Art matters

Spending cuts… how about that for an opening line? Such an awkward turn of phrase loaded with pessimism or in the case of governments all around the world “the inevitable and unpreventable course of action required to one day usher in a golden era”.

Sir Nicholas Serota, director of the Tate Galleries, is someone who positively cringes at the thought of cuts across the arts, stating recently that some organisations operating within this sphere are already facing “starvation conditions”.

Some people think of all forms of art as a “cultural frill, a piece of social veneer” as Susanne K. Langer ironically captured in her 1966 essay The Cultural Importance of the Arts. How people forget.

“Every culture develops some kind of art as surely as it develops language,” she wrote. “Some primitive cultures have no real mythology or religion, but all have some art [yet] the ancient ubiquitous character of art contrasts sharply with the prevalent that is a luxury product of civilisation”.

It is reflective of the spiritual discontent of a species preoccupied with a confused economic understanding of humanity, a wisdom that is the true incarnation of the fictional and perennially corrupt Gordon Gekko’s post-recession motto of “money never sleeps”.

“To say we can’t afford to have the arts as part of our lives is an admission of defeat as a nation and society,” Sir Nicholas expounded to the Financial Times. Yet, here we are, on the precipice of another cut, akin to a blunt nail in a canvas pulled down with malice intent.

It is easy to argue that art and culture endures, except not as we understand it. Mass entertainment therefore makes up for the absence of what aficionados argue is a catastrophic void.

While it is a legitimate point, and a contemporary concept of art and culture, there is still a discernible neglect. To play the devil’s advocate here, consider it from an economic point of view. The secretary of state for culture, media and sport Maria Miller says that the Treasury fails to recognise the value of arts and culture. In fact, there are rumours that the department might be scrapped altogether.

Art, it can reasonably be inferred, is inconsequential, posh doodles, elaborate sounds and certainly not a money maker. One need only look at the blockbuster art sales of late as a suitable riposte.

“Art is the epitome of human life, the truest record of insights and feelings, that the strongest military or economic society without art is poor in comparison with the most primitive tribe of savage painters, dancers, or idol-carvers,” Ms Langer wrote.

“Wherever a society has really achieved culture, (in the ethnological, not the popular sense of social forms) it has begotten art, not late in its career, but at the very inception of it.”

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