Immerse yourself in the arts
Call it getting involved in the experience economy, infotainment, immersive cultural participation — or just enjoying the arts in a deeper way.
Instead of simply consuming culture as an audience member, with a little research and investment of time we can cross that all-important line into head-down, hands-on involvement. The latest arts events are breaking down the barriers between consumers and producers, observers and participants.
And if you are already a writer, musician, potter, dancer, calligrapher or even a lion-tamer in your spare time, there’s a chance to spend a few intense days finding expert tuition, meeting like-minded people and clocking up more of the 10,000 hours it’s supposed to take to truly master a skill.
Your preferred art form can often be twinned with lovely surroundings or an adventurous trip.
One of the most popular of residential cultural experiences is a creative writing course. There are literally scores of these, in a range of locations around the world — Scottish castles, Greek islands and more. And they offer up very different learning environments. It is important to think about what kind of experience you would enjoy; for example, you might not want to take a turn peeling the vegetables, to be roused before dawn for meditation sessions or to find yourself in a no-internet retreat.
One residential cultural holiday for writers of all sorts that has a wide appeal (and none of the above pitfalls) is the annual Ways with Words course based in Tuscany — with all that implies in terms of food, wine, walking and surrounding sights.
It has the big advantage of offering not only creative writing but also art classes and tuition in Italian. This means that it’s more likely to appeal to couples: one can do the writing, the other learn the lingo, and so on.
Pottery classes have had a special double life ever since the movie Ghost, but even if it’s actually the pottery itself you’re interested in there are residential courses galore, often within the private homes of potters.
There’s always a bit of a risk attached to signing up to very small places, especially because they’re often sited in beautiful but isolated spots — the Hebrides, or the Welsh mountains for instance — so doing lots of research online, and perhaps a follow-up phone call to check on the details, might be wise.
Portmeirion, a fascinating Italianate village in North Wales first designed in the 1920s, has a famous commercial ceramics industry but also hosts several good workshops and courses, in particularly evocative surroundings for anyone who can remember Patrick McGoohan in The Prisoner. But, as ever, happiness lies in deciding in advance what angle you prefer: sculptural ceramics, or throwing on the wheel, or decoration.
For the visual arts, the same applies. Choose between sculpture, Chinese ink, life drawing, landscapes, portraiture, printmaking or a whole host of other possibilities. There will be a good course out there: all you have to do is search online.
Another way of deciding would be to choose an inspirational destination: the hot hills of Mexico, the vastness of the American deserts, or the intense but cosy seascapes of Cornwall.
In St Ives, Cornwall — the closest thing Britain ever had to the artistic hothouse of Provence — the long-established St Ives School of Painting offers two- to five-day courses ranging from painting the figure to marine landscapes, abstraction and more. It does not offer accommodation, but recommends plenty of options in the small picturesque town.
For musicians, there is nothing quite like Dartington Hall. The word “unique” is overworked, but in this case it probably does apply. In 1925, idealists Dorothy and Leonard Elmhirst decided to restore a tumbledown set of 14th century gothic buildings in a tiny Devon village and establish a haven for their intellectual, ecological and agricultural dreams, with a school, a glassworks, a tweed mill and more.
Just 70 years ago, Dartington’s musical Summer School was established, and now under the direction of the vibrant pianist Joanna Macgregor functions as a fantastic melange of teaching and concerts, masterclasses and collaborations.
Whatever your level of expertise, you can revel in its range. Ms Macgregor pulls in fine musicians as tutors and performers so that Dartington is “a music school by day and a concert hall by night”.
Crossing genres is all part of the package: from an advanced conducting course to composition, jazz and Big Band, film music or Gospel Choir and the Harlem Renaissance, all attended by writers, poets and dancers — not to be missed.
Jan Dalley is the FT’s Arts Editor