Summers of Discontent by Raymond Tallis and Julian Spalding

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Summers of Discontent by Raymond Tallis and Julian Spalding

Category: Art
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Nikki Thompson
Reviewed by Nikki Thompson
Summary: An in-depth look at the human need for the arts and why they are created.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 190 Date: September 2014
Publisher: Wilmington Square Books
ISBN: 978-1908524409

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Raymond Tallis is what some people may refer to as a Renaissance Man. He is a doctor (specifically, a neurologist), a philosopher, a poet and a cultural critic. Summers of Discontent: The Purpose of the Arts Today is a collection of excerpts from Tallis’s numerous other works, extracted and collated by Julian Spalding – curator and Tallis’ contemporary. It’s a testament to the free-flowing, all-encompassing way in which Tallis writes that these excerpts sit next to each other seamlessly; they feel like one complete discussion, which is an achievement in itself.

The summary of Tallis’ main argument throughout these excerpts is that humans create art due to the fact that we don’t fully experience our experiences. At first glance, that comes across a little like a sound bite - something that sounds punchy but doesn’t make a lot of sense when you actually start to dissect it. However, Tallis makes an extraordinary argument to prove that his statement is true.

The analogy that I found most helpful in understanding Tallis’s theory was one that featured a bat and ball. He theorises that when you step up to hit a ball away from you, the moments preceding the hit are filled with anticipation, while the moments after it are spent watching the ball fade from view. However, the actual impact itself is a split second and is barely experienced. So much time is spent anticipating the experience that it’s hard to pinpoint the moment at which you have arrived at it. Art, then, helps take that split second moment and magnify it, immortalise it and make it An Experience. However, the book is about more than just this one theory, with discussion around the arts and freedom, the arts and emotion, and the idea that the arts are considered vital and yet are useless when their value is compared to food, water and shelter.

Tallis’s writing is intelligent and down-to-earth. There were also plenty of moments throughout reading the book when I thought ‘I know exactly what he’s talking about, I’ve experienced that.’ I don’t think I would be alone in that either. I think Tallis taps into something universal and does it in a grounded, intelligible way. His description of a family going on holiday and trying to pinpoint the moment at which they have ‘arrived’ is one that’s seared into my memory. I’ve talked to everyone about it and it’s sparked discussions in my house and at work about the purpose of the arts. That’s something I personally think is really important in itself – to generate discussion around things that aren’t about death and violence and human unkindness, but about the things that connect us all. From ancient times to now, the arts have done that. And Tallis’ collection of very authentic, very practical works looks at why - not how or where -the arts are created.

It is near on impossible to adequately summarise the richness of the ideas that Tallis shares in this book. A discussion on the human need for the arts and their ultimate purpose in our everyday lives could easily fill a book five times the size of “Summers of Discontent…” and get nowhere close to being as readable - or as inspiring and thought-provoking - as this fascinating, 190-page discourse on the human experience.

For another collection of ideas to get you thinking, try [What is Your Dangerous Idea? by John Brockman]

Buy Summers of Discontent by Raymond Tallis and Julian Spalding at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Summers of Discontent by Raymond Tallis and Julian Spalding at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy Summers of Discontent by Raymond Tallis and Julian Spalding at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Summers of Discontent by Raymond Tallis and Julian Spalding at Amazon.com.


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