Lorenzo & his humble friends

The fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a fool

Tag: culture

On the fraught relationship between the arts and politics

Last December saw the publication of a collection of essays on independence by a number of well-known Scottish writers. The writer and artist Alasdair Gray was the subject of a great controversy, as he was accused of promoting nationalism alongside hostility and anti-English sentiment.

A recent article on openDemocracy argues that much of this was hostile, premature and gave the impression not only of certain critics’ ignorance of Scottish culture, but of the actual content of Gray’s essay. The most brilliant point of the article, however, is about the fraught and false relationship between the arts and politics. The authors makes the argument that political and cultural feeling may be important to the impetus driving artistic production, but they are arguably subservient to more aesthetic imperatives. In their discussions of literature and art, inevitably predicated on the ultimate political results of such discourse, politicians tend to forget this. One of the functions of art would seem to be the broadening of meaning, or the multiplication of potential narratives, to add cultural or emotional significance to material arguments. Deployed politically, much of this is lost.

Culture can save your life

A very good idea from Alain de Botton is called bibliotherapy: you can go and meet someone and talk to them about your life, and on the basis of the challenges that you are facing in a whole range of areas. The bibliotherapist will do you a reading prescription to match people to books that are important to them at that moment in their life.

Because in the modern world we don’t dare to imagine that culture has a purpose connected to changing and saving your life. We rather imagine that culture’s a really nice thing to visit on a Sunday; you go to the museum or you pick up a book. The idea that culture is literally a resource by which to live is oddly neglected.