Art and politics don’t mix

Someone stuck the article below (from The Scotsman) on the noticeboard outside my office.  I wasn’t sure if it was specifically aimed at myself but I stopped to read it and there was plenty in it that chimed.  The author Tiffany Jenkins challenges comments made by Culture Secretary Fiona Hyslop about the economic value of art – or “the creative industries” in newgovernmentspeak – but in doing so Tiffany doesn’t differentiate between dissident art and art at the service of governement. That aside its still worth a critical read. (KW)

by Tiffany Jenkins

In 1902, at the opening of the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, the city’s Lord Provost justified the founding and opening of the gallery because “art was in itself a refining and improving and ennobling thing”. Can you image anyone saying something similar today?

The establishment of the museum was one of many achievements of a municipal art and gallery movement that swept Britain in the 19th century.

Art was seen as important in its own right, for its own sake, and as playing a role in transforming people’s everyday lives, lifting them out of their mindless routines through an engagement with truth and beauty.

Last week, at a major museums and galleries summit in Edinburgh, culture secretary Fiona Hyslop gave one of those speeches full of praise for the arts sector in Scotland, intended to champion success, littered with carefully chosen buzz words: “creativity”, “diversity”, “sustainability” and “participation”. In so doing, she unintentionally revealed that the Scottish Government has not got a clue about what art and cultural institutions are for.

In a speech that does not mention the name of one artist, or describe any artefact, even though it was delivered at a major conference on museums and galleries, she claimed: “We value the tremendous impact our museums and galleries bring to society and local communities.”

That sounds reasonable, at first, but what did she mean? What is the “tremendous impact” and how is it valued? There are two ways the arts make a difference, Hyslop elaborated. The problem is, neither of them has anything to do with art.

(Read more…)

Categories: Arts & Culture, Politics

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5 replies

  1. Intriguing speech by Fiona Hyslop. I hope it gets more exposure. Jenkins’ view is so last week.

    Giving punters like me a hint that looking at and participating in artistic or “cultural” activities might be interesting and you’re half way to saving them from the pap that we are normally fed by the establishment. I really do not see the attraction of eating worms.

    As for the title of the article – “Art and Politics don’t Mix” – Bollocks for so many reasons.

  2. As others have commented, a muddled and largely unhelpful article. For me the issue is not the instrumental uses of the arts–those benefits are real and not just funding-speak–but the fact that arts funding is used to deliver wider social benefits. If the Criminal Justice system, or the NHS, allocated a tiny fraction of their budgets to working with artists, the impacts would be huge.

  3. Tiff’s pals – the revolutionary communist party (now the institute of ideas) would have been better off if they’d stayed out of politics as well.

  4. I think the problem lies in the language used by politicians and arts fund managers when they talk about the arts. It is as if they need to distance the actuality of the art from the reason for funding it – there must be an addition or an outcome which is not generated by the art-work directly but insisted upon by government and articulated by managers. All this leads to is mediocrity. The contemporary reality is not what government can do for the arts but what arts can do for government. This is the way to accomodate and stifle radical voices and marginalise visionary dreamers. Its a kind of entropy beloved of the civil service.

  5. I’m sorry Tiffany, but you are Sorley wrong; please read Prof’ Cairns Craig, Uni’ of Aberdeen for more information.
    Scotland’s brilliant political/social author McMurray worked with the very ideals you discredit, Tiffany.
    ‘MacIver, Macmurray and the Scottish Idealists’, Journal of Scottish Thought, Vol. 1, No. 1, 2007, pp. 169–84. (and), ‘Beyond Reason: Hume, Seth, Macmurray and Scotland’s Postmodernity’, in Eleanor Bell and Gavin Miller (eds), Scotland in Theory: Reflections on Culture and Literature (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2004), 249-283

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