I thought it time to write something on this current debate about the devaluing of the Arts in Irish society by politicians and their political agendas. I’ve been most impressed by John O’Brien’s leading of this battle recently and perhaps should have contributed earlier and in more effective ways than social media sharing of his campaign #ArtsDeptNow. But I did feel the need to sit back on this and wait my turn.
Artists are made to feel devalued from a very early age. In school, both in Australia and here, your value is, for the most part, pitted on your sporting or academic ability. If you have a flare for something artistic, well that’s a great hobby you can pursue while you work behind the desk in the office as your “real” job. If you have a talent for sport, you can work towards a professional career! If you’re academic, hey you can do the same!
What people fail to realize and remember is that art and artistry is at the core of literally every other profession. The biggest money-spinners out there are IT and Gaming. At the core of both is art in the forms of graphic design, story-telling and design of cyber space. Every successful person in both of those fields started their development as small children, doing what? Drawing a picture, looking through art books, going to stage school, learning story telling and narrative structuring, and so on and so forth. As such, people tend to forget that at some point in the development of Steve Jobs or Mark Zuckerberg was a moment when they looked in a book of art, sat in a theatre and saw a play as a kid or saw the way a piece of clay could be moulded into a shape. Their intuitive, innovative and imaginative thinking all stemmed from their engagement with art very early on in their development.
And now I’m in a space I don’t like to be in, because I’m defending the value of the Arts in relation to it’s potential to earn super millions and billions and employ thousands of people. Which is true. Look at how much revenue is being generated by TV and Film production in Ireland. Ireland is world leader in these fields now. However, there’s another value to the Arts that to me is much more important.
I’ve walked down many streets in many cities in many countries on this planet and I have never felt afraid on any street that was milling with people pouring in and out of theatres, Jazz clubs, Art Galleries, Art cafes and Cinemas. There’s no room on streets filled with people buzzing with the buzz of art, for baddies. Any street I’ve felt not so safe on in Paris, Berlin, New York, Sydney, Dublin, they’re the streets with no art, scourged by drug dealers and pimps. Those streets are quiet, afraid.
Secondly, every country I have run from have been those that devalued and even banned and outlawed art. These are the tyrannies whose democracies collapse and fall into the hands of dictators and despots. These are places of misery and doom.
Point is, Art has a direct influence on the vibrancy of a nation and her people.
Art is a rebel force. Art is hope. Art is healthy and alive. Art breathes with life and real living. Art is in the studios and the theatres, and art is on the street. Art is not just for artists. Art is for the audience. It’s for those who do find themselves behind the desk 9am to 5pm. Because when you’re done, art is waiting for you. Whole other avenues of thinking and feeling await you. We develop them. We provide them. We commit our imaginations and our abilities to them, not for ourselves, for you.
Now some of us were born to create that art and in various ways feed it. It’s us who are made to feel alien to society. We don’t work 9am to 5pm. A lot of us only come out at night. But we are real people and we make things. We imagine things that didn’t exist before and we don’t balk at the possibility of making those things real and tangible. We are Joyce and Beckett. Yes we are weird. We are Yeats and Caravaggio and Bacon and Kafka. In our time we are bizarre. After we die we are legends and referenced and quoted by politicians. Our works and even our scribblings are auctioned off to the rich and famous., yet in our time we are paupers. We are in your capital cities, in theatres and galleries, in dance and concert halls. And no matter how much you get caught up in the snags and stress of your existence, we are here for you to sit back and drink in. We are there when you’re ready to look into the substance of the life you have been thrown into without your consent. We feed your creativity. We inspire you to break the moulds of your current processes both at work and at home.
And we defy government. We’ve been doing that since Ancient Greece. We tell stories of societies and provide the pond of reflection of our communal direction. We are the heaving waves beneath everything that’s happening in your life.
Only we tend to be invisible; because we are the people who were told to “get a real job” by our career advisors and parents and friends. We are told by Government that we are hobbyists and idiots. We are made to feel like leaches when we ask for funding for our next step forward in the evolution of the consciousness of our work… which is your work… which is your inspiration and your children’s trampoline to creativity. We are the industry with one of the highest rates of suicide and depression and anxiety. It’s our profession that has the highest level of unemployment of any profession out there.
And yet we don’t have a choice. This thing finds us. We don’t find it. Who would choose a profession like that willingly?
What we ask for is acknowledgement and recognition for the intrinsic value we have, and have always had, to society. Yes, if the Arts are funded with an immense enthusiasm and good people in it are put in good positions, there’s going to be a significant financial reward to the State, reward that can be fed into homelessness, healthcare, you name it. But the social and community-based reward will be unquantifiable, as it has always been.
Give us a dedicated Arts Department. Let us do our work.