Art is more important than science

Art is more important than science for the future of the human race
 
It’s provocative I know.  Scientists everywhere will be tapping out responses furiously – or they would if anyone ever said this in a more public forum – or if it was taken up as a statement by arts practitioners.
 
I attended an excellent event last night organised by The Jericho House called “What is the Point of Art Now?” – in the beautiful surroundings of St Ethelburga’s we listened to the eloquent and educated ex-culture minister, Chris Smith – give his opinion on why arts, and arts funding was important.
 
The arguments were measured, the debate good tempered and generally everyone agreed with one another or disagreed so politely it was difficult to tell the difference.  There was some talk of the ‘value’ of art to society and whether it was measurable.  But should we be looking for measurable value or simply accepting the intrinsic value?  Does is matter at a time of crisis?  Should we not be looking for all possible weapons to fight for our right to be artists, writers, theatre practitioners, film makers?  For the right of future generations to be taught about the arts? Can we really sit back politely and accept our relegation to something not useful enough to warrant funding the teaching of in higher education? Are we really so useless compared to science, accountancy, law?
 
I will not debate here the means by which the government could raise more money and not have to cut arts and education funding (scrap Trident, raise corporation tax, crack down on tax-avoidance).  I won’t go into depth the reasons why cutting education funding is effectively increasing the health and benefits bill for many years into the future – you can go and visit www.marmot-review.org for that information.  But what I do want to say is that we cannot, without a fight, allow ourselves to be relegated to a second class of thinking.
 
Creative thought, imagination, the practicalities of making and creating with your own hands, mind and body are all things which society cannot do without.  They are the primordial soup out of which all other kinds of thought emerge.  There would be no science, no philosophy without art.  Cutting funding for arts teaching in higher education, raising university fees, cutting funds to arts bodies, schools projects, initiatives to bring and create more cultural products for excluded and marginlised communties are a direct attack on our freedom.
 
If we slowly kill off creativity, if we stifle culture, we will be a stagnant society, one with little interest in anything other than the status quo. Mindlessly consuming imported culture and losing anyone with talent to other countries.  We will soon lose our excellence in other fields too, because culture is the food of all thought (regardless of whether you know you are consuming it, or consuming it willingly).  It isn’t the stuff of minorities, we live in it and with it.  Chris Smith highlighted the fact that more people went to the theatre, or went to art galleries and museums than went to football matches. Football is seen as popularist, arts and theatre as minority. It isn’t the case – but it soon might be. 
 
I was slightly depressed by the lack of willingness in the audience of last night’s debate and of Chris himself to bravely say – Arts matter – arts matter as much or as more than science.  We lack passion, we try too hard to be balanced.  We don’t want to have to justify our art – we believe in its intrinsic value – but we must fight for it – and that means boldly claiming its value, boldly stating that we will not be demoted.  That we matter.  It may not come easily but if we don’t fight we won’t win.

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