminist issue’, 31 October). I was forced out of the teaching profession by left-wing management, and can assure her that changing careers as a man is no picnic either. I have been unable to find employment for two years because I am ‘too old’ — at 46. I have, in searching for jobs, encountered a considerable number of positions advertised as ‘female candidates only need apply’, a stricture I have never seen applied to men. It is also worth noting that until recently women were allowed to retire five years earlier than men, despite the fact that they live longer. Where were the feminists’ cries about ‘sexism’ then?
Finbarr O’Keeffe
Reading, Berkshire

Bile and Frost

Sir: Richard Ingrams’s review of Sir David Frost’s biography (Books, 31 October) dripped with bile. Yet he makes some very sound points about the beatification of Frostie, a figure whose reputation is most unlikely to survive his memorial in Westminster Abbey.

It is good to know that Ingrams retains his fierce passion and indignation. But his subject would, I am sure, have been amused — and unperturbed — by his adversary’s vituperation.
Tom Blackett
West Byfleet, Surrey

Gwynne’s grammar test

Sir: Because of the demanding nature of my grammar test (Diary, 17 October), the answers really need to be accompanied by supporting explanations — what follows is only the bare-bones version.

The test: give the parts of speech, including the grammatical part of any verbs, of ‘boiling’ and every instance of ‘washing’ in the sentence, ‘She is washing in boiling water yesterday’s washing in the washing machine that she uses for washing clothes.’

The answers. ‘Boiling’: present participle (verb-adjective). First ‘washing’: taken with ‘is’, continuous present tense, active voice and indicative mood. By itself, present participle. Second ‘washing’: either gerund (verbal noun) or gerundive. Third ‘washing’: noun acting as an adjective (‘noun-adjective’). Fourth ‘washing’: gerund, acting both as a noun and as a transitive verb.

A fuller discussion of the answers will be on my website, gwynneteaching.com. I have provisionally chosen the winner, but, because I do not claim infallibility, the announcement will be made next week, just in case anyone should wish to dispute any of the above answers in the meantime.
N.M. Gwynne
Co. Wexford, Ireland

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  • ohforheavensake

    Good answer- and destroys Toby’s argument in three short paragraphs. Poor old Toby- not one of the world’s great thinkers.

    • post_x_it

      Quite the opposite.
      Toby’s article was very detailed and specific about why he thinks Serota is wrong.
      Serota’s letter doesn’t address any of his points. It’s just bumf.

    • blandings

      “Poor old Toby- not one of the world’s great thinkers.”
      he doesn’t need to be one of the world’s great thinkers to be better than you.
      Oh, and do stop affecting to be on first name terms with people who wouldn’t give you the time of day.

      • Malcolm Stevas


        • blandings

          Perhaps, but the pretentious little prat deserves it.

  • Thomas

    It’s such a shame someone heading ‘Stop Ivory’ thinks one more layer of new international agreement will provide the social conditions that will actually stop people from poaching. If the other layers didn’t, this one won’t, and instead you will still be left with charity or state funding vs criminality in some of the most poor and corrupt countries in the world you have always had.

    It’s not surprising the figurehead of some animal rights group has some overly optimistic super-conventional view but it is always disappointing.

    • Gilbert White

      Keeps a lot of morality flaggers in nice jobs though.

      • Sue Smith

        That idea absolutely turns my stomach, to be honest. If only we held the Leftist world view – their zombie philosophies a hang-over from failed Marxism – the world would be a better, more controlled place. Pass the bucket please.

  • Sholto Douglas

    Trouble is, arts academia invites ridicule with all the attendant nonsense emanating from it. Of course it will be associated with intellectual emptiness when we hear such total bollocks from its practitioners. Take the arts academic who complained about the sexism and racism of snowmen because they are white (can’t imagine why) and male. And we can safely guess where the current absurdities of ‘safe spaces’ come from. I could go on…
    Hardly surprising it is not given top billing.

