What are the arts for?

Wednesday 8 October, 19.00 until 20.30, Institute for Art Theory and Media Studies, ELTE, Muzeum krt. 6-8., Budapest, Ground floor No. 40 International Satellite Events 2014

Tickets: Free and unticketed. For more information email battle@instituteofideas.com

Art is useless… It is not meant to instruct, or to influence action in any way. A work of art is useless as a flower is useless. A flower blossoms for its own joy. We gain a moment of joy by looking at it. That is all that is to be said about our relations to flowers. Oscar Wilde

The idea that art should be valued for its essence or beauty has fallen out of favour. Particularly with a backdrop of European austerity, the pressure is on for artists and institutions to justify their value – and funding – in non-artistic terms. Governments demand the arts deliver real-world outcomes - whether boosting public health, social cohesion, urban, or indeed moral, regeneration. Culture is charged with turning people into better citizens or contributing to economic growth. Arts festivals across Europe have signed up to the 2008 Declaration on Intercultural Dialogue, agreeing to increase mutual understanding between cultures and nations, and to cohere a common sense of identity within them. Former British culture minister Margaret Hodge saw the role or the arts as ‘nurturing our sense of Britishness, finding common identity and creating a common sense of belonging’. Hungary’s cultural policy is also designed to strengthen a sense of national identity.

But does this mean art itself is secondary to political outcomes? At the Edinburgh Fringe, an Israeli theatre group was forced off the stage, with events in Gaza deemed to trumping their artistic freedom. In Budapest, it is alleged liberal theatre directors have been driven from their posts for using productions to preach anti-government messages. Is this the flipside of valuing art in political terms?

Some espouse ‘cultural diplomacy’ and arts institutions can promote peace and stability, but others question both the efficacy and desirability of such aims. Before the recent conflict in Ukraine led to relations breaking down between Russia and the EU, 2014 was declared the UK-Russia Year of Culture, but the aims of that initiative seem to have been overtaken by events. Even if the arts are successfully used to promote political ideas, whether nationalism or multiculturalism, is it not inevitable that, as in Hungary, suspicions arise about artists and directors being punished for having the ‘wrong’ views? Must politics overshadow art’s value as an expression of truth, beauty and the human spirit?

Barnabás Bencsik
curator and lecturer; founder, Agency for Contemporary Art Exchange

Dr Tiffany Jenkins
writer and broadcaster; author, Keeping Their Marbles: how treasures of the past ended up in museums and why they should stay there

Kata Oltai
curator, art historian and creative producer

András Török
cultural-philanthropy specialist, author and non-profit businessman; former deputy minister for culture

Alan Miller
chairman, Night Time Industries Association (NTIA)

Produced by
Dr Anna Gács associate professor, Institute for Art Theory and Media Studies, ELTE

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