WHAT WE NEED ART FOR - SOME THOUGHTS (NOT ONLY) FOR POLITICIANS

Prof. Ing. Mg.A. Ivo Medek, Ph.D. – Janáček Academy of the Performing Arts, Brno

I'm afraid I need to open with an apology, since the bulk of this presentation runs counter to the generally more spiritual tone of this symposium. It would be a wondrous thing for all of us, as creative artists, to immerse ourselves in the undiluted waters of our Muse, and dedicate our existence to interpretation and genesis. Sadly, art now finds itself in a situation where, without a radical change in point of view on the part of the money men, or at least those allocating funds, it faces an uneven playing field, tilted in favour of commercialised pseudo-art. The goal of this text is to highlight certain aspects of the role of art in contemporary society and consequently that of artistic education as the inseparable cornerstone of its future. As we approach the quarter-century mark post our 'Velvet Revolution', it happens – with distressing frequency – that we encounter once more what of old we would have called the Marxist-Leninist theory of essentials and extras, that art must first and foremost 'sing for its supper', earning its financial keep in the marketplace, and after that – to quote one well-known Czech 'name' – 'your symphonies will be paid for'. Our former president was of this persuasion, inclined to toss the baby out with the bathwater and be done with the entire artistic entanglement. It is notable how in these matters, and the concomitant European acts, we lag behind – or perhaps rather drag our feet – even in areas where, traditionally, we've led the field.

A whole raft of ideas and opinions, which I deal with elsewhere, emerges from the materials, to which the Czech Republic is in varying degrees a signatory, which came out of the Second UNESCO World Conference on Arts Education in Seoul in 2010, which I had the good fortune to attend, and the resultant Seoul Declaration, the outcomes of the European Program for Culture and the Bonn Declaration of 2011, and even the in-house publications of our own government, the 'Approach for more efficient support of culture' and 'Approach to state policy for children and youth'.

Art is essential for and inseparable from the successful and sustainable development of society, a counterweight to the occasionally excessive rationalism and reductionism of the modern world. Art brings forth the emotional and aesthetic awareness, thus, in partnership with science, making possible the harmonious growth of mankind, from its youngest members onwards.

Art and culture, as 'public utilities', produce so-called 'positive externalities' for society as a whole, and so their maintenance is the cultural heritage of generations to come. Educational and cultural impact occur, the strengthening of national identity, development of innovative potential and even risk reduction – from the prevention of criminality and drug addiction to the resolution of social issues – for example treatment and integration of minorities and problems in the community to arts programs and creative platforms for productive dialogue between minority and majority cultures and last but not least 'prevention' in the broadest possible sense of the term – the prevention of our slipping into inhumanity. Despite all this, art is a social Cinderella, banished to the hearth to clean.

Science and research are far better treated – despite all they have in common with art. Art and science play equally crucial roles in our understanding of the world. Each is as vital as the other - as Sheldon Richmond put it, “My thesis is that it is the interaction of art and science that leads to parallel developments in both domains.” 1 Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk expressed it in even clearer terms, “A work of art is the product of a personal understanding of the world and its order, even more than it can be comprehended and fixed scientifically.” Similarly, in the words of Arjo Klamer, “Civilised society needs culture and art as much as science – as sources of knowledge and creativity.” For the sustainable development of the individual, both are mutually dependent means of comprehending the world – scientific-rationalist and artistic-emotional both utterly required. Umberto Eco states that we can know things either through their definition or through tales. Only the balanced use of both processes in the education of youngsters and adults alike allows us to attain meaningful and harmonious spiritual growth and prepares us fully for life. It is a burden we must take up in full awareness of its nature, and as quickly as possible, for, as Weizsäcker says, “We have stylised our society in such a manner that it answers neither the perception of feeling nor that of reason. The consequence is the decline of feeling and the muting of reason.” Art nurtures naturalist ways. An artistic education imparts to a person, through its perception, new dimensions to their being – even passively. I would go so far as to say it makes a person better, in a whole range of manners. The experience and development of countries where 'at risk' youngsters were engaged in artistic projects show the transformation in their behaviour which can be brought about by long-term involvement in such programs. Another clear advantage, for youngsters and adults alike, in doing art is simply – they're not bored, and as, for example, 2011's 'holiday' events in Europe showed, boredom is a key factor in anti-social behaviour.

 

Another little-mentioned but highly significant fact is the immense economic income deriving from the creative sector within the EU (according to “The Economy of Culture in Europe”, a 2006 onwards study), the turnover of which is greater than comestibles, tobacco or the chemical industry, and of which 'works of art comprise roughly one third of the total value of the sector' (Michael Hutter – Berlin Institute of Technology). Thus it is self-evident that economic support of these fields brings high rates of return and contributions should be sought from the resorts and facilities which benefit from this increased income, as well as from the Ministries of Culture and Education. Income from cultural events is multiplied manifold by the 'impact of art', and this greatly increases the demand for services (travel agencies, transport, hotels, taxis, beauty salons and entertainment in general) and the sale of goods. Only through the national budget can some reasonable portion of this elevated income be reinvested in the arts, and that portion dwindles constantly (the ever-decreasing Ministry of Culture allocation is a prime example) – as opposed to the investment in the above-mentioned sectors. Just imagine what the income of Prague would become, if art vanished overnight . . . 

