Art for art’s sake

8 June 2012 | Letter from the Editors

Art, entertainment for the elite? ‘The two pantaloons’ by Jacques Callot (1616). Etching, British Museum. Picture: Wikimedia

It is the necessity, or the obsession, of the present age to measure everything in monetary terms: to know as exactly as possible how much money something is capable of making for the owner of its ‘rights’.

This also applies to various fields of art: for example, a play is expected to make profit for its producers – today also in the case of ‘uncommercial’ institutions such as National Theatres. Seats must be sold; bringing in busloads of people is a must.

But the purpose of creating art is not to increase the GDP. Art is not useful, as theatre director and playwright Esa Leskinen argues in a recent essay (in Finnish only): ‘Art doesn’t aspire to anything. Art isn’t something that is consumed in order to gather the energy to go on working. The purpose of art is not to burnish the image of Finland or make people feel good. Art is radically other than the field of sense and utility in which our everyday world is located.

‘There is no sense in art. Art is no use.’

We agree. We also think that’s how it should be.

The following comment is from an internet discussion: ‘Who cares about art or literature? That’s entertainment for the elite. I want the Nobel Prize for the creators of the best video games!’

According to this commentator, there really is no sense, or use, in art: literature is out, video games in.

As for the concept of ‘entertainment’: filmmaker David Cronenberg has said: ‘Entertainment wants to give you what you want. Art wants to give you what you don’t know you want.’ How frightening is that?

We might argue that video games are just about trifling time away, whereas ‘art or literature’ have been a tad more significant feature in human history, and they’re not likely to vanish. Trying to define the differences between ‘art’ and ‘entertainment’ is, of course, like walking on thin ice, as these two concepts undoubtedly occasionally share the same ground. But, as Esa Leskinen claims, they are different: ‘art and the artistic view of the world are quintessential human activities. Along with dreams, myth and religion, it offers the only escape route from the apparent order of the human cortex, to the place where the unconscious mind dwells in all its immeasurability.’

In Finland, an organisation entitled Creative Industries Finland was launched in 2008 as a coordinator for the national Development Programme for Business Growth and Internationalisation of Creative Industries 2007–2013. Its internet pages talk about the creative economy, a national innovation strategy, business models, cultural entrepreunership, creative industries, significant export value, and it asks how art or design can aid the developent of business.

Fine. Good luck.

But the amateur of art who doesn’t think art is in essence elitist, fears the eventuality that the kind of art that cannot be milked of money at festivals or attract attention in the electronic media (measured, for example, by ‘liking’ on Facebook), which does not have a ‘sufficiently’ large audience, will increasingly be denied public attention and financial support. And worse: will there be an insidious belief that anything that does not sell by the million has no value?

For culture, this will mean formulaic, repetitive production, exploitation of trends, profits that chase cheap production costs, diminishing production times, increasing consumption.

Which is all very well for business.

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