Arts for the arts’ sake? No, for all of our sakes

The above is the title of a column I wrote for The National paper, reflecting on my experience at the first Cultural Summit at the Scottish Women's Library in Govan. 

There are a few ideas, but the two main ones are:-

1) That the material, economic, social and psychological benefits of arts investment are not remotely properly accounted for in our overall public spending. The returns on investment are startling, both for positive revenue (income to taxes) and negative revenue (money not spent on social pathology and illness)

2) That arts and culture are an experimental, questioning zone which tangibly improve our abilities to anticipate, adapt to and jump ahead of the major challenges of the 21s century - like automation and technological disruption, climate change, global conflict, depresssion, etc. We need to support an expanding "culture zone" in all Scottish lives - as central to policy and the flourishing of the country, not as some peripheral add-on or decoration over the "real" business of Scotland.

Why the contribution is important

Because being fully, richly, complexly human is what life is supposed to be all about - and we must build instructions and structures that support full human flourishing. Otherwise, what's the point?

As Roberto Unger says: "How can we live in such a way that we die only once?" Or as Bob Dylan said: "he not busy being born is busy dying". 

by patkane on July 21, 2017 at 02:35PM

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  • Posted by patkane July 21, 2017 at 15:18

    Spellcheck... "instructions" above should be "institutions". PK
  • Posted by PaulMacAlindin July 25, 2017 at 11:15

    I agree broadly with all of that. But can I just state the obvious? Art for art's sake is fine. A piece of music does not have to explain itself in economic, sociological etc terms. The reason why I'm a musician is because I get to say things through music that cannot be expressed through words. And words are the only medium that this online forum for culture is offering. If all we do is create another talk shop for "the meaning of culture", then we've completely missed the point of culture. Whether architecture, pottery, painting, digital photography, music, dance, computer games, we make these things not because we are compelled to justify their existence in social statistics, articles and research, but because they communicate to us on a much deeper archetypal level than such media provide. Perhaps the need to quantify and justify art as Social Return on Investment is one reason why artists fear to explore the power of their art on its own terms? In Germany, where I lived for 15 years, culture politics is far more advanced and deeply engrained, because there is never the need to question the value of culture for its own sake in society. This is taken for granted. So are we as Scottish artists ever going to truly innovate, risk-take, envision, when we're constantly worrying about how to justify our actions in non-artistic impact? This discussion has been going on for decades in Scotland, and shackles many artists to "justify" their art forms in society by subsidising it in unpaid hours and materials. Take that away, and Scottish culture would collapse overnight, with nothing left to subsidise. So who is the onus really on here?
  • Posted by gwenadair August 01, 2017 at 17:51

    Governments and education practitioners alike now recognise the social, technological and economic changes leading to the “post-work generation”, and the need for young people going into the workforce to be creative and adaptable. Cuts in these areas seem to be a damagingly retrograde step.
    It has been argued that without the manufacturing base of the past the UK will need creative thinkers, innovators, entrepreneurs and highly adaptable problem solvers to keep our economy stable and healthy, as we lose out increasingly to the new powerhouses of China, India and Brazil. Languages, computer programming and engineering will be vital, but so too will the arts which teach people to question, to be divergent thinkers, to work in teams, to take risks, to imagine, to model scenarios, to see connections and many other diverse skills without which they will not be equipped to survive. 3D printing alone will wipe out manufacturing in the way that the internet and downloads have wiped out the traditional music and media industries. This is already happening – it is not some distant sci-fi vision of the future. Yet education in this country is doing virtually nothing about it.
    Arts courses teach pupils to be confident, independent, self-directed learners capable of critical thinking, analysis and perseverance. Research clearly shows that projects like Big Noise improve life chances, improve mental and physical health, improve attendance and attainment in school, reduce crime and much more. Both music and art and design are central to all civilisations and when incorporated into STEM projects can augment and extend their scope and effectiveness. Divergent thinking makes the creative leaps that are essential for progress.
    Many expressive arts teachers argue that standards are falling due to a number of causes. When coupled with the over-protection of children which limits their risk-management abilities, and the social media culture which limits social skills and resilience (all of which are developed through the arts) we are looking at a bleak future for our young people. We have already seen an increase in mental health issues and a deterioration in physical health and fitness, as well as a marked inability in many cases to engage with learning in meaningful ways.
    In the UK the Creative Industries are the 2nd biggest employer and were the only sector of the economy to grow through the recession. Film, TV and computer design all offer excellent career prospects, as well as engineering, architecture, the music and design industries and the more traditional arts. In addition to this there is considerable research showing that engagement in the arts (in particular playing musical instruments) improves educational attainment across the spectrum. Despite these facts our pupils and parents remain largely oblivious to these prospects, and numbers studying expressive arts subjects are falling. The cuts to arts education (eg reduced specialists in primary schools in some regions) will further damage the prospects of our young people to have meaningful employment, to compete in a global market that requires these skills and attributes, and will deny them access to their own and other cultures which enrich the lives of all. These cuts are driven by money, but it is my belief that continued cuts in the arts will prove catastrophic to our young people and the communities they will be part of as adults. The first step to counter this would be to recognise and promote the role of the arts in education.
  • Posted by mintedkidology October 13, 2017 at 15:00

    An antidote is required to the fixation with structural reform. All it does is keep admin people busy worrying about meeting targets. A challenge to the conventions that dominate creative activity is required. The public are treated as consumers, not creative contributors. It is up to every one to question their own conventions and encourage free thinking in others.
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