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The Philosophy of Art
A personal view from Freelance member Ferial Evans

When Tessa Jowell was appointed to the position of Minister for Leisure and Sport she quipped that she was the, 'Minister of Fun'. Light hearted this may have been, but it does reflect a feeling that the arts are considered less important than the more serious matters of state. Where other State departments can be underpinned and their performance measured, the arts are intangible. The influence of art over all areas of life is unquantifiable. Entertainment in leisure time plays only a small part. Art can stimulate and help us to understand new and established ideas and ways of living. Art can encourage us to think, even if it is to disagree with the concept which it puts before us. In times of crisis it can bring succour and comfort.

Advertising is an all-embracing element of everyday life in a free and vibrant society. It is essential for Government and all its departments in their campaigns to convince us all that they are acting in our best interests. Is important for charities; when a well-designed poster or leaflet depicting a child or an animal in distress can motivate us to give. Graffiti can also be stimulating. A slogan scrawled across a wall may be very provocative whether for good or ill.

Visual art, drama, music, dance, literature, poetry; they all have their part to play in shaping our lives. In the extreme, this can be devastating. In New York and Washington on 11th September the men that carried out the atrocities would have been nurtured by poetry and prayer to believe that they would have eternal glory by the side of Allah. The victims of this terrible tragedy; all those relatives and friends so closely touched, were comforted by poetry and prose, by symbolic acts of remembrance and ceremony.

In times of war, art in all its graphic detail, is the greatest incitement to action. We all know the World War One poster of the soldier with the finger pointing out of the picture with the slogan, "Your Country Needs You". The figure with the pointing finger appeared in other guises in other countries with a similar message. We all know what carnage this enticement to arms caused.

Times of crisis usually bring out the best in people and they want to pull together. Artistic campaigns for positive action can help give focus and direction. The "Dig for Victory" campaign helped the people in the British Isles keep fit and healthy throughout World War Two. Art can create icons and Che Guevara may not have achieved cult status had it not been for that broody photograph of his face in shadow.

War artists, photographers and writers can help us to understand the harsh realities and complexities of strife and conflict. Writing maybe factual or fiction but the important thing is that it conveys the message. One author wrote a first hand account of his horrific experiences in a concentration camp in the last war. The book had great impact but it was later discovered to be a deception. The conditions which he described were, nonetheless, factual. Was he to be condemned, or could he be forgiven because in this way, his story had the greatest impact?

With a knowledge of the history of warfare, we should be able to recognise the aggressive side of human nature and work to avoid conflict. Sadly, the evil side of art, the negative propaganda which incites men to violence, is too strong.

From time-immemorial we have covered ourselves with war paint, sung war chants, danced round totem poles. Remember the Hitler youth rallies and the mass singing, all designed to stir fierce aggression towards the supposed enemy? Sadly, hostility and violence are twin elements that we can never eradicate from the souls of humankind. At what ever time that you read this there will be areas of war and conflict around the world and the evil face of art will have been instrumental in stirring up the aggression.

We all need faith to live by, even if not in an organised religious faith, it is in our own view of the world and how we relate to it. Religious art in all the faiths of the world brings spiritual comfort and beauty into the lives of the faithful. The art which adorns places of worship can be simple in its beauty or it can be breathtaking. The architecture of these buildings can be truly inspiring. Acts of faith; religious services really are works of art. True faith with all its artistic beauty helps shape and give direction to the lives of the faithful. Religious literature can engender an awareness of our moral responsibility in life. It can open our eyes to a wider world and it encourages kindness and compassion.

If only it were all such perfection, but there is a down side. All down the ages religion has been peppered with bigotry and dogma. Some who consider that theirs is the only true faith have oppressed the sinner and the infidel. There have been terrible atrocities in the name of religion from the dawn of history to the present day. People who have suffered religious persecution have suffered invasion, torture, diaspora or displacement and mass-migration. Sadly it is religious art of the worse kind which has helped shape the mind set of the dogmatist and the bigot.

In normal times, the arts help shape our lives in subtle ways. We read books and creative articles in newspapers and magazines. Some of us see drama at the theatre or the cinema or we listen to the radio. Beautiful music can inspire and comfort us. The written and spoken word will help us to form our ideas. It does not necessarily persuade us; it may help us to form an opposite view. There are notorious examples of public art, such as those entered for the Turner prize, which cause derision or outrage. The media has a field day, the artists are dismissed as charlatans and the art, a sham. True art it may not be, but it may have stimulated discussion on the artistry of life and what it means to us. In our everyday lives, we often need ideas and concepts explained to us. Here visual art can be the pie-chart of the balance sheet. It is much easier to understand a picture or a diagram than a list of facts and figures. We do not actually have to have any interest in the arts at all for it to be entwined into the fabric of our lives.

Our government has decreed that every council in the country should establish a cultural strategy. The key is to bring art to the people but this will only be effective if it is art that people will relate to and enjoy. The National Lottery has experienced some disasters because it did not learn this lesson. Witness the Millennium Dome Folly. It has been more usual for funding to go to institutions where art is exhibited for the observer. It is sensible for those that administer arts funding to think carefully about the conditions which they set on their awards. One cinema owner in a small town applied for and obtained a lottery grant. One condition of this grant was that he should include art films in his regular programmes. Alas, he had to decline the award because he knew the character of the area and that when he was showing the art films, nobody would come and the cinema would lose vital revenue.

Should arts administrators redefine the boundaries? Whilst the arts for the observer need and deserve support for all our enjoyment, much more emphasis should be given to people participation projects.

The arts are for the people and by the people.

--Ferial Evans

    

Ferial would welcome your comments to:
ferial.evans@virgin.net