Artists versus Sport on the Moscow-StPetersburg express.
It is one thing to see sports players going overseas but worse still would be losing artists to greener pastures.
I am reminded somewhat by the reverence shown to Alexander Solzhenitsyn, who died recently. Thousands filed past his open casket. Television showed metre long roses placed there by Putin and Gorbachev. I wonder whether we would revere our writers and artists the same.
I can’t remember when I have last seen a PM opening a book show or being photographed at an art gallery, or even commenting on the importance of art. On the contrary, the Bill Henson affair brought out suspicion, disregard and ignorance from those that ought to know better.
Why is it that sport is the Holy Grail above everything else?
Years ago I took the overnight train from Moscow to St Petersburg (Leningrad) in midsummer and shared the sleeper with a couple and an ample-bosomed and beautiful Russian woman by the name of Lilly.
Most of the sleeper cabins behind me had groups of American choir singers, both boys and girls of around 20-30 years of age. They had performed in Moscow and were booked to sing in St Petersburg. Being midsummer, and so far north, the days lasted forever. It had also been very hot with thunderstorms in the late afternoon. The Americans were pleased to meet someone from Australia and, as proof of it, I was asked to give an impromptu impersonation of Crocodile Dundee star Paul Hogan and say “goodiaye and hozygoin” over and over again.
This was nothing compared with what would follow next. The beautiful Lilly in my cabin spoke some German and so did I. The train was air conditioned but it was stifling hot and, as Lilly and I got acquainted, she, now and then, modestly dabbed her bosom with an Eau de Cologne sprinkled silken and embroidered handkerchief. She kindly asked what I did when I was not travelling and I told her I painted pictures. Ach nein, du bist ein Artiest? Wie ist das möglich? (An artist, how is that possible?) The hanky started working overtime.
The secret was out and went like wildfire through the whole train. The next thing, passengers were lining up to meet me, vodka was offered and Lilly unpacked some ‘kuchen’ with cubed sugar soaked in almond essence. (I remember it well.) I was almost carried around on shoulders and tears were flowing. I was feted like an emperor.
Some hours later, when darkness finally announced itself – and consider Russian sleeper trains are not gender separated, and the vodka had settled – the four of us, including the beautiful Lilly, calmly undressed. I hopped in the top bunk and she underneath. I slept on a cloud of Eau the Cologne and almond essence.
Next morning, breakfast was served in those ornate silver plated urns and glassware. The Americans behind us, thankfully, had had enough of Aussie imitations.
Getting back to the reverence shown to artists, dead or alive, in countries elsewhere, it seems doubly annoying to hear in all details the latest exploits of an AFL player who went to play in France for more money. Why is that of such enormous importance?
What I am trying to get at is that if I would have gone around the Goulburn-City Rail Link announcing I painted pictures, the best I could hope for would be the question “Do you sell them, and how much?”
How many more years will be wasted in giving so much credit to sport and so little to art?
When will we finally start recognising that art is important because it lasts and also defines us as a nation that always strives above the mundane.