Sunday, 18 September 2016

Michelangelo: 'Not Ticked All the Metrics'

Michelangelo: 'a glorious failure'
Whilst there has been some disquiet amongst arts organisations about Arts Council England's plans to introduce a national quantitative system for evaluating the quality of the art it funds, they needn't worry. Such systems have long been used by commissioners of artistic works. A transcript of a discussion between Pope Julius II and Michelangelo has recently come to light that confirms that such 'quality metrics' were already in place when the artist was working on the Sistine Chapel. We reprint it here to put our readers' minds at rest.

A large, ornately decorated room in the Vatican. A man in an exuberant headdress is peering closely at one of the painted walls and tapping it gently with a toffee hammer and then waiting for an echo. A man in a smock approaches him. 

Man in Smock (looking alarmed): Your Holiness! Your Divine Majesty! What...what...I mean, is there anything I can help you with?
Pope Julius II (for it is he): Ah! Michelangelo. Glad you could come. I've just been taking some quantitative readings of your work.
Michelangelo: Quantitative readings? But, Your Holiness, do you not like what you see? Does it not move you? Do you not trust your eyes?
Julius: Yes, it is intensely moving, and I have a spiritual revelation every time I look at your work, Michelangelo. However, such qualitative responses are no longer enough in this metric driven age. We need to quantify our responses. The most excellent Arts Council England has provided me with these. (He rummages in his gown, and brings out a list). Yes! See, although I think that its a wonderful work of art, I need to be quantitatively assured that it is so. Now, Michelangelo, perhaps you can help me with these. I must confess that the toffee hammer isn't being much use. We've got twelve metrics to answer.
Michelangelo: Twelve, Your Holiness?
Julius: Yes! I know! So very few. But still. Now some of these are fairly straightforward. I think 'Presentation: it was well produced and presented' is a given. Yes, your presentation is top notch (he ticks the box). And 'Rigour: it was well thought through and put together.' I think we can tick that (he ticks again, and Michelangelo sighs.) But the others are not so easy.
Michelangelo: Perhaps I can help, Your Holiness. I have, after all, been working on it for the last four years of my life. I have crippled myself through long hours on my back staring closely at the minute details of the mighty work, painting and repainting each hair, each glistening bead of sweat on the heads of the serried choirs of...
Julius: Yes, yes, I take your point, but really: that only deals with presentation and rigour, I feel. Now can you tell me this: as a 'Concept' was it 'an interesting idea'?
Michelangelo (taken aback): Well, I would have thought so. I mean a work that takes in everything from the Creation of Adam through to the Last Judgement! It's all encompassing, it's grandeur and magnificence are beyond compare, it is..
Julius (cutting him off): Jolly good (tick). Now that's all very well, but is it 'Distinctive'? I mean that fellow Raphael has done similar sorts of things. Is it (reads from the ACE list) 'different from things I've experienced before'?
Michelangelo: Your Holiness! There is nothing like it in all of Christendom!
Julius: Well I'll have to take your word for that. Hmm. And I suppose, if I do, that also takes care of 'Originality: it was ground-breaking' and, if I allow myself to trust the witness of my eyes, I could also tick the 'Excellence: it is one of the best examples of its type that I have seen.'
Michelangelo: Thank you, Your Holiness.
Julius: Mind, I haven't seen an awful lot of painted ceilings that take in the full panoply of spiritual experience. Perhaps I need to do so before I can really make a metrics-based judgement on this?
Michelangelo. No, no, I don't think you need to do that, Your Holiness. Are we nearly done with the list of that perfidious Albion?
Julius. Not quite, Michelangelo. I'm afraid we're only half way through (Michelangelo groans). However, I think we can dispense with 'Challenge: it was thought provoking,' and 'Captivation: it was absorbing and held my attention'. I mean, you knew your audience, Michel, I'll give you that much! I'm Pope and you gave me something that pandered to my interests!
Both men laugh.
Julius: So, then, I think we can tick off 'Enthusiasm: I would come to something like this again.' I think that's a given. And also: 'Local impact: it is important that it's happening here.' I mean, if you don't do it in the Vatican, where are you going to do it? Goring-by-Sea? (Michelangelo looks confused). And yes; you did take a 'Risk' and 'really challenged yourself.' Top marks (tick, tick).
Michelangelo: Thank you, Your Holiness. Does that mean that the ceiling meets your approval? Has it achieved all necessary metrics to make it an excellent artwork?
Julius: Ah. I'm afraid it doesn't. Not quite, Michel old chum. See, there's one nagging metric here which I just can't quite square. 'Relevance: it has something to say about the world in which we live.' There's no denying that it's a mighty work of art that speaks of issues of timeless importance. It tells us of creation, of the unimaginable power of God, of revelation, of the world yet to come. But it doesn't say an awful lot about the world in which we live, does it?
Michelangelo: Well, no...
Julius: I mean, where's the gritty realism? Where's the single mothers on benefits? The immigrants? The gangs? The crime? (Shakes his head sadly). No, I'm afraid Michel old sport the whole thing is a bit of a failure. An honourable failure. A glorious one, even, but a failure nonetheless. You just haven't ticked all the metrics. I'm afraid I'm going to have to whitewash it all and ask for my money back. (Michelangelo stares at him, slack jawed. Julius puts a hand on his shoulder). You do understand, don't you, Michel? It's not me: if it was down to me, why, I'd canonise you! Get you to do a few more commissions! But we live in a metrics-driven world, and I'm afraid your work just isn't up to scratch. But don't take it so hard, old man. You can always reapply next year. And a word to the wise, eh? Do give those those benefit seekers a bit of thought, eh?
He hands Michelangelo the toffee hammer and wanders off, whistling.

No comments:

Post a Comment