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Will Gompertz | 12:15 UK time, Friday, 22 January 2010

When do the arts become news? Does the staging of 11 And 12, a new play about religious tolerance - which will tour the UK and which is directed by the illustrious Peter Brook - warrant two minutes of News at Ten time?

11 And 12; Coronation StreetIs how the Arts Council chooses to spend its - or, rather, your - money news? Does the lack of political and public debate about the quality of architecture in the public realm need investigation? Can the launch of a new book, film, video game, exhibition, CD, play or TV series ever be news simply because it has something important and pertinent to say? My answer is an unequivocal "yes"; is yours?

John Ruskin, the 19th-Century poet, artist and critic, had this to say:

Great nations write their autobiographies in three manuscripts - the book of their deeds, the book of their words and the book of their art. Not one of these books can be understood unless we read the two others; but of the three the only quite trustworthy one is the last. The acts of a nation may be triumphant by its good fortune; and its words mighty by the genius of a few of its children, but its art only by the general gifts and common sympathies of the race.

I agree. And that's why I believe all aspects of the arts should be properly, rigorously and dispassionately reported within the context of BBC News.

LEFT: Daniel Barenboim in 1956 for BBC Eastern Service, Hebrew Section; RIGHT: Daniel Barenboim in 2006 for BBC Reith LecturesAnd to be clear: for me, the arts encompass all areas of artistic expression, whether that means a new album from The XX, a storyline in Coronation Street or Daniel Barenboim playing Beethoven's concertos at the South Bank Centre.

This blog aims to spark conversations, opinions and insights into what's going on in the arts - the good, the bad and the quirky.

I hope that, between us, we can also initiate larger-scale debates exploring major themes and look to foster communities around areas of special interest or framed around an idea.

I might occasionally post about my experience of being the BBC's first arts editor and how I am adjusting to life as a full-time journalist and broadcaster. The BBC is, after all, a very significant arts organisation itself; I suspect that my experience is unlikely to be boring. Gomp/arts, with your help, shouldn't be boring either.


  • Comment number 1.

    Hi Will,

    Firstly congratulations on the new role - good to see you've finally got the recognition you deserve!

    Looking forward to immensely interesting Art Blogs!

    Good luck with it all.

  • Comment number 2.

    "I agree. And that's why I believe all aspects of the arts should be properly, rigorously and dispassionately reported within the context of BBC News."

    Yes, but there is still too much emphasis on celebrity culture and news on the BBC - why has Celebrity Big Brother been covered so extensively on the news website, even appearing as a headline on the ticker at the top of the home page, and recent events like the Costa book prize get sidelined to the corner of the page? And Amy Winehouse's umpteenth court case or arrest or Katie Price's shameless self-promotion? Personally, I don't consider that to be of any interest, I appreciate why it is covered, but not when it is covered to the extent of overkill. I just don't agree that there is the right balance of what type of arts is reported, and I often have to hunt for what I am interested in.

  • Comment number 3.

    Yayyy! Arts blogs and Arts news is what we want.
    I despair at how news channels on TV and Radio have been so completely infected by sports coverage masquerading as news. Editors will try and point to popular interest as the spurious justification. However, the facts are that more people visit galleries, exhibitions, concerts and museums every year than attend ALL sporting events. So if popularity was the key factor Arts should get huge sections of the news every day around the year.
    Mind you, if taken to its logical conclusion; gardening is the single most popular pastime in the UK, so we should have our newsreaders saying "and now over to today's gardening news".

  • Comment number 4.

    While I don't watch News at Ten so didn't see this item I'd be far happier for the BBC to report real art and theatre than the incessant diet of reality/dance/talent(sic) shows that appear on BBC Breakfast.

  • Comment number 5.

    Thrilled to see the BBC committing more attention to the arts! Looking forward to reading your posts :)

  • Comment number 6.

    Love to hear about the arts rather than the personal lives of artists.

    However, how you're going to give a meaningful context to the arts news within the confines of TV or Radio broadcasts strikes me as problematic. Art is build up in layers of meaning and based on centuries of history...all in 2 minute packages?

    Also, whether you will be able to avoid the London-centric news problem (which no one else at the BBC seems to have succeeded at either, so probably not something that will be criticised by management too closely) is even more painful.

  • Comment number 7.

    Yay - three cheers, do what auntie beeb does best, disseminate please!
    Joe Melia captured my arty imagination as a child and that endures today.

    P.S. Nicola - use the Beeb search facility or Google your hunt.

  • Comment number 8.

    When Ruskin made his point about art I'm quite sure he was not referring to whatever at that time was the equivalent of 'a new album from The XX, a storyline in Coronation Street or Daniel Barenboim playing Beethoven's concertos at the South Bank Centre'. In the great scheme of things none of these events will be considered of much significance. They may be entertaining but what qualifies them as art? Haven't we had enough of this sort of crass popularisation?