    • Sue Smith

      Yes, they’ve shot themselves in their own feet. And high time too, say I.

    • sidor

      Political and social views of the arts academia are much less interesting than those of the union of plumbers because the latters’ intellectual capacity and basic education level is significantly higher: due to the specifics of their profession they need to know at least some theorems of Euclidean geometry which the art experts are generally unaware of. We shouldn’t hesitate to remind the arts academics this sad fact every time when they try to present themselves as intellectuals.

  • hobspawn

    Fancy Serota invoking the new head of Eton as an appeal to authority. A friend who recently endured the new head’s speech to parents complained that it was a vacuous Blairite emotion-signalling-fest. He seemed dismayed that this almost-child headmaster should be in charge of his son’s schooling.

  • Dogsnob

    “A rounded education should encourage creativity as well as maths, English, science and history if Britain is to compete in the modern world.”
    I would have it that a solid, well-directed education avoids the revealed polarisation evidenced above; does not view maths, English, science and history as though they were subjects outside of the concerns and benefits of creativity.

  • Rocksy

    Why does everyone equate ‘creativity’ with the so called arts?
    Creativity is the ability to come up with something which hasn’t existed before. Is there anything more pleasing to behold than a supersonic Concord? What about the creativity that gave us The Wealth of Nations? The list is endless.

    • Sue Smith

      Absolutely agree!! Creativity exists in science, technology, engineeering and mathematics- the so-called STEM subjects – as well as architecture. Listening to Theoretical Physicists last night on a program about the Hedron Collider in Switzerland made me realize that this bunch of scientists are as creative as it’s possible to be!! But they base their creativity on physical possibilities or probabilities, and the creativity comes in the speculation phase of that.

      Creativity also occurs in the corporate world, though this is always denied. Most capable business people readily understand the role of creativity in business models, generation of wealth and the expansion of potential and newer, more innovative products.

      I always used to think, up until my early 20’s, that creativity in the arts was the best and only creativity. Now I’ve tended to slide that to the bottom of the pack as I’m constantly in awe of business, scientific and those already-mentioned fields of endeavour which attract creative people.

      Of course, the creativity of Beethoven, Bach and the art music cohort is another exceptional case, as it is in Renaissance art!!! I don’t include them in the general ‘artistic creativity’ net.

      • Rocksy

        Exactly! I am more moved, excited and overawed by these creations than I have ever been by the scratchings of the current trends in so called ‘art’. The Old Masters are of course in a sphere apart.

  • Malcolm Stevas

    Finnbarr O’Keeffe writes, “..changing careers as a man is no picnic either. I have been unable to
    find employment for two years because I am ‘too old’ — at 46.”
    Work for yourself. I parachuted out of teaching aged 50, worked for myself instead (not at all connected with teaching) and never regretted it. Though I do regret having ever entered teaching in the first place, an Augean Stables which needs cleaning out radically…

  • rtj1211

    Why is there this obsession with making Eton out to be the best school in the country? It is merely the most expensive (or one of the most expensive).

    If there is one lesson I have learned in all my life it is that being a multimillionaire doesn’t make you intelligent, wordly or cultural.

    It makes you rich.

  • rtj1211

    Creativity is about the ability to reformulate, in any sphere of life.

    Leroy Hood reformulated the detection of strands of DNA using fluorescence rather than radioactivity and linked it to computer programmes. He created the first generation of automated DNA sequencers as a result and his company made scientists and investors millions.

    Those who invented hydroponics asserted that plants could grow without soil and roots could happily exist in liquid media. They eliminated the requirement for rainfall in summer to grow crops, although they have not eliminated the need for water!

    The creators of the internet removed the need for printing presses for the mass communication of information, ideas and events.

    The creators of democracy challenged the right of kings to rule via primogeniture.

    Creativity is a state of mind allied to a subsequent set of goals.

    The arts are one small subset of outlets for that creativity.