 

All across Europe ways are sought to increase competitiveness, and train an ever more capable workforce in various fields, when one of the key attributes of such true individuals is an exceptionally developed creativity. Some more so than others, but it is undeniable that creativity is a prerequisite. Art is one of the best catalyst for such. Thus all over the world (including developing nations) it has become a matter of course to use artist means and media to stimulate and develop creativity with positive results in fields as diverse as science and social interaction, R&D and sales, all places where art and artists can build bridges within project teams in ways which are otherwise inconceivable. This was one of the main focuses of the Seoul gathering. In the Czech Republic, this option is currently overlooked and neglected, no part of educational planning, and unsupported where it does appear. The possibilities for expanding creativity through musical improvisation and collaborative composition is part of the 'Hear differently' project, which has run for over a decade with the support of UPOL Pedagogical Faculty and the Music Faculty of JAMU, and, of late, within the framework of the Czech Grant Agency. The extremely heartening results show what can be done in this area.

 

As our politicians, for the most part, lack any appreciation for the spiritual development and interdependence mentioned above, the process is marginalised in education as a whole.

 

There is another factor – an integral one in my opinion. It is the responsibility for the spiritual development of future generations. I'm thinking specifically of the inherent risks of the internet boom and the near-endless opportunities for entertainment today. I'm not remotely suggesting there aren't creative opportunities in this expanding field. However, what drives the Net is first and foremost commerce, or, to employ a theatre analogy, 'bums on seats' – the desire to keep people rooted in front of their screens, so they have more time to be fascinated and buy. Thus, paradoxically, the world we're supposed to be getting to know, becomes our own reflection. People, and children above all, escape in increasing numbers from the pressures of the real world into the virtual one, where a couple of clicks can make everything right – or even if that fails there's always 'Undo' or 'Quit'. 'Having fun' won't be an option for them, they'll need to 'be entertained' by the computer, and certainly they won't consider doing something with their own two hands like sculpting or discovering something. A rapidly emerging whole generation of 'click kids' whose creative potential has already been walled off. For a future that still contains broad horizons of the possible and unexplored, art and artistry are among the few stimulants to creativity which can hold, and craft, the key. It is, I feel, a fundamental error that in the NERV  analysis art and culture are not reflected as a whole – for their strategic significance, artistic education in all its forms or even the multiplication and positive externalities of art – and even the need for cooperation with resorts is overlooked, as an integral part of art's role in society.

 

The above microanalysis of the needs of art for future generations, and its relationship to science and research – and symbiosis with both – its something addressed by society in the past also, and the inseparable nature thereof can be seen in the titles – such as the Emperor Franz Josef Czech Academy for Science, Literature and Art – which these institutions were given. Elsewhere in Europe, similar thinking shows itself in such as the Bayerisches Staatsministerium für Wissenschaft und Kunst, the Bavarian Ministry of Science and Art in English. So why is art in the Czech Republic still the Cinderella without an invitation to the ball, consigned to the drudgery of the kitchen by the old socialist perspective that it's just a distraction, a flibbertigibbet, as opposed to the solid facts of science?

 

If we start from the supposition that even in our country art is necessary, and a true counterpart to science and research, then we can find a way to finance it, similar to those used for research and science. For example, the so-called 'institutional support' provided to research and innovation has no precise parallel in the arts. It boils down to political will – which is predicated on the indisputable 'hard facts' cited above – and doesn't therefore exist to tackle the discrepancy in funding, and apply a small percentage of that given to research to the less quantifiable field of art. The endeavour to mathematically measure art has always been a futile one, and so the 'pre-set criteria' basis of science and its funding can lead to frustration all around. Thus, without wide-scale public protest, the government is able to scale back financial support for the arts, whereas research and science, if not improving, at least maintain their funding.

 

I myself consider the question of responsibility for national development in the context discussed – above all for the young – to be a burning issue of the day. The potential of art to aid in addressing social problems on a range of fronts should make it a basic card in the game of politics, but one which few have up their sleeve, and those who do appear to want to leave it there. For a future which has a rainbow coalition of artistic and scientific potential, and open horizons for our children, let's hope they think better of it.

 

 

Prof. Ing. Mg.A. Ivo Medek, Ph.D.

Rector

Janáčkova akademie múzických umění v Brně (Janáček Academy of the Performing Arts, Brno)

 

1. The Interaction of Art and Science – Sheldon Richmond, Leonardo, Vol. 17, No. 2 (1984), p. 81

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