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I don't know much about art... but I ought to

'LOOK WHAT THE DOG DID' Pixels on screen
Brian Clegg - 2011

Although I earn my living as a writer I see this more as a craft than an art. I'm afraid I'm a bit of a philistine when it comes to the arts. Not that I don't appreciate music or painting - I just don't understand why it needs to be subsidised. But really when you look at the letters after my name, I ought to know what I'm on about.

I very rarely use these - who does these days? But technically my name should be followed by M.A., M.A., F.R.S.A. Three sets of letters - and every one of these has an 'A' for art.

In the first place I'm a Master of Arts in the original sense of being a 'magister artis'. There are those who moan about the fact that Oxford and Cambridge graduates only have to sit around for a few years and not go to gaol (I think the Oxford lot have to pay as well) to have their B.A. transform into an M.A. - but this misses the point. That's how it's meant to be. After all, these two establishments started the whole university business in the UK. A magister is someone who can teach - the idea is that after a few years you have gained the experience to be able to pass on the subject.

That first M.A. is in natural sciences. Why a master of arts for a science degree? Because 'art' didn't orginally mean just painting and such. It was the work of man as opposed to the work of God. So everything other than theology was arts. The second M.A. is in Operational Research, effectively applied maths. But at least it's a masters in the modern sense.

And then I'm a fellow of what many would call the Royal Society of Arts - but the clue as to why I'm there is the full title: The Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce. Aha. Yes, I'm from the common end of the title.

So there you go. I may not know much about arts, but the letters after my name don't agree.


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