Wednesday, 19 May 2010

Fire and brimstone fury in store for the arts under Jeremy Hunt?

"Tough" or smooth - which one of these options is it going to be for Arts funding under the new Con-Dem Nation?

According to Maev Kennedy at The Guardian, new Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt today "reassured those in the arts community who feared disproportionate cuts" with his promise: "Culture will not be singled out as a soft target."

That's reassuring indeed: but the fact that culture could even be associated with the word "soft", surely more suited to toilet tissue than an energising, powerful medium and expression of human existence, is disappointing. It's exactly the deployment of phrase that comes with the depreciation and criticism of subjects like English, or History. In times like these, surely it's the historians we look to for useful comparisons with past fiscal/governmental/societal solutions, and the literature that we love for reassurance and inspiration. (And let's not forget the excessive Media Studies-bashing. It's like hunting used to be, a condoned bloodsport. I pity the poor sixth-formers who take it, just because it interests them, only to have their future job prospects and all hope of credibility battered before they've even reached their AS Level mocks. )

The notion that the arts are "soft" should be challenged as loudly and forcefully as possible. If there's one thing that would do us good as a nation, it would be disspelling this fallacy forever. Surely Billy Elliot's balletic antics have long since provided refutation of this ignorant criticism of culture. Why reduce to squishy pulp, with one four letter word, something that provides millions (let's say, over 60 million?) in the country with creativity and stimulation every year, every month, every day?

And the idea is completely, moronically wrong, anyway. You'd have to be as dense as a tin of baked beans to see the arts as "soft", when you look at the rock-hard political and social power of writing from playwrights like Harold Pinter; poets like Linton Kwesi Johnson; novelists like Charlotte Perkins Gilman; artists like Picasso (Guernica pictured above). Why on earth was art and literature targeted by the Communist governments of China (see the fall-out after the Hundred Flowers Campaign) and Soviet Russia throughout the twentieth century? Because of the steely threat it had the potential to pose. In apartheid-throttled South Africa, literature was pinpointed for censorship, because of its power to challenge, one reason why writers like Nobel Prize-winning Nadine Gordimer were so important in the anti-apartheid struggle.

So where does that leave the arts in the face of a funding crisis, the "tough" times looming, like a suspicious Reuben Starkadder in Cold Comfort Farm, as The Stage readers have been informed today?

Hopefully not in the fire and brimstone fury predicted by preacher Amos in Stella Gibbon's novel; or relegation to an attic bedroom, doomed to mutter about what we saw in the "woodshed" for the next five years.

So please, Jeremy Hunt, do us a favour, either find a better speechwriter, or go buy a thesaurus. We don't want any more of this "soft" nonsense...

You big softie.


  1. "Culture will not be singled out as a soft target": clearly this is a reproach to people who believe culture should be "a soft target".

    Surely a good thing to say, no?

    I enjoyed the paragraph-homage to 'the arts' - strong stuff. However and realistically, the last thing a new governement should be prioritising in a time of economic hardship is art. Let's let them get on with the job, get us on the road to recovery, so that creative industries can begin to expand again.

    The whole Con-Dem bashing is boring. I have no party bias but I am glad that the Liberal Democrats might have a say on a front bench that has moved (de)progressively right in the last decade.

    What you make profound in your referencing of the past is something of a solace: great art is a continuous process; it is inextricable from civilization, even and especially in the face of atrocity. Nice Vicky x

  2. Nice blog Vicky. I absolutely agree that the ONLY reason for a government targeting the arts is for censorship. When you look at the fact that the entire public subsidy of the arts doesn't even add up to the amount of VAT theatre tickets generate, it exposes any attack on them for what it really is. There is also evidence to suggest that the arts save money for frontline services such as the Police force and the NHS, as a culturally enriched society has less need for these services, particularly where young people are concerned.

    That said; hasn't much of the best art come out of the harshest of times? I'm not sure. Maybe the harsh times just make it seem more profound. I don't think a wage cut would make me a better artist, but this has been playing on my mind.