Monday, 15 November 2010

Arts Cuts #5 - the Power of Art

... it's like the large hadron supercollider of the soul,
other times it's just making people laugh
no shame in that.
(Tim Etchells)

That from the What Can Art Do pages of the Arts Council England website (Sheffield-based Tim Etchells also writes in prose).

Monday's always a fresh day for those trying to defend cuts to the arts. Today's emphasis seems to be philosophical - what do we get from the arts? - why are they unique in what they can offer and achieve? Naturally, Field Marshall Charlotte Higgins of The Guardian leads with this article which ends with this:
If, under the previous government, there was an agreement that the arts were a good in themselves, though resistant to crude numerical quantification and to the banalities of political discourse, that consensus has been shattered. That the humanities in general, from history to law to literature, have a value within a civilised society, seems to have been rejected. There is a dark new philistinism abroad.

Franics McKee (director of the Centre for Contemporary Arts, Glasgow), has this to say in the Herald Scotland today:
... there are fears that cuts may threaten the future of essential services. In that climate, film, visual arts, theatre and music could appear frivolous and dispensable.

The arts, however, are not a luxury and the issue is not money, but cultural identity. The arts reflect who we are and how we live. They also allow us to imagine alternative ways to live.
I like this point, that art - good art - helps us to think of what's going on and what might be. That's a personal and social benefit of art by the way. It's also a great manifesto for the interactivity of art, the collective experience of an audience or the discussion, often in real time, that can take place in forums such as the internet.

One final thing. Art doesn't always make sense of things. Life is often rather contradictory. However, what art is particularly - uniquely - good at is taking existential sting out of life. That's not to say that art is an agent of pusillanimity, inviting people to stick their heads in the sand at a time of, say, public financial crisis. Rather it allows people to re-balance, allowing individuals to achieve a mutual, constructive empathy with which to face these difficult question afresh.

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