  • Comment number 9.

    I would like to know if the visual arts (in particular painting, printmaking & sculpture) are going to be covered, as they certainly are not included as part of "Culture" in any meaningful way by the BBC at the moment?

  • Comment number 10.

    I comment on your new U.K. blog, Gomp/arts, on my three-year-old U.S. blog, CultureGrrl:

  • Comment number 11.

    Congratulations, Will! And I say that not just because I was an usher at your niece Rosie’s wedding. Gomp/arts - that's just fine wordplay!

    I think the impetus for more news coverage of the arts on the BBC can only be welcomed. The success of BBC4’s cultural content, especially in comparison to BBC3’s often floundering sitcom/reality programming, suggests there’s certainly an eager audience for it.

    I think the key challenge in terms of art as news is finding pieces that are indeed ‘newsworthy’, or of potential interest to a wider audience. At the moment arts in the news is often restricted to arts news stories (like the announcement of the Costa prize) rather than regular arts coverage, but simply reporting everything would result in Nicola having to do even more digging to find what interests her! Conversely though, what last year’s Poetry Season managed to illustrate was that even with one of the most subjective art forms, if you throw out enough coverage there’ll be plenty of gems to be found by anyone with the slightest interest.

    The problem, particularly in respect of music, is that by the time an artist rises apart from the chaff to a level sufficient to suggest they be considered for this wider audience, they’ve often already done their best work and settled into a careerist routine or retired! As such, I’d like to see a little light shone on El-P’s Def Jux record label, painter Paul Martin, poet Richard Price and Lou Reed’s new Metal Machine Trio!

    Best of luck!


  • Comment number 12.

    About time too!

    Congratulations to the BBC, for finally realising they need an Arts blog, and to you, Will, for being the first to land the role

  • Comment number 13.

    When do sports become news? If sports can be news then the Arts certainly can. If a news item does not contain information that people might need to know (tube trike, severe weather warning etc) then I suppose it has to be justified on the basis of how many people might want to know about it. Although I have no interest in football I know that a lot of people do and I have to accept that premiere league results are newsworthy. I would guess that there are few Arts related items that would garner that level of interest (unfortunately) but the opening of a major exhibition, Turner and Booker prizes, the opening of significant new play etc are all candidates for inclusion in a general news programme.

  • Comment number 14.

    That's great news and congratulations. Will you be looking at all levels of the arts - not just the big noises? There's such a rich vein of talent bubbling under the surface (fringe/alternative theatre, performance poetry, art collectives) that doesn't get the necessary media attention it needs to allow the artists of tomorrow - that don't have the connections that others do - to thrive?

  • Comment number 15.

    I'm sad that The South Bank South has been phased out so I hope that you can compensate to some degree by getting more arts topics into the news. Of course with computers and advanced communications technology in every home it's not just TV news I'm talking about, but news where and however it appears.

    Alan Yentob's Imagine programmes are also wonderful and I'd like to see more like them.

  • Comment number 16.

    I knew you would go far right from the Noel Street days.

  • Comment number 17.

    Dear Will Gompertz I'm looking forward to your reading your blog - it looks like you'll have interesting things to say. (And I like your glasses). Is there any way you could join Twitter ? It would be good to be able to read your Tweets. Good wishes.

  • Comment number 18.

    I agree that arts should have more coverage and be treated as being as important as any other cultural developments, but until it is stopped being subtitled under entertainment (like on the bbc news website) then it will only be approached as being less than technology, science, business, politcs...

    Perhaps you could try convince the BBC news website to move Art news into its own category, it might help people realise how important the arts are.

  • Comment number 19.

    I think a good start would be for the BBC to give it's Arts & Culture section a link at the bottom of the main news page rather than it's current lowly position as a link on the Entertainment page.

  • Comment number 20.

    Good to finally see someone in a position of influence include videogames in a List Of Things That Can Be Art. It may well be the case that few or no individual works have proven themselves worthy of this kind of attention, but the fact that you're prepared to accept that there is the potential for games to do so show that you're head and shoulders above a lot of critics- certainly any that have appeared on Newsnight Review, anyway.

    Kudos, Mr Gompertz.

  • Comment number 21.

    I look forward to your future posts, especially since you were open-minded enough to include video games amongst the list of various forms of art. Mark Kermode and other similarly ignorant critics of culture and art could certainly take a leaf out of your book.

  • Comment number 22.

    Will, Congratulations on your new appointment. You have omitted to mention that volunteering at a hospital radio station, taking music to the masses, might also have been valuable experience!
    I agree that there should be more open debate on how and which arts should be publicly funded and the importance of art in schools. I look forward to reading more of your blog.

