Less subsidy means better music

One of the unlooked-for side effects of the financial crisis has been what might be called the desocialising of music funding. Whereas once many arts organisations could expect to survive solely on public money, just recently there has been an almost unseemly rush to tap private sources of cash. The time lag between the original

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Do critics make good artists? Come and judge ours

Artists make good critics, but do critics make good artists? It’s hard to tell, when most are too chicken to try. For over 20 years, Spectator critic Andrew Lambirth has been making collages. He caught the habit from the British Surrealist Eileen Agar in the late 1980s and kept it private, until forced to go


Superior Donuts – a very irritating success

Tracy Letts, of the Chicago company Steppenwolf, has written one of the best plays of the past ten years. August: Osage County is an exhilarating, multilayered family drama whose sweep and power amazed everyone who saw it on stage. His 2008 play, Superior Donuts, has a smaller, cosier canvas. We’re on the north side of


Why is Tippett’s King Priam so difficult to love?

The difference between lovable, likable and admirable is perhaps more significant in the operatic world than in other artistic spheres — and is often, alas, translatable directly into all-important box-office receipts. The most ambitious production in English Touring Opera’s spring season provides an opportunity to see where Michael Tippett’s second opera, King Priam, fits on


A quietly stunning quest for Bonnie Prince Charlie

What if Bonnie Prince Charlie, as he swept down from Scotland towards London to lay claim to the throne, hadn’t lost his nerve at Derbyshire but had instead pressed on — and won? What would Britain be like today? In the year that the Scots vote on whether to stay in the UK, the art


The Ikon Gallery’s greatest hits

In a crowded storeroom at Ikon, Birmingham’s contemporary art gallery, its director Jonathan Watkins is unwrapping the pictures for his latest show. His excitement is infectious. He’s like a big kid on Christmas day. This exhibition marks the start of Ikon’s 50th season, for which he’s devised a special programme — a history of Ikon,

The best exhibition of architecture I have ever experienced

Curtain walls, dreaming spires, crockets, finials, cantilevers, bush-hammered concrete, vermiculated rustication, heroic steel and delicate Cosmati work are all diverse parts of the architect’s vocabulary. But while Gothic, Classical, Baroque and Modern are well-thumbed volumes in his library of style, the architect’s real language is profound and prehistoric. Or, at least, it consists of prehistoric-style

Who knew that Cézanne had a sense of humour?

Tourists are attracted to queues, art lovers to quietude. So while the mass of Monet fans visiting Paris line up outside the Musée d’Orsay and the Orangerie, connoisseurs head to the Musée Marmottan, an institution so surprisingly little known that it had to rename itself the Musée Marmottan Monet to flag up the fact that

Hannah Höch – from Dada firebrand to poet of collage

I suspect I am not alone in finding it surprising to encounter at the close of this exhibition an unexpected Hannah Höch — a gently spoken elderly lady filmed wandering among the overgrown flowers in her garden, talking of beauty. A far cry from the radical firebrand and Dada collagiste of interwar Berlin whose works


I’m proud to say The Book Thief couldn’t pull my heartstrings

The Book Thief is based on Markus Zusak’s novel of the same name which, although written for young adults, appears beloved by many, judging from the readers’ reviews on the internet, and the frequent declarations of ‘it’s the best book I’ve ever read!’, and there is our first worrying clue, right there. Over the years,


The Today programme’s ‘Phwoof!’ moment

‘Phwhoof!’ exclaimed Evan at 8.27, before reluctantly turning us over to the sport report on Saturday morning’s Today (Radio 4). His intense connection with what he had just listened to in the studio (and we had heard at home while slowly waking up to the day) as Gavin Hewitt and Duncan Crawford reported from the