‘When I Hear The Word Culture’
‘When I hear the word culture, I reach for my gun’, rightly or wrongly attributed to Hermann Goering, nevertheless conveys something of the attitude of most New Zealanders, I suspect, to the Arts.
As a man of action, his perception was probably that most artists, or purveyors of ‘Culture’, were either layabouts, bludgers or, worse, homosexuals. Possibly all three. To which some of us might reply ‘You say that like it’s a bad thing…’
In our liberal and tolerant Western societies, artists are frequently encouraged to indulge their creative urges at the expense of the taxpayer.
This occasionally causes minor resentment on the scale of overheard gripes at cocktail parties and the odd curmudgeonly letter to the local newspaper.
But as a nation we seem to generally agree that a certain amount of our hard-earned income might be diverted to allow these creative individuals or organisations to ‘hold a mirror up to our society’, and make us feel something about ourselves.
Artistic responsibilities to the State?
I wonder if the state-sponsored artist ought to feel any responsibility towards his benefactors in return? Should he feel an obligation to reach out to a mass audience or is he justified in pursuing whatever creative impulse he likes, regardless of its likely appeal, or lack thereof.
I think it would be fair to say that artistic boundaries are pushed and ‘envelopes widened’ most often by artists who have no commercial sensibilities.
If they did, they’d carry on giving the punters what they want, which is usually something they are familiar with. The Taxpayer doesn’t need to fund ‘X’ Factor.
It’s the innovators and experimentalists who change the artistic or musical landscape and spawn new and exciting trends and, sometimes, whole genres.
I suppose we should allow them the freedom to do that. The flip side is, of course, a lot of homosexual layabout bludgers smoking drugs and hanging around in cafes listening to jazz.
But does the integrity of the art form have to suffer just because it becomes popular?
Some cynically intentioned
Undoubtedly some ‘art’ is created with a cynical intention to seduce the masses (eg. X Factor), but surely some artists just luck in.
Popularity and integrity do not need to be mutually exclusive, despite what the fringe-dwelling practitioners of avant-garde genres may prefer to hold to.
The phrase ‘he’s sold out’ is an instant put-down to any musician or artist who might have simply been lucky enough to have struck a chord with the public. The Beatles and Flight of The Conchords spring to mind.
On the other hand, as Bertolt Brecht said back in 1930’s Berlin, when he wasn’t busy hiding from Goering’s henchmen, ‘Art is not a mirror to hold up to society, but a hammer with which to shape it’.
The Reichsmarschall at that point may have lowered his gun and snarled ‘Go on……..’