  • Comment number 23.

    I have two thoughts for you:

    1. In music we go forward at a pace. One "artist" "innovates" and others immediately judge whether or not he has "openned a new window" and "shown us a new world". If so, then it has to be embraced and extended. The Beatles were "restless" in trying and succeeding in showing us new worlds and continuing the "leap-frog" that has been going on, certainly since the 1920s. Embedded and in parallel with the window opening is the pace of technology that is needed to deliver the new innovations. Sometimes it has been a new instrument that has enabled a new window to be openned. And this little island, as with so many things, delivered so many of these innovations. So many Iranians are Pink Floyd fans but they and so many around the world cannot provide the next "new window". I'm sure that one day they will as they are no different to us.

    2. I often tell a story about $10m oil paintings. First I point out that caveman used to do that, its not new. Second I point out that when a man spends $10m on an oil painting he will never see it, never take it home and did not even choose it himself. His accountant advised him to include art in his portfolio, it is CGT free and it only goes up in value. He responded by saying he knew nothing about art (come-on, you have some great CDs). His accountant said he knew an art dealer who would do all the work for him. So, with only his pocket and his bid ceiling to guide him, he instructs the art dealer. It will be this picture with this sales pedigree that comes up at auction in New York in September or this one in London in October. OK thats fine, how do you spell van go? Our buyer gets his art portfolio for £10m. I've forgotten which one, the first two went for more than $10m but he finished up with something that had a good sales pedigree, I think there was a horse and I think it is French. The "art" for want of a better word will remain in its air-conditioned vault where it is guaranteed not to deteriorate and the storage cost is a fraction of the cost of the insurance were it in his home with no air-con.

    The moral to be derived from 1. and 2. is don't confuse your art with your "art".

  • Comment number 24.


    Congratulations and good luck from your sometimes artistic friends in sleepy hollow.
    Nothing more, nothing less.

  • Comment number 25.

    great news Will. Look forward to far more news items about the arts and culture in all their wonderful and not so wonderful manifestations. And look forward also to the blog.

  • Comment number 26.

    "I agree. And that's why I believe all aspects of the arts should be properly, rigorously and dispassionately reported within the context of BBC News."

    Absolutely - BUT there is a danger that the reporting of the art becomes the news rather than the art itself.

    Looking forward to debate and art in the news. Well done Will for the blog!

  • Comment number 27.

    Sport - which is a transient thing if you think about it - gets enough reporting in the daily news. The Arts will be what history remembers us for. Don't we think of Dickens when we say Victorian, or Shakespeare when we say Elizabethan? In France the theatre and books regularly feature in the daily news bulletins, you will also frequently hear young people in bars discussing with some animation the latest work of philosophy, play or art exhibition. Over here all they seem able to do is stagger around vomiting.

  • Comment number 28.

    Hi Will

    I heard you at the conference on 14th January. Good luck with your new job and your blog.

    I too would like arts to be news but I echo some of what has been said here - it shouldn't just be about personalities, who's divorcing whom, what they wear on the red carpet or who has just won a prize. At worst, the arts gets the 'skateboarding gerbil' slot - "ooh look at this funny idea and the weird people who are saying it's meaningful! But little old you in the TV audience can just laugh at it" - and not try to gain more understanding or even correct information.

    I'd like to see more coverage of actual artistic endeavour. People need to be able to stumble across the arts while flicking through the channels - and be captivated. At the moment, that's hard to do, particularly on terrestrial TV, because there just ain't enough of it. Dance, opera, music of all kinds, visual arts, digital arts - just get it on the screen!

    I'd also like to see more coverage of state funding and policy, and of the arts as a major part of our economy. The last Arts Council England funding review (and the next), the creation of Creative Scotland, the unexpected cut in Northern Ireland arts funding, the ongoing story about sponsorship and philanthropy. All of these could and perhaps should have been considered, even only for a few lines in the news bulletins - sometimes under arts news, sometimes under a business heading.

    The arts are part of the warp and woof of everyday life, but they're more or less invisible on TV - except for film and the occasional famous novelist. So good luck with the job - I'll be cheering you on.

  • Comment number 29.

    I think you're a shameless self-publicist. Judging by your first post the blog is going to be mostly about you and very little about the arts. But - let's hope you might be able to get the news to seriously cover real arts issues and not just regurgitate spoon-fed publicity stunts along the lines of 'opera house gives tickets to Sun readers'.

  • Comment number 30.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 31.

    One of your contributors has already hit the nail on the head - inconsequential rubbish about talentless, puerile reality / celebrity (sic)shows has no place in serious comment about the arts.

