Great art matters — and that’s Official!

Great art matters — and that’s Official!

Tessa Jowell, the UK Secretary of State (i.e. Cabinet Minister) for Culture has published an extraordinary personal essay arguing that great art is important, not because it brings in tourists or leads to economic gain, but because it enriches lives. Here’s a quote:

“(a) Complex cultural activity is not just a pleasurable hinterland for the public, a fall back after the important things — work and paying tax –are done. It is at the heart of what it means to be a fully developed human being. Government should be concerned that so few aspire to it, and has a responsibility to do what it reasonably can to raise the quantity and quality of that aspiration. (b) Markets have their place, but theatres, galleries or concert halls also need intelligent public subsidy if complex culture is to take its place at the heart of national life. (c) Developing a much greater audience for the complex arts will only happen as the result of determined policy initiatives — like this Government’s realisation of free entry to national museums and galleries. “

There’s more. For example:

“A wider definition, associated with Ruskin, sees a nation’s wealth as including personal happiness and fulfilment. It’s an obviously broader view, into which culture fits more readily. It’s a definition of wealth which better describes what matters to people, and I believe better gives us a key to real transformation in society. Culture lies at the heart of this definition — its impact is more central, but difficult to measure in mechanistic terms. I think we need to find a way to express this as politicians and as leaders. As a Culture Department we still have to deliver the utilitarian agenda, and the measures of instrumentality that this implies, but we must acknowledge that in supporting culture we are doing more than that, and in doing more than that must find ways of expressing it.”

This is an amazing development. I never thought I would live to hear a New Labour politician say things like this. In fact, it’s a long time since I heard a British politician of any stripe betray any interest in, or love of, art for art’s sake. I’d hitherto thought of Ms. Jowell as worthy but rather dull. I’ve obviously misjudged her.