Then What Are We Fighting For?
Art and culture sectors are suffering deeply. That's not only terrible for them, it's devastating for the entire world economy. What so many people fail to realize is that art and culture are the actual beating heart of our entire economic system. They may not produce the lion's share of income, but without art and culture, our system of cash will crash. So today, in eleven anecdotes and stories, I'm going to show the role of art and culture has in making sure we can put bread on the table. Hold on to your knickers, 'cause I'm coming out blasting.
1 - You can read this because of cave paintings
The only reason why you can read and understand this blog is because of the first human art form ever invented: cave paintings. Our languages have evolved from the pictures we drew on the walls of our cave dwelling homes. From drawing an animal, counting with stripes or depicting the sun, gradually, through the eons, we developed symbols with fixed meanings. These symbols simplified even further and alphabets. Today still, around one fifth of the world uses symbolic language writing, such as in Chinese calligraphy.
So, there you have it. Our entire communication system of written and spoken language, including mathematics and the ability to spark new ideas, started with art.
2 - Art invented money
If ever you encounter someone foolish enough to ask for the economic value of art and culture, tell them the story of Alexander the Great. In the old days, there was no Instagram. So, he had statues and paintings of his face placed around his realm so that friend and foe knew what he looked like. The first selfies, if you will.
With the introduction of a new coin he had his image marked on them too. This guaranteed a fixed value for the coin, stabilizing the economy both in and outside his domain. In other words, it was an artwork that led to the first stable and unified economy in the history of mankind. And 'till this day, we coin our coins with the images of our leaders.
3 - Stories gave us freedom
Our modern day free nations, and with them our liberal economies, originated in The Renaissance and were then fine tuned in The Enlightenment, before finally taking hold towards the Industrial Age and introducing the first steps to full democracy. In these periods we rediscovered Greek and Roman art, particularly the storytelling of that era. Those stories are without exception tales of fighting against oppression, tolerance for other cultures, virtuous or bad behavior of the Gods, and philosophies to advance science, art and society towards more freedom.
It was this rediscovery that led us to break with the feudal system, get rid of bad kings and queens and shed the oppression of religion (which led to us to start modern day health care methods). It set us out on a path of science and exploration that has continued onto this very day, and is the reason you are reading this on your computer, phone or tablet.
All these roads converge with Da Vinci and his Viturvian Man, the symbol of innovation and art combined. Without men like him finding Greek and Roman art again, you would not have the freedom of speech you have today. So, even if you choose to be dismissive of the art world, they are the reason you can speak your mind in the first place. Art gave you the freedom of speech to bash art. If you so please.
4 - There is no such thing as high or low culture
One of the most common mistakes when discussing art is the notion that there is a difference between 'high' and 'low' culture. Opera for instance - today considered the highest of culture - originated from the desire to bring classical music (which was in that period was of course, contemporary) 'down' towards the middle class. By adding singing, it was thought that middle classes would be able to adopt this culture more easily. In a way, opera was the Queen and Freddy Mercury of its time: popular with the masses, but vilified by the upper class. Which is very ironic, since Queen made music that we now call 'Pop Opera'.
Shakespeare goes a step further even. Nowadays, Shakespeare plays are part of high culture. But they were written for the entertainment of the people, most of all for lower classes. The common theme in his plays was to show that 'divine' kings and queens were actually just as human as everybody else, much to the dismay of the powerful. It made them extremely popular with the working class.
Shakespeare can thus be considered as a - or even the - starting point of modern democracy. Think about it. This means that by association, you working class poetry night in the local pub, or your rap battle at the factory, actually has as much of a right to be subsidized as La Traviata or MacBeth.
5 - Culture is an economic ecosystem
From health care to sports to entertainment to science... all concepts in our modern day economy have started out as an idea in art and culture, that was strong enough to spread and become mainstream. From Shakespeare to Campbell's soup from Andy Warhol to your marketing department preaching corporate storytelling... it's all connected to the same source.