    As an arts historian myself, I am shocked about how little media attention is paid to the many immensely talented performing artists who are hardly ever (if at all)mentioned when something newsworthy about them rears its head. This is in contrast to the manipulated and exploited dross that fills space and consumes precious radio & TV minutes.

    There is a wider issue too. News space should not fall victim to the all-too-beguiling commercial egoist who is merely seeking a "plug" for his or her latest doings; that is advertising and not news. Apart from that it should be a no-holds-barred arena free to all worthwhile cultural enterprise.

  • Comment number 32.

    Hello Will,

    I applaud what you've set out here, as very nearly every other commenter has. However, I'd also like, if possible, to see some coverage of some of the newer fields in the arts. I've worked in podcasting for the last three years for example and the amount of remarkable talent working in that field is frankly remarkable. Looking at fiction alone, writers like Scott Sigler, Mur Lafferty and JC Hutchins and sites like Variant Frequencies ( and the Escape Artists family of podcasts (Escape Pod, Pseudopod and Podcastle) have not only embraced the free, inclusive nature of podcasting but in doing so resurrected a largely forgotten art form; the short story. It's a renaissance that's been embraced and built on by magazines like Hub ( which I currently edit and Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet (

    Of course because this material is online it's all too easy to put it in a different, lower bracket to other fiction. But Sigler, Hutchins, Lafferty, Phil Rossi and many more are now stepping across from pod to print. The new generation of popular fiction is being built, an episode at a time, and it's available for free.

    It's even easier to look down on work like this because so much of it's genre, after all science fiction, horror and fantasy have been the traditional whipping boys of the popular art scene. But Stephen King's books are still blockbusters. Avatar is on the way to being the most successful movie of all time and at least two of last year's most intelligent, most challenging movies, District 9 and Moon, were both solidly genre pieces. Popular fiction, popular art, is no longer in the ghetto but the mainstream. Your mention of Coronation Street is admirable but I hope, fervently, that Lost, Caprica, Fringe, Doctor Who and the like get as fair a crack of the whip.

    That's even before you get to the explosion of DIY serials on youtube, the massive success of youtubers like Phillip DeFranco, whose work was recently used without permission by prominent news agencies and the DIY magazines offered by services like MagCloud. Then there are film makers like Miles Watts, who has just completed his first full length feature on functionally no budget, the staggering work done by Resonance FM and the continued massive success of English talent in the comics field. Authors like Warren Ellis, Grant Morrison, Andy Diggle and Mark Millar are again, breaking through to the mainstream and taking their readers with them. Even Alan Moore, the acknowledged godfather of the modern comic industry has returned to the fray, publishing Dodgem Logic, a magazine with a unique 'local' section that he's inviting contributions for. Details can be found here:

    Every single one of these projects, every single one of these creators puts their heart and soul into their work and each one absolutely deserves coverage. Whilst I don't envy you your job, I hope that you find some way to cover their work.

  • Comment number 33.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 34.

    Hi Will - many congratulations with the new role.

    What a great blog post. Was wondering whether you see the same opportunities for dance online and what role do you think digital innovation has in the evolution of dance?

    Look forward to hearing your thoughts.

    Best wishes.

  • Comment number 35.

    Its great to see painting and the visual arts back on t.v.
    There definitely seems to be a revitalised interest in painting and modern art in this country. Atleast on BBC 4.
    I've always wondered why the BBC has'nt created an on-line art gallery for painting/drawing/sculpture on its website. It shows numerous photos/video taken from the public, so why not? It would be cheap, and an opputuniy to capitalize on the recent interest.
    There is a definite raising of standards in British art, particularly painting and drawing but it is largely going unnoticed. I bet on-line users would be very keen to take a look.
    Its always good to see the arts get more coverage, because it would be a boring world without them.

  • Comment number 36.


    My best wishes and great success to the newly formatted blog on Arts and its supporting aspects.

    (Dennis Junior)

  • Comment number 37.

    Art becomes news when it steps outside our accepted boundaries to challenge or evoke.
    Normal art is ho-hum, one minute coverage.
    Great art is wow, an hour may not be enough!
    How the Arts Council spends our tax money is definitely news.
    The lack of debate about what is being built needs to be drawn to the attention of a public that is rather apathetic; there's little awareness about how much our surroundings effect us psychologically. In this modern era buildings tend to be tall, the taller the better. To me this is very masculine. I'd prefer building that were round, maybe even more into the earth. To me this is feminine. Right now, women are surrounded by masculine architecture that is erect and tall...What does that say?
    I could go on, but I've likely said enough to demonstrate my eagerness for the breadth of your blog. So let me conclude: Get on with it, Gomp, looking forward.


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