Sunday, 18 October 2015

A numbers game

To get into Frieze Art Fair (in London last week; 160 galleries showing work; visitors were advised on the website: ‘Please remember, Frieze London is an event for galleries to conduct business’ - if you were there just to look, just to enjoy the art, you were there on sufferance) cost £35 (plus booking fee, plus £5 cloakroom fee for your bag). Tickets were sold out. To get into the Free Verse Poetry Book Fair in London last month (80+ publishers) plus all events was free; ditto to the All Tomorrows’ Publishers book fair over yesterday and today (CBe table above), which included many of the UK’s most important small presses and work more adventurous and interesting than much of that put out by the mainstream.

Number of visitors to the poetry book fair, I’d guess several hundred; to today's book fair, fewer. Given that this is London, one of the capitals (both cultural and business) of the West, and given the growth in recent in recent years of creative writing courses (there must be thousands of students on these in London alone: anyone got any figures?), and given also that both events had ACE funding and the organisers put in a huge amount of work and could not have been more welcoming, these figures are pretty pathetic, no?

(All relative, of course. Tickets for next Saturday’s West Ham v Chelsea match are available at ‘from £112’. West Ham ground capacity 35,000, Chelsea 41,000.)

I don’t lose much sleep over this. I think I like it this way, while being well aware of the smugness that attaches to that (the doctor Fiddes, who works in a charity hospital, in Kennaway’s Some Gorgeous Accident, ‘wondering why he’d chosen to be the kind of doctor who makes no money: there was such awful, English arrogance in that’). But I’m still curious:

Why (in my experience) are most art students keen to attend art fairs and exhibitions, but creative writing students (in general) not interested in book fairs?
Why is there, both financially and in public interest (7.7 million visitors to the Tate galleries in 2012/13, plus almost double that online), such a gulf between the art world and the literature world?

Answers on a postcard.


Kate Armstrong said...

Because visual art is perceived as less demanding than reading poetry.
Because visiting an art gallery is an activity to do on a date, and a date spent reading doesn't lead to sex.
Because art is better at using the latest technologies and media than literature is, and so feels more modern.
Because the term 'literature' brings up memories of painfully studying Shakespeare at school.
Because writers tend to be more solitary than artists.
Because book fairs don't put on ancillary entertainments. (Literary festivals, of course, do; which is why there are 350 of them in the UK and they're a viable business.)
Above all, because once you have enough people doing something more people will come, and literature doesn't currently have that critical Zeitgeist mass. (Reading is another question altogether.)

I'm sure all of this can be changed - and see my blog post on this for a semi-serious set of creative ways of funding literature ( but it does require us literary types to play a new game. I oscillate between believing that's a wonderful opportunity and wanting just to sit down in a corner with a book.

Poetry Pleases! said...

Dear Charles

I suppose it's because there is no substitute for actually seeing the artworks in question whereas you can read a book or a pamphlet or a chapbook anywhere. My wife likes crowded venues but I prefer empty ones where I can hear myself think and don't have to queue for an hour to get a drink.

Best wishes from from Simon R. Gladdish

Poetry Pleases! said...

Dear Charles

If anyone's interested, I am the featured poet in the latest issue of The Wolfian (number 3) published by Jon Davies.

Best wishes from Simon