Let’s take a step back from this statement and consider the assumptions underpinning it.
1) Art and Culture belongs to the people who have the money. Art is for the elite, educated few, not for the masses.
2) Popular culture doesn’t really count as either Art or Culture, because anything that is popular must, by definition be trashy.
3) Anything that is trashy might well be popular, so entertainment aimed at the masses needs to be low brow, simple, colourful and must require no thought.
4) Anything that is truly great as Art or Culture will not be understood or appreciated by the masses, so anyone talking Art is not addressing that troubling fantasy creature – the regular guy in the street.
Underpinning apparently normal attitudes to the Arts, are some pretty horrendous assumptions about class and quality. Further, ‘Culture’ should not be some fabulous bonus only available to the rich. Culture is the consequence of people connecting with each other, and whatever that produces, is a culture.
When it comes to Arts, we have some very old fashioned ideas about what’s good, and it all comes down to the money. Really expensive art is good. Never mind that Van Gogh could barely make ends meet when he was alive – now the rich will pay millions for his work, so he has a worth denied him in his own lifetime. If you can sell your dirty underwear for thousands as part of an instillation, you’re golden. If not, you’re just dirty. If your book requires a degree in English literature to have a shot at making proper sense of it, you are ‘Literature’ in the highest sense, and if your book inspires millions of children to read, you are low, and part of pop culture. Our measurements are nuts, and have nothing to do with innate worth, quality, capacity to move, inspire, uplift or do any of the other things you might want from a cultural experience. Green Party policy is helpfully clear that we should not value our arts in purely economic terms.
Culture shouldn’t be there to enable us to be smug, self important and to show off material wealth. Culture should enrich life. Everyone’s lives.
I’ve worked in the arts for all of my adult life – I’ve run a folk club, worked as an editor, written books. I’m married to an illustrator. I have friends who are professional musicians, artists and performers. I write comics – that most low brow of popular forms. I’ve worked in erotica – and many people will automatically make value judgements about the literary worth of that genre. In my experience, good stuff happens in all forms, and so does self indulgent rubbish.
Because of all of this, I am tremendously excited by GreenParty arts policy. It’s all about engagement, rather than passive consumption. It’s about enabling people to get involved, as both creators and audience, and it is very much about grass roots, too. Green Party policy is clear that culture should be something we’re entitled to. Our own culture, not something foisted on us by a self-appointed elite with a political agenda. Traditions and innovations, localism, originality, and participation are what we need.