A Defence of the (Not So Dark) Arts

There is this continual debate over whether arts should be given equal merit as the sciences. Recently in the UK it seems to have arrived at the stage where those in power are questioning whether the arts and “soft subjects” should be scrapped all together within the education system. Lunacy, I hear you yell? I couldn’t agree more. I think that this notion is not just idiotic, but dangerous. My reasoning includes the fact that: there is no fixed definition of an “Arts subject” therefore making it practically impossible for politicians to set an unchanging limit to what is scrapped; the arts are intrinsically linked to culture; and it is not actually beneficial to London’s economy, let alone for the UK as a whole. Those in power should strive to not only keep our country at the top, but our people happy and for that we must look to the 3 main responses to normative ethics – the virtue theory, deontology and consequentialism: what is good, what is right and the consequences of our actions. We admittedly have a lot of room for improvement in our efforts to achieve this prosperous state, but I don’t think these recent propositions seek any attempt to fill that room, nor would they deliver in doing so. The idea is a fad diet they follow because their friends mum’s cousin tried it once and it really helped them lose that extra 5 pounds.

Firstly I think we have to pose the question: what actually is a science or an art? Where is the line and is there a line? I don’t think there is. Furthermore I think that seeing things in black and white to this degree rarely leads to a particularly satisfactory, let alone comprehensive answer. More importantly I think that putting any sort of cap on what subjects are available to study leaves the poll greasy and ready to be slipped down faster than anyone would think now. To me, all this arts vs science (or sometimes termed “vocational”) chat is a slap-dash, confused way of our Cady-esque politicians expressing their concern over keeping up with the Regina Georges of the financial world, like China.

I think subjects are split more into disciplines – for example a physicist and medic are both considered scientists, but during their degree a physicist wouldn’t have a module which tests their people skills. Even within a degree– let’s use medicine again: some may specialise in brain surgery and some may train to be a GP. If the real issue is that a subject is too “soft” or too “arty” – are they planning on eliminating said elements that naturally creep into their blessed science degrees? A doctor has to be able to handle the person, not just their cells.

N.B. For the sake of ease I will from now on refer to these subjects that are apparently the spawn of Satan, as “the arts” as that is the term many journalists and MPs have been using during the debate.

I shouldn’t have to say it, but I will – on the most basic level of democracy this idea of shunning “the arts” is wrong. Delving into the theoretical world the state choosing which subjects we can study would break the Social Contract and the power balance between state and people would be shifted disproportionately. It certainly defies aspects of Freedom of Expression. Also Locke terms our rights in terms of property, which he defines as “life, liberty, and estate”. Locke says that in life “the highest perfection of intellectual nature lies in a careful and constant pursuit of true and solid happiness”, thus individual happiness is a human right. Furthermore this is theoretical backing for the idea that happiness is intrinsic to success. Seeing as most of our politicians did PPE they really should know this stuff.

Wait a minute, that’s right the majority of our leaders did do PPE… how very hypocritical of them.

We also have to look at the consequences. Just to start with, it leaves plenty of room for censorship if they can control what we learn from the beginning of our subject specific education. Additionally it would lead to a loss of culture, further sterilising the environment in which we live. We are historically a nation of inventors, storytellers, and war fighters. We have a rich and long history and with this history has come traditions and mannerisms that are knitted into our very being – from drinking tea dating back to our time in India to many of our idioms coming from Tyndale’s first translation of the Bible into English, to wearing a white wedding dress thanks to Queen Victoria etc. These elements of our culture would not be possible in such refined form if study of “the arts” were to be scrapped. Who would have made Kate Middleton’s exquisite dress that was talked about for months (not to mention Pippa’s…)? Creating artistic icons like these is vital. Looking outwardly as a small island we need these as a platform for our scientific merit. Introspectively we need them to ensure a sense of belonging. At a time when so many Brits are so worried that we as a nation are losing any sort of identity, it seems bizarre that we would be in favour of loosening our grip on it further. That in mind I was shocked when I saw Farage has said he would scrap tuition fees for the sciences, but not the arts seeing as he is so concerned with that it is to be British…obviously his focus is skin deep…but let’s not waste words on him.

If you ask a tourist what they think makes a person British, it’s either centuries out of date, rather unpalatable or a bit non-distinct. We have the potential to evolve our culture, as the several different cults of inhabitants on this wee little island have always done. However we don’t and I think our refusal to embrace and express our multitude of characters that make up this nation proudly is a sad effect of viewing success in terms of global financial power.