Art and culture are the starting point of an economic ecosystem that has led to your favorite brands and even the social media platforms you communicate on. And that some of us ironically choose to use spread hatred the against arts. To take art out of that ecosystem is like separating the bees from cross-pollinating flowers and food crops: it'll end up in economic disaster.
6 - Artists are among the best survivors
Charles Darwin must be the most misquoted man in our history. No, he did not say 'survival of the fittest'. He said the exact opposite: “It’s not the fittest, nor the most intelligent that survives, it’s the most adaptable to change.” When the going gets tough, we need to improvise. Nature did not indeed creativity to be the skill that leads to art, it just evolved that way in human beings. Creativity is far more basic: it's a survival skill that is used to quickly make connections in dangerous situations or moments when our procreation is at stake.
Actors, painters, musicians, producers, and your favorite directors are all trained to making quick and successful new connections under difficult circumstances. This creative ability has been measured, and is greater even than the problem solving abilities of the greatest professors on Earth (Source BBS - How The Creative Brain Works). Creativity thus trumps intelligence and brute force alike.
Just think of it like this: if your organization or your loved ones are in a tough spot, wouldn't you rather have the most creative brain at the table to solve it?
7 - Culture determines your media niche
Now we can move into the modern day influence of culture. In our time our media landscape consists of millions of channels. All of these media outlets, big or small, with all of their influencers, lifestyles and advertisers are the new long-tail pillar of our economies. If these channels are under pressure, so is our economy. So, culture isn't something that lives outside of your business, it's the very heart of it nowadays.
8 - Culture is needed for economic recovery
Let's zoom in even further. In my tiny little country the Netherlands, we export a lot of our Dutch Design, DJ's and decors. We earn a lot of money with that... and a huge amount of good will too. In a recession, most countries and companies will cut into art and culture to save costs. But every economist worth his salt, will tell you that anti-cyclical investment in a recession will deliver you growth percentages in the double digits. The moment that economies are restoring themselves again, there will be a clear winner: those who kept investing in their cultural sector.
9 - Culture starts small
All of those Dutch Designers, DJ's and decor builders started of somewhere small. With the exception of Michael Jackson, there has been no artist that reached the main stage in one go. Without small podiums, events, galleries, (movie) theaters and the lot, there would be no growth. So, if you don't support these small cultural hubs, the negative consequences will be far larger than you've imagined.
10 - Everything is a story
In Sapiens of writer Harari he shows us that everything can be viewed as a story. We tell each other stories about religion, economy, politics, romance... we use story to convey ideas on how we think we should live, and we show them to others to convince them our view is the right point of view. Writer Kenneth Burke probably summed it up best when he noted that 'stories are equipment for living'.
The stories we find most inspiring are always about hope, freedom and empathy, such as the real world tales of Nelson Mandela or Mother Theresa, or the fictional tales of Harry Potter or Indiana Jones triumphing over evil. The stories we tell each other in fear are always considered bad stories, with bad endings, such as the historical story of The Second World War. In other words, we tell each other stories to show our mistakes in the past, so we don't make them again. Art stories are therefore the single most important stories we have to prevent heartache, and even war. Or as the saying goes; 'those who do not know their history, are doomed to repeat it.'
11 - The pen is mightier than the sword
And now that we've mentioned The Second World War... Churchill is seen by history as the greatest leader that has ever lived. When his cabinet suggested to scrape the art budget all together to make way for building more tanks, he said this:
“Then what are we fighting for?”
Every self respecting leader of our age knows that Churchill didn't just fight for the lives of the people in the world, he fought to preserve millennia of art and culture that ultimately led to freedom and democracy.
Let's stand by our art and culture sectors
If we need to print extra money to save art, than that's a no-brainer. Because in the end (or should I say beginning?) money was invented by art. It would only be prudent and fair, to give some of it back to those that made it all happen in the first place.
Love, as always.
And plant trees people. Plant trees.