Harms v Art: for whom the bell tolls

Almanac founding editor John Harms was lucky to escape censure at Wednesday evening’s sport versus art debate at the University of Melbourne’s Ian Potter Museum of Art.

Arguing the case that sport, not art, is the path to enlightenment, Harms got off lightly when he challenged adjudicator Dave O’Neill’s ringing of the bell to signal Harms had one more minute to complete his argument.

“You’ve got to be joking,” the usually unflappable Harms said, while adjusting his spectacles and shuffling his notes. “You’ve got to be kidding!”

It wasn’t quite a McEnroe performance, but it may well have been the turning point of the debate. From then on it seemed Harms was playing catch-up footy, with one eye on his notes and the other, metaphorically, on O’Neill’s bell.

Harms’ was his side’s second speaker, preceded by Tony Wilson’s well-versed comic timing and the cheeky charm of Angela Pippos.

To be fair (perhaps), Harms had jumped out of the starting barrier awkwardly, fiddling with his spectacles and calling for a replacement pair. (It is not the first time the editor-at-large who would rather be at lunch has had spectacle problems while on stage. Maybe, then, it’s all part of the patter.)

Adjudicator Dave O’Neill was gracious enough to allow Harms to run overtime, but the damage was already done.

Arguing the case that art, not sport, is the path to enlightenment were art critic Robert Nelson (with mandatory bow-tie), poet/musician/broadcaster Alicia Sometimes and writer/musician/Bedroom Philosopher Justin Hazelwood (who, to this audience member at least, looked not unlike a young Tim Rogers – whose own path to enlightenment quite likely includes sport and art).

The  debate included references to Charles Dickens, Michaelangelo, 1980s pop, Albert Camus, Bruce Dawe, Tony Modra, Shane  Warne, Brendan Fevola, The Last Supper,  the Dalai Llama, and Tommy Hafey.

The winner was judged by audience applause, with the arts team winning easily, even after O’Neill called for a re-count.

The debate was part of an ‘open-late neighbourhood night’ at the Ian Potter Museum of Art. Four exhibitions were open, including the finalists of The Basil Sellers Sports Art Prize.

There was also music, with troubadour Mick Thomas opening with Wide Open Road and then singing about Tom Wills, the Saints, the MCG and 1930s West Indies cricket. Alas, Thomas was almost drowned out by audience chatter.

Overall, though, a fine way to while away a few hours.

John Harms is not expected to have spectacle issues or to run overtime at next week’s launch of The 2014 Footy Almanac.

Read a transcript of John Harms’s speech.

About Vin Maskell

Founder and editor of Stereo Stories, a partner site of The Footy Almanac. Likes a gentle kick of the footy on a Sunday morning, when his back's not playing up. Been known to take a more than keen interest in scoreboards - the older the better.


  1. G’day Vin,
    It was a grand occasion, wasn’t it? Didn’t realise you were there.
    Some funny arguments made and free Coopers drunk, some fine Mick Thomas playing and Australian art on the walls. Excellent.
    A couple of highlights:
    – Tony Wilson’s call that sport offers everything that art does, only faster. (Why bother with Booker prize winners when you get drama, success, failure, sex, vanity, drugs, all from S Warne’s wikipedia page). And his supporting idea that C Dickens would begin his Tale of Two Cities differently in the sporting landscape. Instead of “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,” he might begin with “Yeah, nah.”
    – Robert Nelson’s argument that art is a creative pursuit, protagonists seeking to create things that have never been seen before. Contrasted with competitive sport, in which everything has been done before, year after year after year. Good stuff.

    Angela Pippos has her argument published as an article today by the New Daily, here:

  2. Earl O'Neill says

    Rock and roll is where art and sport meet. Consider, being up front when the band is really hitting it, the energy you give out is reflected back and the Energy Feedback Principle comes into play. You dance, everyone is shaking and moving and the band pick up on it, give it back.
    Dancing at topline rock and roll shows should be an Olympic sport.

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