Diary - John Tusa

What do you need to be successful in one of those top arts jobs? Bags of imagination and big balls.

The news of Chris Smith's appointment to the directorship of the Clore Duffield leadership programme is encouraging. It's time that leadership in the creative businesses was addressed systematically. While I have always thought that our museums and galleries were conspicuously well led - think of Neil MacGregor at the British Museum, Nick Serota at the Tate, or Charles Saumarez Smith at the National Gallery - the record in the performing arts is, well, far more patchy, with heads rolling faster than football managers'.

I've tried from time to time to write down some useful tips for arts leaders. They include having a long view, talking to people, being unselfish, and having a sharp sense for impending danger. None of these matches the definition by Stuart Lipton, chairman of CABE, the Council for Architecture and the Built Environment. In his time, he has helped arts organisations deliver huge building projects. Stuart's definition of an arts leader's qualities: "Bags of imagination and big balls." That should make writing the spec for the next top arts job pretty easy. But is it politically correct?

In the course of interviewing artists of all kinds for BBC Radio 3, some remarks stick out. Among the 13 conversations in "On Creativity", I like two in particular, because they offer such contrasting views of what it is to be creative. A dark view comes from Frank Auerbach, legendary for the length of time he takes over his paintings. "If one begins to cherish and like what one has done, one is on a very slippery slope indeed. One has got to heed one's conscience. If one feels a slight unease and nobody else might notice that it's no good, then one has got to destroy it. Yeats said: 'Destroy your darlings'." A tough discipline. By contrast, the poet Tony Harrison can be very pragmatic: "I like the discipline of a deadline. Paul Valery, the French poet, said that a poem was ready when an editor asked for it."

I wish I were more surprised than I was at reports that US troops sprayed graffiti on the walls of the ancient Iraqi city of Ur. You might think that after the debacle of the looting of the Baghdad museum and the burning of the library, the American media effort would go to incredible lengths to put the American record on antiquities beyond criticism. Not that they aren't trying. Have you noticed a run of news stories playing down the scale of the looting and implying that things are not nearly as bad as first thought? I am reliably informed that you should take such stories with a huge pinch of salt. They are almost certainly military disinformation.

If the Americans are really serious about saving something from the wreckage of the Baghdad museum, they can prove their seriousness by assisting Unesco to start the rescue work, with teams from an academic "coalition of the willing" which includes the French and the Germans. Leaking reports that the destruction is not as bad as first thought suggests other agendas in mind.

If we had any choice in the matter, doctors - according to the Times's medical commentator, Thomas Stuttaford - would all put progressive supranuclear palsy bottom of their list of ways they would like to die. Dudley Moore died from it. It is a complex and untreatable degenerative disease of the brain. There is neither palliative treatment nor cure. One of its cruellest symptoms is increasing difficulty with swallowing. Think about it. Our sister-in-law, Daphne Tusa, is now in the grip of PSP and her daughter has come up with a heart-warming attempt to help her and similar sufferers just a bit. Helen Barkshire is asking friends and celebrity chefs to submit a recipe or two - from soups to veggie dishes to puddings - that are easy to swallow. If you want to include £2 to defray publishing costs, so much the better.

Sebastiao Salgado's exhibition of photographs of the world's great migrations of people - from Rwanda to the Brazilian rainforests - has understandably attracted huge interest at the Barbican Art Gallery. How powerful the images are emerged when the Barbican's education department had the bright idea of inviting poets to visit the show and write a poem about one photograph. Almost everyone invited agreed, from Andrew Motion to Jo Shapcott, and they have appeared at the gallery to read their poems over the past four weeks. The quality of the response was intense. Fascinatingly, the Brazilian poet Natan Barreto, who usually writes in Portuguese, found himself writing in Portuguese and English in parallel, letting expressions in one language feed across to his thoughts in the other. It was not translating from one language to the other. He has never written like this before. Alas, we couldn't judge the way the two versions differed. But I thought that the passion of his delivery in Portuguese was extraordinary.

I passed one of those sad milestones last week. My long-time tennis partner, Max Nasatyr, died suddenly soon after our last game. For me, this means that Wednesday mornings at 8am will never be the same again. Max was an architect and lover of film and theatre. Thinking back on what I knew of him directly over 25 years, I drew up this list: "He always bought his share of tennis balls; always offered to buy coffee; and never queried a line call." I hope he'll accept that as my epitaph.

This article first appeared in the 26 May 2003 issue of the New Statesman, Blair was told it would be illegal to occupy Iraq