Thursday, January 10, 2008

Art for Art's Sake

Arts Council England has recently published the results of a debate on the value of the arts (html, pdf).
  • The arts are seen as part of our fundamental capacity for life - enabling us to interpret, adapt and understand the world around us, helping us to express ourselves, communicate with others and broaden our collective horizons
  • The arts enrich our experience of life - they bring colour, passion, beauty and intensity to our lives. They are a source of pleasure, entertainment and relaxation and a means of escape from the day to day
  • The arts offer powerful applications in other contexts - contributing to health and well being, to education and learning, a sense of belonging and community and so to social cohesion and a healthy economy

On the BBC Today programme this morning (listen here), John Tusa described this as a move away from an emphasis on what he called instrumentalism - the idea that art funding has to be justified in terms of some socioeconomic purpose.

Excellence in the arts is often confused with elitism - the idea that excellence is best preserved by a small number of expensive arts organizations. These organizations are then mostly based in London (with an annual excursion to Edinburgh), so that they can provide access to the greatest number of citizens and tourists. So there is still a kind of quasi-utilitarian thinking here.

But what use is an opera house for those who cannot afford the gear? Perhaps true elitism involves getting away from the masses. Who can afford to travel to Aldeburgh, Bayreuth, or Tanglewood?

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