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Art for art's sake beats the bleating hearts


Ciara King and Chris Greene

Ciara King and Chris Greene

Ciara King and Chris Greene

Call it picky, but surely Arena is a better name for a weekly arts show, and Arts Tonight for a nightly arts show? On RTE Radio 1, it's the other way round.

Anyway, on this week's Arena… sorry, Arts Tonight… the subject was "The Artist And Civic Society: Duties And Responsibilities". And if that brings back memories of pretentious undergraduate essays, then it probably wasn't accidental. Basically, it was that old chestnut of a question - do artists have any duty to their fellow citizens, or is their only duty to the art itself?

Gerry Kearns, geography professor at Maynooth, expressed a welcome wariness of the word "should" early on, but the rest of the show was regrettably unbalanced in favour of the notion, as another guest put it, that "there is a need for an artist to connect and sustain a responsibility within where they operate". Whatever that means.

Where were the speakers defending pure aestheticism, increasingly under threat from finger-wagging social improvers? Oscar Wilde must have been turning in his grave.

Michael Collins too, if he happened to catch Wednesday's Chris And Ciara on 2fm, in which Ms King regaled co-presenter, Mr Greene, with some more of her "shit teenage poetry", not least a verse about the Big Man which managed to rhyme "big ride" with the words "it's a pity that he died". There was an even more near-the-knuckle verse about Anne Frank, which some listeners no doubt found in poor taste; but with tensions already rising in advance of 2016, an ability to make light of your own country's historical pieties is no bad thing.

History of a more traditional variety came in the shape of BBC Radio 4's Spin The Globe, a programme that looks at what was happening elsewhere in the world "in and around" certain iconic dates.

The last in the current series concentrated on 323BC, when Alexander the Great died, and, as historian Michael Scott explained, the Greek geographer Pytheas of Massalia, was embarking on his explorations of the Atlantic and legendary emperor Chandragupta was uniting India for the first time.

It also contained what may well be the greatest question ever posed on radio, when, discussing conflict in China at the time, Scott asked his guest: "Why is it called the 'warring states period'?" Turned out it's because it was a period when many different states inside China were warring with one another. Who'd have guessed?

Finally, a warm welcome for the new Drama On Newstalk slot which, despite an unpromising broadcast time (7am on Saturdays and 10am on Sundays), is also thankfully available to listen back at leisure on the website.

An original piece by Kevin McCann and Peter Murphy, Coma imagined a series of confessional monologues at the bedside of a comatose young man in a small town somewhere in Ireland. It was a genuinely compelling, moving look into the conflict between people's inner lives and outer personas. The ending was a little trite, but it was still radio artistry at its very best.

Sunday Independent