It’s the Arts

In Terry Pratchett’s discworld novel ‘Maskerade’, a man purchases the city opera house as an investment, however he quickly discovers it is losing money, because opera not a way of making money, it is what you spend money on once you have acquired it. So, why are the arts important and why do they tend not to be supported by those on the political right?

Essentially, it is art that what makes like worth living. Once the basic requirements for existence are met, such as food and shelter, humans spend their time on entertainment, entertaining each other and participating in the process, this has occurred throughout human history. Art could also be described as a way of making sense of existence, human culture is complicated and increasingly so. Art must reflect the complexity of human existence if it is to help people make sense of their existences. Artists provide the subject matter upon which humans can use as a basis for reflecting on making sense of the world, often in a highly entertaining engaging way. As a scientist, I am fully aware of the importance of art to provide the inspiration for new ways of thinking, to enable giant leaps in understanding, as sometimes in science  you can end up going around in logical circles and it is often very helpful to look at problems you are trying to solve in different ways.

All human beings simply enjoy laughing, dancing and participating together, some of the time. This is what makes life worth living, it’s what gives quality to life, it is the antidote to a hard weeks struggle through work.

As human society has developed, people have become specialised. The product of this specialism, economic efficiency, traditionally, has been increased capacity to spend time and resources on leisure. The education of the young is, giving children the ability to learn how to function in society, the skills required to work and the ability to utilise art and leisure. So, art should always play a role in education.

Something seems to be going very wrong. This week I went to see a production by the youth theatre I was a member of whilst growing up. In a rural area it is actually amazing that this group have persisted for so long with  no funding apart from local businesses and individuals who are aware of the importance of this group to the community (some of their own children are the beneficiaries after all). What struck me was the decreased size of the audience and the size of the production had fallen in comparison to my times with the troupe. The youth theatre perform in the local arts centre, twenty years ago it was thriving, with visiting companies performing regularly to good sized audiences. However central government has cut back on such art educational activities. touring theatres are much rarer and there is no longer a local professional theatre company. The idea of going to the local theatre has dropped off peoples radar. This impoverishes the community, young people don’t get the chance to see local theatre, the youth theatre itself is no longer run by professionals, but keen amateurs. This diminishes educational oppurtunites, the ability to develop skills and self-confidence and diminishes the possibilities for looking outward to the world.

If arts funding at the grass roots, local community level is cut, as it has been, it has a knock on impact on national theatre companies and indeed television output. Instead of home grown art focused on  the local community , it is instead imported as film. It is perhaps true that younf people know more about the USA than they do about their own country, because that is where most of the art they consume comes from. Post-industrial society in Britain is somehow losing it’s ability to perform it’s own vital functions and isn’t producing anything in it’s place. The church is also in decline, once a cornerstone  of community life. As art is so important why do people seem so complicit in the diminishing of quality of life?

I have since the British general election of 2015, despaired as to the decline of British society and tried to understand what has motivated people to vote for right wing governments who seem determined to allow society to decline. It seems to come down to a fundamental difference in motivation between people of the left and the right.

To someone of the left the motivation in politics is the improvement of society, of the community of people beyond immediate family members. to build things that are of use to the community, thus enriching their own community.

To someone of the right the motivation in politics is the improvement of oppurtunities for the individual. To aspiration is to acquire ever greater wealth to enable themselves to access the needs and desires of there families. it is the perhaps the perceived status of wealth that provides it’s own satisfactions, such as finer wine, ease of access to grand opera houses and other forms of leisure.

Most people don’t think as long and hard about politics as perhaps I do. The world for most people isn’t a clear distinction between left and right. Most people are in the middle and tacitly accept general slow movements of society in general to the left or to the right, the focus is on money now there is less of it moving around

The reason the conservative government gave for recent slashing of arts funding was that the UK had to go into great debt and economic recession in order to bail out and restart the banking industry. To me, a strong society and economy would cut funding for arts and education only after food supply and shelter had been achieved (oh wait adequate housing is still an issue), but instead of propping up arts (society) the banking sector was given the funding. Actually, isn’t this a little crazy? it isn’t perhaps in the right wing agenda to support the arts, as they are less interested in a strong society, what is important to them is individuals ability to acquire and preserve wealth and ‘status’.

