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We need more art, artists and artistry

Sep 12, 2010 Success, Sunday Nation

Can we please stop this Sunday to record a debt of gratitude to all the artists in our midst? Those who create original works of the imagination – be they paintings, books, music, poetry, drama, films, sculptures – make our hearts soar. They deserve all our applause.

Think about it: when does your heart sing? We experience huge uplift when we hear a piece of music that stirs all the emotions; when we look at a painting that shows us the world as we could never see it; when we read a book that captures the essence of our lives; when we watch a film or play and feel we have been part of a real story. We marvel at the force of imagination that created this thing before us where nothing existed before.

Technicians make the world go round; artists make it worth living in. Few people find their spirits soaring because they encounter an efficient process or an effective system. Those things matter – they really do – but they don’t make you want to dance for joy. Ask the true reader the high point created by the last few pages of a great novel; ask a music lover what those first few bars of their favourite song does to them; ask the person with a highly visual perception what superb colour theming makes them feel. Life’s high notes are hit in the presence of great art.

So, what do we do to our artists? Do we nurture them, reward them, give them recognition or accolades? In most societies, perhaps one per cent of artists get anything like a fair reward. The rest live hand to mouth, bravely protecting their art in the face of starvation.

This starts early in childhood. What do we do to children who display an early aptitude for drawing, writing, drama, music? We start to worry that they will get carried away with what will undoubtedly be an unproductive and unrewarding enterprise. We push them into accountancy and engineering and business studies and IT. And before all the graduates of those disciplines fill my inbox with outrage, let me say that there is absolutely nothing wrong with them. The point is that there should be nothing wrong with drawing and writing for a living either – but we make it so.

This is because the world appears to run by technicians. Artists are seen as slightly deranged, self-indulgent mavericks who need to get real and get productive and get a real job. We kill countless poems, plays and paintings before they are even born.

This suppression of art has real consequences. Advancement in life does not just come from efficiency; a truly mature society is one that has created its own unique fine art, fine literature and fine cuisine. Whose books, cuisines, movies and paintings do we pay the most for? Not our own, certainly.

The elevation of the technician over the artist gets us into trouble in all arenas, not just in art. When every person is too scared to let the artist in him emerge, we are left with unimaginative, mundane, mainstream products everywhere.

Our chief executives: are they artists or technicians? Who is breaking the mould, trying something radically different, re-imagining his or her company? Where is the artist painting on a blank canvas, as opposed to the technician simply reinterpreting ideas from business manuals and benchmarked peers?

Are our chefs artists, or are they just food assemblers reading the recipes of others? Are our academics driving research into fresh new areas of knowledge, or are they just recycling the tired theories of yesterday? The suppression of art, artists and artistry is costing us dearly, good people. Our businesses, our institutions, our products – our lives – are all less interesting because we have killed the artist within.

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