15 February 2022

The Art Insider: Why Art Is Essential In The 21st Century

Recently, the status of art’s place in society been put into contention. From cuts in government spending to the digitalisation of art, it is clear there has been a dramatic shift in the importance society places on both artists and their artwork.

From the very beginning, the 21st century has been almost synonymous with technological development and the digital. Though this allows for advantages such as a much more globalised and interconnected society, the question arises: where does art fit in?

Since pre-history, over thousands of years ago, humanity has steadily produced and consumed art. Though the appearance and subject matter of artworks have changed, its role as a crucial aspect of humanity has remained constant. The pandemic has only emphasised the importance of art creation and consumption in our everyday lives as we seek increasing forms of entertainment and escape.

The internet and social media have presented a wealth of possibilities for all fields, but there is an aspect of experiencing art and exhibition spaces that cannot be replicated on the web. For example, online viewing rooms have facilitated practical access to art collections but adversely loses the sense of intimacy and interconnectivity of collective, in-person viewing.

As a whole, art in a digitised world has made visual culture much more accessible for far-flung global audiences and has provided a new platform for the promotion of art and artists. However, it runs the risk of desensitising us by overwhelming and oversaturating our corpus of art experiences. Technology can provide both new opportunities and challenges, and it is a balance of this that needs to be addressed for art to fully flourish and make its desired impact.

Despite its power, its impact on each of us, and the multitude of important skills it provides, art does not appear be proportionally valued by most people.

In a May 2020 survey, ‘Culture and Community in a Time of Crisis’ results showed that art is not a high priority for the majority of the public. Asking participants what they looked forward to the most after social distancing, only 9% were most excited to go to a museum. However, the same study observed that people still looked to arts and culture to fulfil innate and essential functions and wellbeing, with 53% seeing it as an opportunity to laugh and relax, 49% as a way to connect with others, and 46% to offer distraction and escape.

On one hand, people understand the arts fulfil essential roles in our lives, and on the other, there is an institutional refusal to grant art and its creators the necessary resources to function.

Much of the content we consume and enjoy appears ‘freely’ accessible whether via the internet or the UK’s national museums, but the reality is that artists need resources to live and create, and national museums are run by paid staff and require government funding. As argued by the arts and contemporary culture critic William Deresiewicz in the LA Times, “Art is essential; the people who create it are essential, too.”

Concerningly, the tokenisation of art today is reflected and perpetuated by recent changes in arts funding by governments around the world.

In the UK, the year 2006 is viewed by some as the ‘golden age’ of arts, a period when there was a 73% spending increase in the sector. Since then, we have experienced instability with the 2008 recession and a pandemic, the effects of the latter especially aggravated by the government’s continuous funding cuts to the arts commission and arts education budgets. In July 2021, the UK government approved funding cuts of 50% for higher education art and design courses in England, diverting this much needed support to the science sector.

This worrying trend has also been witnessed internationally, as Australia announced in 2020 that government funding for arts subjects at university would be reduced thus doubling arts fees from 2021, while science course fees would be lowered.

Unfortunately, the ‘Culture and Community’ report gives a sense of how most people (64%) are unaware that arts and cultural organisations are under great financial strain. The public’s lack knowledge of underfunding means there are even less initiatives or opportunities—at the micro and macro levels—to improve the situation.

While financial support for the STEM fields is not problematic itself, the choice to do so at the detriment of the arts is very concerning.

The general attitude today is that STEM are ‘high-cost’ and ‘high-value’ disciplines that can boost the economy, whereas arts and humanities graduates supposedly cannot. Data reveals quite the opposite: the arts sector contributes around £115.9 billion to the UK GVA, accounting for 5.9% of the UK GVA overall and continues to grow at four times the rate of the entire UK economy.

Furthermore, the drive for ‘productivity’ fails to acknowledge and appreciate the actual social and cultural value of arts. Engagement in the arts has been shown to foster innovation, critical thinking, communication, self-confidence, emotional literacy, and creativity, all skills which are still essential in 21st century life.

I like to believe art that is beneficial for all parties, the audience and the creator. For me, the activity of painting is a form of therapy, a creative and emotional outlet that allows me to escape the hectic every day. We are all gain positive skills and insight through art, whether as a way to provide joy or entertainment or as a tool to understand the world around us.

The de-prioritising and devaluing of art have become increasingly rampant in the past years, and the negative consequences have become even more acute in light of the pandemic. As we, societally, continue to seek and make progress in technology, the internet, or any ‘modern’ field, we must remember not to leave art in the dust and face the tragedy of living a world with one less source of creativity, joy, and humanity.

Read the article here: https://www.art-insider.com/why-art-is-essential-in-the-21st-century/3503

© Oliver Maughan. All Right Reserved. Copyright notice.
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