The arts today

Since medicine is just another business, why should the arts be different? Here’s a speech by the director of the Barbican Centre that goes into his various woes and misgivings. It’s not a great speech, and rather long, but it’s worth reading for the picture it gives of the situation in one Western society of “the creative industries” (an expression that belongs with “sex worker” as an manifestation of the current flattening of all things). Art is a product like any other, the view is, so its support should depend on whether people generally like it, and whether it advances such noble goals as “inclusiveness” (the abolition of all qualitative distinctions, a rather odd goal for the arts). But how do you measure such things? By setting and enforcing performance targets, of course.

It’s obvious that the arts should not be the responsibility of people who look at things that way. Whatever might be said about popes, kings, dukes or the haute bourgeoisie, modern Western governments have little good to add to cultural life. Unfortunately, the same goes for much private support as well. Our governments are not anomalies. For foundations and corporate donors, mass acceptability, outreach and inclusiveness are the keys. When it occurs to donors that there must be something more to art, they add a little conventionalized radicalism to the mix. There’s no wholesale solution to the problem. Nonetheless, we can all make a start by maintaining independence of certified authorities and attaching ourselves to whatever we actually find good. Freedom is always within reach for those who want it.

3 thoughts on “The arts today”

  1. I hope Mr. Kalb’s final
    I hope Mr. Kalb’s final comment was tongue-in-cheek. “Attaching ourselves to whatever we actually find good” sounds like the kind of freedom recommended by liberalism, insofar as it seems to make aesthetic judgment a matter of personal choice.

    Better, I think, to look to tradition and to accept the guidance of those teachers, past and present, who can help us discern the presence of Beauty in great art.

    Perhaps these guides won’t be “certified authorities” or “art professionals” like the director of the Barbican Centre. Their certification—their bona fides, the credentials which provide evidence of their trustworthiness—should be their shared commitment to and faith in transcendent truths.

  2. I don’t make aesthetics a
    I don’t make aesthetics a matter of individual choice. All I do is say that if the problem is false teachers and traditions that have gone astray then to escape them you start by asking yourself what you actually find good. You then do other things as well, for example find better guides, but it does seem to me the first step has to be a personal recognition that there’s a problem and that better things are possible.

    Tradition is important because it relates to something beyond itself. We couldn’t know that though if our relation to the transcendent did not have something in it not altogether a matter of tradition. The fact that tradition is necessary and moderns ignore it, should not mean that tradition gets absolute priority in all cases.

  3. Thanks for the
    Thanks for the clarification.

    I agree, the so-called “authorities” have disqualified themselves as teachers, because they don’t believe in the things that need to be taught.


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