I got upset on Sunday, while reading the paper.
Dan Cairns, the Sunday Times rock critic, was writing about Florence And The Machine.
He said “Florence reminds me of a teenager who has read a little too much Virginia Woolf and Sylvia Plath and obsesses about Frida Kahlo. She’s not as intellectually sophisticated as she thinks she is.”
Now I’ve never listened to any Florence And The Machine.
So why would I get out of my pram?
Well, the sub text here is that Dan Cairns has read Sylivia Plath and Virginia Wolf, and knows a lot about Frida Kahlo.
In fact he knows more about all this cultural stuff than silly little Florence Welch does.
Therefore she’s not as entitled to talk about it as he is.
You can tell he either went to university, or wishes he did.
Because this is a man who, unlike Florence, actually is “as intellectually sophisticated” as he thinks he is.
See, Florence Welch didn’t go to university she went to art school.
And his attitude typifies the split between the two types of thinking.
For him, you don’t really know something unless you know every single detail about it.
It’s a bit like playing top trumps.
If I know more about something than you, then I’m more entitled to have an opinion about it.
You have to defer to me.
These people are like intellectual anoraks: train-spotters.
For them, information is to be gathered and stored.
The more you have, the better you must be.
You never do anything with it, except prove you’ve got it.
Pull it out whenever you need it.
To compete with other intellectual train-spotters.
Art school is the opposite.
You don’t collect knowledge, you use stuff.
You might have seen a sentence you liked somewhere, maybe from T. S. Eliot.
You use it.
You may not even remember who wrote it or where.
You certainly don’t have to study T. S. Eliot to prove that you’re entitled to use it.
You don’t have to know his inside leg measurement and the name of his milkman’s horse.
It’s not knowledge about T. S. Eliot you want.
It’s the sentence you want, that’s all.
To the creative person, all knowledge, everything, everywhere is just like paint on a palette.
You like the colour blue?
You stick it on your brush and use it.
You don’t need to prove your entitlement to use it by studying the history of the colour blue.
That’s what they do at University.
They study things.
They learn about things that other people have done.
What they do at art school is they actually do things themselves.
Which is exactly what Dan Cairns doesn’t get.
Because his degree, and his job, involves knowing about, and writing about, other people.
So he expects Florence Welch to write about other people just the way he does.
Dan Cairns would probably be outraged by people like Ian Dury and Peter Blake.
They loved using other people, without pretending to any great depths of knowledge.
Like Peter Blake’s cover for Sergeant Pepper.
Or Ian Dury’s lyrics for Clever Bastards.
For me, Dan Cairns lives in the ‘diminishing marginal returns’ of creativity.
Beyond a certain point, gathering more and more information becomes less and less valuable.
In fact, it becomes counter productive and time wasting.
That’s why Peter Blake and Ian Dury didn’t do that.
But then they didn’t go to University.
They went to art school.