Once upon a time in land far away and across the ocean it was considered a viable career opportunity for a young person to apprenticed to an artist in the same way he or she would be sent to any other tradesperson to learn the how’s and wherefores of the craft so that they may might make a business for themselves. Painters, musicians, performers, sculptors, metal workers and glass blowers were recognized as equal in societal importance as anything else. A viable career choice and an integral part of a society’s structure.
The wealthy would compete with governments and religious leaders to sponsor artists to create works so that they could be recognized as contributing to the quality of life of their fellow citizens, or for the more self centred reasons of self aggrandisement. My how the times have changed.
Sure there are still corporations willing to lend their names to large venues or festivals and governments have token programs responsible for funding a portion of the creative endeavour, but the idea of someone wanting to grow up and work as an artist is looked upon as the height of foolishness. I’m sure anyone who has attempted this path has at some point had someone draw them aside and tell them that they should have something “real” they can fall back on as a career. The arts are all very well as something to dabble in when young but what are you going to do when you grow up and have responsibilities etc. etc. ad nauseum.
On the one hand people bemoan the loss of quality in what passes for entertainment these days, whether it be on television, in the movies or any of the other portals for mass entertainment. But on the other they are loath to support anything that would encourage the development of the aesthetic sensibilities that are needed to ensure a higher standard.
Arts education, or even exposure to anything artistic at a young age, is considered a frill at best, something for only the moneyed classes with leisure time, or a waste of time and money. Governments, instead of encouraging educational systems to broaden the horizons of their wards, are forcing them through policy to produce cogs for the system. Tools to be utilized in a goal oriented, results driven society.
The arts offer no immediate tangible rewards that can be instantly charted on a graph. Process driven and subjective the evolution of an artist is a drawn out affair that shows no immediate return on the investment. It involves a faith in the future that no one seems to be willing to commit to any more. In these days of so called fiscal responsibility governments seem only able to pay lip service to the arts, investing in the sure fire hit for its immediate economic impact rather then the development of the potential producers and audience for that same project.
Given this atmosphere it is a miracle that there are people still willing to pursue a career in the arts. It says something for the innate desire within humans to create that we have any actor, painters, musicians etc at all these days. To persevere in the face of so much apathy, to be willing to suffer deprivations of the body in order to produce works of spirit, only serves to make one wonder what could be done if there was the least nurturing of artistic energy in it’s earliest stages.
One of the few disciplines which is able to foster talent at an early stage dance has proven that point on countless occasions. Like the National Ballet in Canada most major companies have a school affiliation which provides them with a core of dancers to draw upon so that they have a continuous supply of trained performers.
Like athletes who begin their careers as young children an artist’s training needs to begin in the earliest stages of their development so that they can grow into their skills as they mature as a person. The chances of a young person growing up to be a professional athlete are even slimmer then that of a person growing up to make use of their artistic skills, yet we seem to have no problem recognizing their need to start at an early age. When one considers the ancillary benefits that accompany artistic training and how the skills learned can be applicable to all manner of professions outside of the arts it makes our priorities seem even more strange.
There has developed over the years the idea that the arts are somehow not quite “normal”. This seems to be a hangover from our Puritan fore fathers who rejected the concept of entertainment and fun as being synonymous with sin. With the forbidding of artistic representations of religious figures a whole field of expression dried up along with a source of revenue for artists. I find it no coincidence that artistic expression has flourished in predominately Catholic countries where there have never been any societal restrictions on who or what to paint or codes of conduct surrounding entertainments.
The so called “Protestant Work Ethic” that set store in while ideal for driving the wheels of industry does little for the nourishment of the emotional soul. In a society where showing emotion is perceived as a kind of weakness what kind of reception would the arts, which is all about emotional expression, receive? When your God expects you to toil and strive and suffer to earn your place in heaven what room is there for an aesthetic sensibility? Where anything that does not return an immediate gain materially is considered a waste of time, how can anything that needs the slow nurturing like artistic talent grow?
One need look no further to the policies of the social conservative parties for proof of this to be borne out. While simultaneously advocating returns to a more “traditional” way of life(read fundamentalist Christian)they also demand fiscal “responsibility”. This inevitably includes calls for a more “realistic” approach to education based on results with funding for career, money making, programs at the fore front, whilst the arts based programs are left to wither and die.
The arts are doomed to remain an after thought in any society which treats them with suspicion like the one we presently live in. It will take more then government white papers, appeals by celebrity artists, and articles like this one to change that. If we are serious about wanting to develop culture and create the atmosphere that would allow the development of artistic appreciation and thought the chains of our own history need to be thrown off. Until then we can only hope that we keep throwing up individuals who are strong enough to succeed in spite of the obstacles we throw in front of them. It better be enough.