Sunday, 19 October 2014

Battle of Ideas

Battle of Ideas 2014 banner

I've just had a fantastic day of debate at the Battle of Ideas, a conference in London organised by the Institute of Ideas that promotes intelligent debate on a wide range of issues. In the morning I was on a panel discussing connoisseurship with Martin Myrone of Tate Britain, the great Leonardo scholar Martin Kemp and Professor Sarah Wilson of the Courtauld Institute. Thinking about my presentation and discussing with such an esteemed panel has really helped me refine my thinking on the topic, and I'll post my thoughts later in the week.

In the afternoon I went to a debate about children in museums. I have firm views on that topic that were in line with the admirable presentation from Tiffany Jenkins and Ivan Hewett, but I was impressed by Maurice Davies's counter-arguments. I disagree utterly with Maurice Davies, a stalwart of the Museums Association, on almost everything, but I enjoy his forceful and thoughtful arguments. Debates about museums are highly politicised and polarised, which means positions can ossify into slogans unless they're refreshed through debate. Maurice is uncompromising in putting forward views that are quite the opposite of mine and of course quite wrong headed, but he is always interesting and he never stops thinking. When I was introduced he said that he expected me to be about 80 years old, which is the sort of comment only I would find flattering. But I'm aged only in spirit. He is no longer at the Museums Association, but you can find him on Twitter, @mauricewdavies

The Battle of Ideas has cracked the secret of panel debates: provide preliminary readings, give short sharp introductions and then open out the debate. I relish the interaction, not the lengthy statement of position. Just after arriving at university my tutor told me that lectures were socialist, because they involved getting lots of people in a big room and shouting at them. His understanding of socialism is questionable, but I do share the sentiment, and I never went to lectures. They're such an inefficient way of conveying information. I learned in the library and the pub. The point of bringing people together is to have a debate, not a talk from the floor with a few timid questions and answers. And the Battle of Ideas was brimful with stimulating ideas today.

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