Indispensable Arts

Modern society, modern neoliberal culture, is killing the arts. Now that is clearly one of those subjective style statements of my opinion, but let me try to convince you.

Probably the first explanation I ever got for the purpose of ‘Art’ came from a senior English teacher – ‘It is the job of the Artist to explore the human condition’. I have always loved this definition, what it lacks in nuance it makes up for in punch and ease of use. I love the concept that we elevate and respect those who dedicate themselves to understanding the complex, baffling and wonderfully insane creatures that we are. unfortunately in modernity there does not seem to be a great calling for those that seek to do this or rather; because we are being sold on the ‘disorders’ and ‘anxieties’ of modern life because it is profitable and easy for those in power to do so – we have failed to see the need for those skilled in helping us understand the normalcy of these conditions. So perhaps it is time for a new definition.

Modern study has a highly technical and specialised focus. Neoliberal capitalism benefits hugely from this as specialisation is the root of profit within a capitalist system.  It is this, fundamentally, that I feel that is driving the modern disdain for the Liberal Arts. Certainly we still seem, as a society, to enjoy the entertainment aspect of the arts – in the form of Movies, Music and Performance but too few people are willing to take the next step and engage with this type of material on a deeper level and dissect, analyse and understand what it has to say about who and what we are at this moment in history. We are too seldom told that understanding the messages contained in these entertainments can help soothe us or help us deal with tough times.

As a manager I deal with the complexity of 60 personalities on a daily basis. I have an Arts degree, with majors in Business and History. During the course of the business major I was afforded the opportunity to take several courses on management yet on a day to day basis I find myself falling back on truths from far older texts than “Managing Across Cultures – A Business Guide”. It is the classics and those contemporary texts that seek to build upon them that I find most useful in unpacking and dealing with the complex problems my people bring to me. Both professional and personal problems seem far easier to understand and take steps towards solving from the humanistic standpoint rather than the managerial or technical standpoint. The more time I spend with a member of my team the more I am likely to find out that this or that workplace disagreement actually stems from an internal rather than external fear, or repression.

It is my experience that we are allowing systems of commerce, systems of government and systems of management to drive us further and further from the meaningful self understanding and self love found in The Arts in the name of technical progress and proficiency. Too many seem to have accepted, blindly, the casualty of Art as a cost of technical proficiency; now I don’t blame anyone for doing this, the lines we are sold to cover the half-truth  are certainly convincing. We are routinely told that those who study Art are unemployable or academically lazy, that it will get you nowhere. I wish to forward the case that in fact some of our most progressive and productive moments are had as a result of reaching a new and deeper understanding of ourselves and others around us.

Perhaps a better way of understanding the purpose of an Arts degree in modern society could be put: “Art is the study of normalising our fears, anxieties and desires. Art is the study of all the things that bring us together and show us that the people around us share with us fundamental hopes, dreams, needs and fears.”. Perhaps if we moved to this understanding of art we would stop feeling so isolated, different and dysfunctional and come to accept the truth that the fears, desires and phobias we feel are common to all humanity.


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