Last night we watched The Monuments Men. It may not be the most amazing piece of cinema, but I was not aware of the story until the movie came out. So for that I'm grateful. Based on a true story, (in a nut shell) it's about art historians and curators during WWII trying to rescue stolen art from the German army, who are under orders to destroy everything as the Reich fell. With the cultural heritage of Europe under threat, there is much discussion about whether a painting is worth risking your life for.
So, what do you think? I have been musing on this topic in relation to the recent proposed budget cuts, and the changes to tertiary education fees. The fact is it cuts deeply into many things I think are important, like the basis for support within the community and how we look after our most vulnerable. It also proposes slashing arts funding and deregulating university fees. I work in the tertiary sector and have just completed a Bachelor degree. I am still paying this off as I couldn't afford to pay upfront. I am not alone. I spoke to a student from another University last week. She had completed a Fine Art degree but was now doing a Master of Information Management so she can get a job. As she said, no one wants to pay her money to make sculptures. Many artists I know don't make money, or if they do it's not enough to live off. Many writers are freelance, many actors and musicians work in hospitality to pay their bills. And many people in the arts are expected to work for free, whoops...sorry, for 'exposure'. Even 'Our Kylie' found herself in a shitstorm for not paying her back up dancers. If the new student loans scheme for higher education charges higher interest rates, how will people live? Seriously. Women are already facing a raw deal under the new scheme, as interest on student loans will be continue to be charged even if they take time out of the workforce to have children. It's possible you could leave Uni with a debt larger than what your parents or grandparents paid for their first home.
Life it seems is a privilege, not a right. Graduates supposedly earn more than non graduates, but does this apply to the arts? The message this sends is that to be able to pay off your student loan you need to be a doctor, lawyer or economist...oh, or politician. I find it heart breaking that in a time of economic hardship we cut funding to the arts. The same arts people fought and died for in WWII. The cultural heritage deemed so important and powerful by both sides, that it needed to be hidden or destroyed.
The economic rationalists will argue that art isn't as important as business or science. Sure, Picasso never cured cancer, but I love that Alain de Botton and John Armstrong have written a book explaining how important art is to our wellbeing. Check out the Art as Therapy website for a taster. "We believe the point of art in general is to offer therapeutic assistance; it should help us to better endure and enjoy our lives".
Art should make us think and feel. It shouldn't match our curtains. If you doubt the power of art in a modern context, just think of one word. Banksy. He was named Person of the Year by the Webby Awards (watch this video to see the impact one anonymous person can have) for his unofficial month long New York artist in residence. Better still watch 'Exit through the Gift Shop' for his sheer genius.
The irony perhaps is lost, that as times get harder we may well need art to help us endure the economic hardships that lay ahead. To distract us from pain, or help us see beyond ourselves. To help us think, be inspired or make us angry. Art has the power to help us see the beauty in a Starry Night, a vase of Sunflowers, a pond of Waterlilies and a spray painted rat. And you can't put a price on that.