• nedmanningwriterac

Devaluing the Arts Doesn't Make Sense

As writer and critic, Alison Croggon has pointed out, we have such a conflicted relationship with the a*** we can barely say the word. A*** journalists avoid using the word in stories about the you know what. Media outlets don’t have a*** pages anymore. They have “Culture”, as if “A***” is a dirty word. It may even be the new  “c” word now that the old one has some currency. 

But, bugger it. For the sake of this article, I am going to use it. Apart from the fact that “a***” will drive anyone reading this crazy, as its nearly the end of the school year and Christmas is fast approaching, I feel like letting my hair down and getting a bit dangerous. So (takes deep breath) I am going to talk about the curious relationship this country has with the ARTS. Phew…that wasn’t so bad. Don’t roll your eyes or stop reading. Please. I’m not really an elitist. 

As anyone interested in the Arts (capital, ok?) will tell you, the latest shake up of the public service has seen the Department of Communication and the Arts being lumped in with the Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communications. Enough said

What other country on the planet has such contempt for the Arts that they don’t have a special department to represent artists? Some, like the French, call it the Ministry for Culture. I know. It’s not called the Ministry for the Arts but they’re French. The French Ministry’s goal is “to make accessible to as many people as possible the major works of humanity”. Not only that but it “contributes, together with other ministries, to arts and cultural education of children and young adults throughout their training cycles”.*

It is this last point that really blows me away. It’s what I have been doing as Drama teacher for more years than I can count. 

It doesn’t matter what your political, religious or social leanings, the fact is that the vast majority of Australians children will be heavily involved in the Arts at some time during their education. They will be doing dance (or ballet) classes. They will be learning a musical instrument. They will, every last one of them, drawing, colouring in, creating art. Some will do drama classes and most will be in some form of school play or performance. Their parents will weep tears of pride and announce that the performance was “better than the professionals” as they beam at their pumped up charges. 

So, we’re perfectly happy to celebrate the Arts when our children are involved in them. We even enjoy the various art forms they participate in. 

We are happy for our children to study the Arts in both primary and high school. Drama, Dance, Music and Visual Art are all subjects in the various high school curricula around the country. My subject was expanding at a terrific rate until some Principals, spooked by the never ending political demands for “accountability” and ignoring the discipline require to complete either VCE or HSC Drama, made it harder for teachers to teach Drama. It’s still expanding but not quite so dramatically as it was. 

I could bang on ad infinitum about the number of young people whose lives have been changed irrevocably by studying Drama and the other creative arts subjects. 

The point here is that, as the Ancient Greeks showed us, the Arts are crucial to a country’s well being. Amongst other things, in democracies they provide a platform to question the thinking of the day as Aristophanes did when satirizing the continual warfare between Greece and Sparta. Of course, dictatorships and oligarchies were (and are) less fond of questions being posed by artists. 

The big question here is, what do our politicians have to fear of the Arts? They were quick to call on the Arts and artists to show us off when we hosted the Olympics. They love to bask in the reflected glory of our actors in Hollywood. They appropriate the music of our favourite bands in campaign rallies and advertising, often without consulting the artists. 

Millions of Australians have participated in the Arts, as both performers and audience members, many of them our current members of parliament. Why are the Arts crucial to the development of our children but not taken seriously enough to be recognized as being crucial to the development of us as adults? Why are they so important in reflecting the values of our young but not worthy of being a stand alone department at the national level?

Are we really suggesting that the Arts are ok for young people but, once we grow up, we shouldn’t value them?  

The constant devaluing of the Arts is not only a poor reflection on our development as a mature nation, it denies the role the Arts have played in all our lives.


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