Who won the snooker? Shakespeare or Dante?

O’Sullivan lost his battle against Robertson in the final of the Snooker Tour Championship but over on the other table two other old titans were fighting it out; Shakespeare and Dante. As Angela Guiffrida reported in The Guardian, Italian political and cultural leaders had been slugging it out on behalf of legendary 12th Century poet Dante Alighieri after a German newspaper challenged his importance to the Italian language and claimed that William Shakespeare was “light years more modern”.

Harsh criticism of the comments by journalist Arno Widmann came from his own team. Eike Schmidt, a German art historian and the director of Florence’s Uffizi Gallery described him as “ignorant” during a radio interview. But a fierce fightback also came from Italian heavy hitters such as Pope Francis and the Italian president, Sergio Mattarella who made intelligent and spirited points in favour of their player, I mean poet.

To me these kinds of exchanges completely miss the point of not just the art of Shakespeare and Dante (sounds like an ITV Sunday night detective series) but of all art. Everything isn’t always a competition. That’s what distinguishes art from sport, surely; its value doesn’t chiefly come from comparison. In snooker, we know a player is good because they beat another player. We don’t regard a painting or a novel or a sculpture as good because it beats another one. There’s not even a clear way to keep score although many try to figure one out.

There are such things as art competitions of course, in fact these are currently more popular than ever. I quite like watching Portrait Artist of The Year, Landscape Artist of The Year and even the rowdy newcomer on Channel 4 at the moment, Drawers Off. But these aren’t true competitions like the one Ronnie O’Sullivan and Neil Robertson battled in last Sunday. An artist might win a painting competition but they haven’t done it for doing anything as clear cut as potting balls. The artist might have been judged the winner because one of the judges felt they captured the emotion of the subject or because they showed great perception or originality or a billion other reasons. The nearest you can get to distilling it down to the equivalent of potting a snooker ball is probably to say that you score a point in art when you manage to ‘affect’ someone. And no-one really knows how you do that. One thing is certain, though; it’s harder than screwing back off the cushion to get in line for the pink.

That’s why the argument covered in the Guardian article feels so ridiculous and futile; it reduces complex stuff to ludicrously simple points of comparison. As Angela Guiffrida reported, the best response is probably to do what Italian culture minister, Dario Franceschini, did. By tweeting a verse from Dante’s Inferno, he let the art speak for itself. “Non ragioniam di lor, ma guarda e passa (Inf. III, 51)” which means “let us not reflect upon them, but watch and move on”. Or we could just watch the snooker.


The Art of Walking

On Sunday 10 January I had an accident and broke my leg. It was my own fault; I was messing about on a skateboard, as though I’m not way too old for that. I was only on the thing for about a second before doing a spectacular back flip and landing (really awkwardly) on the ground. I knew I’d done something serious because my left foot was pointing in a direction I’ve never seen it point in before. And there was the pain. I’ve never experienced anything like it. I couldn’t move an inch. An ambulance was called but, for whatever reason, it never arrived. I lay there on a concrete path with trees all around for two and a half hours by which time it had gone dark.

A father and son, John and Vincent were walking by and asked if they could do anything to help. It turned out that they had an unused wheelchair at home and they offered to go and fetch it so they could ferry me to their car and then on to hospital. I’ve never felt so thankful to anyone. It would have been so easy for them to keep walking and not get involved. I’m sure they had stuff in their lives that they needed to attend to rather than be bothered scooping up some writhing stranger who probably should know better than to go anywhere near a skateboard. But they were bothered. They came back with the wheelchair and did what must have been incredibly unpleasant for them, they picked me up and eased me in. Up to that point, I had thought pain could not get much worse than what I was experiencing. When they picked me up though, it got ten times worse in a second. I’ll never forget seeing the horror on their faces as they got a first proper look at my leg and the damage I’d done to it. I had to be wheeled along the path, over a bridge and through a gate before I got to the car. I couldn’t possibly sit in either front or back seats so they opened the hatchback and I had to be hauled into the boot. Clutching at my leg, we set off for A & E. It took about twenty minutes and I think I was going in and out or reality a bit as songs on the radio seemed weirdly distant and surreal. I must have said thank you about a trillion times to John and Vincent as they dropped me off and I was bundled into the hospital.

They came to see me at home a few weeks later following surgery on my leg and I thanked them another few thousand times then. Apparently, I had snapped my tibia (the thick bone in my leg) and my fibula (the thin bone in my leg) in one easy move. I had to have a metal rod inserted from top to bottom with screws at either end. A hobby of mine is sketching and I often draw people as they pass by on the street. Those of us who are able-bodied take movement so much for granted; strolling through the park, hurrying to work, scurrying round the shops… I took it for granted when I stepped on that skateboard. We should take John and Vincent as examples. If we are blessed with the ability to walk, don’t use it to walk away.