It is Remembrance weekend. A time when people in Britain reflect on the lives lost and suffering endured by those in the armed services. I particularly think of my grandfather who fought in the Second World War and the Death Penny I have inherited from an unknown great great uncle (to me anyway) who died in WW1. I was brought up to believe that such people gave up their energy and often there lives for the future of Britain, for the future of British society and British communities. This was the post war consensus, the idea of re-building a country fit for heroes.

Sadly it seems that such ideals as the value of community are being lost in the crazy world of modern capitalism. My advice is get down to your local theatre, have a great night out and thank those that gave their lives so you could enjoy your local community.

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London is Ugly and Annoying, Wales is Barren and Beautiful

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Ugly London, but some cool theatres

London is an amazing wonderful city, however, it is annoying and inefficient for people who live in the rest of the UK. I lived in London for four years, both loving and hating it at different times, it’s a great place to visit,, but generally rubbish and expensive (and increasingly so) to live in it and I shall tell you why.

London has an amazing amount of wonderful theatre and music. There is an abundance of hugely talented artists, performing in London, giving audiences access to great wonders, so much so that there is almost too much choice, It’s what makes living in London worthwhile.

Take last night for example. I had planned to move my stuff back to Wales, but the van hire company messed up and didn’t have a van for me when I turned to collect the van yesterday morning, so an unexpected free day to fill. So, I decided to see what was on in London last night and I found another gem.

I love live theatre and I love opera. A company ‘Opera Up Close‘, puts on slimmed down operas in intimate theatre venues, with the result that you get opera and proper theatre [ It’s not a new idea, as Mid-Wales Opera often do this sort of thing, but I’m not usually so close to the stage]. By proper theatre I mean proper stage acting, where you can clearly see every expression of the performers body, every facial expression and the glory of neck pulsations for the vibrato, the cast were involved in the plot, everyone on stage interacting and reacting to the unfolding drama. This acting is coupled with operatic singing in true ‘surround sound’. By surround sound i mean rather than seeming to come from a fixed point. When I go to big flamboyant operas, I’m usually in the cheap seats, far away from the stage, it’s still wondrous though! It really was having two of my favourite things blended together and accompanied by a talented 4 piece chamber orchestra.On balance a couple of the cast weren’t great theatre actors, and behaved as if they were in a typical opera on a bigger less intimate stage, but if it had been perfect I might well have just died of joy! The show was Bizet’s ‘Carmen’, performed at the Soho theatre, which is incidentally a really nice friendly venue.

Yet, London is really irritating. Here was a great show, with a strong cast on a Saturday night in a small venue and it was only two thirds full, although running for a month, which is quite a long run (well for non-musicals anyway!). Annoying because If this show was put on in a theatre in Wales  the audience would have been much bigger, thus it could have reached a bigger audience. In Wales everyone interested in this sort of thing would have gone to see it, rather than a portion of the London audience, which has this vast choice of other things to attend. This begs the question, Why don’t musicians and theatre companies tour the UK away from London a lot more than they do?

The answer is simple, cost. A touring company has to pay to provide accommodation for all the performers and stage management, which is really expensive, not counting the time required to travel. So ,what happens is that people in Wales (like me when i live in Wales), save up and travel down to London to see the shows, and pay for a nights accommodation in London, I usually slum it in a hostel as the only way of making the trip affordable. So the audience travel to the venue, rather than the venue come to the audience. Maybe this is a fair way of doing things, but London keeps getting more expensive. I suppose shows such as the one I went to last night can tour, because there are fewer people and less set, so if the company read this, come to Wales and beyond!

The other question is why don’t places like Wales produce more ‘home grown’ music and theatre? Well in Wales, I would suggest there is a higher proportion of people involved in local amateur productions, people enjoy art by being participants, rather than observers, in many ways this is superior.

The other issue is that young people who seek careers in the arts move away to London to hone their craft, because it is a centre for arts minded people. Artists are readily available for performance as they live a tube rides away, no need for companies to provide accommodation.

It’s not just the arts that are London-centric. It’s the British media too, the government and the economy. It’s just really inefficient having everything in the same place ion one giant world city, making that place a really rubbish place to live. Now I’m moving,  back to Wales i will really miss the chance to pop into London on the spur of the moment to catch something brilliant. I won’t miss, the faff, the smell, the crowds and the expense of it all. I know where I’d rather be! I will soon be, so I’ll probably stop ranting about how great Wales is.

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Near where I grew up, my idea of Home.