Focusing in on this idea that politicians are thinking of treating GDP as the great JC of all policy – after all a booming economy get them votes – maybe they should take a second look at their POA. Firstly “the arts” provide the government with a great financial turnout, contrary to popular idea of arty farty faffing about. In 2013 0.1% of state funds went into “the arts” and yet 0.4% of our GDP was as a product of “the arts”. Not so useless now are they? In terms of the City I don’t agree that a more rigorous, scientific approach to education will lead to London’s greater global success. If all accountants did accounting at university, for example, there would be a very narrow array of perceptions. There would be little originality of thought and ultimately innovation and creative thought (granted, alongside precision and intellect) is what brings about progress. Some countries focus solely or mainly on science and technology, Britain does not need to be added to the list. Returning to culture briefly – some cultures are based around the rigid nature of science, like Eindhoven (being the home of Phillips) and some have a stain of communism, but Britain has never been touched by 5 Year Plans and our artists have brought us as much notoriety as our scientists – the Beatles arguably did as much for our country as Isaac Newton. I can see that professional politicians may find this a tricky concept, as they were themselves trained for the job, rather than training their minds and then learning on the job.

Besides, people are being pushed enough at school to do well in core subjects, we no longer have time to breathe or grow into ourselves, and more people are experiencing mental health problems as a result of stress. It’s not good enough to tell them they can take up artistic disciplines as “extra curriculum activities”, they won’t have the time to fit it into their day, let alone the energy to enjoy it. The Dalai Lama was quoted to say “The world doesn’t need more ‘successful people.’ The world desperately needs more peacemakers, healers, restorers, storytellers and lovers of all kinds.” This is where the biggest danger lies. Not in the effect it would have on our economy, not even on our culture. If you take away a key element of a well-rounded being from a whole generation you breed ignorance and intolerance. The average Brit accepts so much these days and yet those at the top we are willing to suppress so many. It doesn’t match up.

And it doesn’t fit in with Aristotle’s virtue ethics, which states that to be virtuous you must be act between two opposing vices. Science needs “the arts” in reality, just like the arts needs science. “The arts” has scientific elements like the golden ratio and science must have morality and creative thought. Ethics must be considered in the progression of technology to stop us wiping out our own species, let alone to max out our fulfillment of life.

Finally (you’ll probably be glad to hear) I just bloody love the arts. I love history, politics, literature, debating, going to watch plays… all of it. And I have a lot to thank it for. For example if I hadn’t been forced to do drama at school there is no way I would be able to meet new people confidently now. I’m so opinionated that if I had never been taught to make a balanced argument, through essay writing and critical thinking then Lord help us all, I can’t bare the think of the things I would say to get my point across. I’m lucky because my brain can hack both– I did 2 science AS levels. What about those who simply do not have the mind for science? It would be bad enough to turn them down university style further education, but to turn away their potential at school would be absurd.

Ultimately maybe the intentions behind supressing the arts should be looked at, and if it’s for the success of our country maybe we should rethink what success really is. I agree, there are major issues with our education system and some are choosing less vigorous options out of laziness. Suggestion? Create a more (dare I say it) Scottish or even American system at university where we have to do more than one subject at first.

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A Defence of the (Not So Dark) Arts

A Poetic Response To Absolute Incomprehension

Sometimes, when nothing makes sense aurally, I turn to writing to gain some coherence. Poetry is so personal and has such scope for emoting through form, rather than with words alone. Therefore it seems to me to be the most effective way to express what I’m thinking at a time when my brain aches with confusion and as words (ironically) fight for an order.

Epilepsy makes things difficult to comprehend on 2 levels as it strikes so arbitrarily. So here are two I wrote, one for each level of incomprehension. They do not conform to any specific form and are “no great pieces of art”, but to their credit they do vaguely follow a rhyme scheme…

Level 1: invisible conditions are hard to comprehend in general

Believe Me, I Can’t

Why do I have them, did I hear you ask?

The answer to that question is my constant task…

If I describe my symptoms, I’ll hear you say:

“Is this girl for real? No way, José”

The ambiguity and lack of logic of this thing

Makes it hard to know where to begin

What feelings are relevant and what are not?

Your guess is as good as mine, have a shot.

Are you dizzy? are you ataxic? No you’re fine.

To that I say: mark my words. Give it time.

I may be as Perky as they come today,

But soon enough you’ll see I’m not always this Okay…

And sure enough, eventually – you’ll see

One day I won’t stride in so confidently.

I’ll look tired, my eye will have this glaze

That show I’m seeing life through an incoherent haze

Don’t ignore it, I’m putting on a front.

If I could make sense I’d probably be blunt:

“I wish I could understand your words, or remember his

But I can’t. I feel like sh*t. That’s just how it is.” 

Level 2: ataxia and it’s consequent side-effects leaves me in a general state of confusion. I cannot process what others say, let alone respond coherently.

An Episode:

I feel drugged, or embarrassingly drunk.

I’ve lost my sense of humour & all my spunk.

To retain any energy is not worth the fight,

So of the hopes and aims of the day I have to lose sight.

It is not without will, it is not without trying,

It’s just my mind and body keep not complying

My body goes heavy, my mind as light as air

And with no one in this room these visions do I share.

Panic sets in, here it all goes once more.

These paradoxical feelings again to the fore.

Did I go down or have I survived?

I could not bare having to be revived!

I better leave now before a grand mal hits,

No one gets used to seeing tonic clonic fits…

But nothing or no one in this state makes sense,

So any control I leave to others, hence. 

A Poetic Response To Absolute Incomprehension