Monday, 19 December 2016
Radio 4's 'Something Understood' ponders Is Art Good For Us?
In the latest episode of BBC Radio 4's Something Understood (Sunday 18th December 2016) "the poet Michael Symmons Roberts explores the idea that the arts are good for us - body and soul - and considers whether they can be both tonic and threat to society.
He says, "Art is as various as we are, and its moral weight and status is unstable, unpredictable. In times when people are losing trust in politics and religion, art can start to look like a replacement. But if we put too much of our moral weight and hope into art, we imperil it, and it can imperil us too."
Some of the great Victorian philanthropists thought art would benefit society and used their wealth to make art freely available to the masses. Whether or not the original Turner paintings offered in a Manchester museum,improved the lives of the working class is not evidenced, but the continued idea that the arts are of moral benefit persists.
Roberts offers the example of Ken Loach's groundbreaking film Cathy Come Home as a sign that society can be improved through the arts - along with the way Bob Dylan and others used their music to effect social change in the US during the 1960s.
But he also strikes a note of caution. "The arts can act as the conscience of the state, a challenging force for good. But they can equally be used as an instrument of propaganda. Whenever I hear the arts per se being touted as a positive moral and political force in society, I start to feel uneasy." Using evidence of Nazi propaganda from the Second World War, he also points out that a love of art is not necessarily an indication of a healthy morality.
Roberts concludes that art is not per se a good thing for us, but that he 'couldn't imagine, and wouldn't want to, a life without music or poetry or films or paintings'."