Home > Australian, Design, Ideas > Getting serious about culture

Getting serious about culture

Today the Sydney morning Herald published an article to warm the cockles of our creative little hearts. For all the PMs talk about ‘enlightenment’ in his address to the National Press club on 25 January, he continues to urge ‘Australians’ to tread lightly along the middle of the road under the guise of ‘balance’.

The economist David Throsby rightly concludes;

“It may reasonably be surmised that [the Prime Minister, John Howard] neither knows of, nor cares about, contemporary art in any of its manifestations,”

I can’t get over how many times the word ‘enlightenment’ is bandied about by both Howard and Throsby. Do I detect a battle in the efforts to redefine yet another politically expedient word in the English language? To be enlightened is to have authority and reason and perhaps balance. Historically speaking however, the enlightenment refers to not only the Renaissance (don’t forget this was also a time when witch hunts flourished, so much for reason), but also the 18th century and antiquity. The enlightenment of the 18th Century was a time when

..certain thinkers and writers, primarily in London and Paris, believed that they were more enlightened than their compatriots and set out to enlighten them.

Without entering into an irrelevant discussion about the bourgeoisie, the aristocracy and the need for democracy (we supposedly already live in a democratic society), I would like to point out that we are currently in the midst of a cultural war and Throsby is correct in questioning how a cultural outlook can exist when we have a leader with such a

‘back-ward looking cultural vision’.

Is this the direction we are being taken by our PM under the enticing double speak trademark of ‘enlightenment’?

What is cultural policy anyway? The assumption made by the PM is that we are so highly evolved anyway we don’t need to make such statements, policies etc. Just look at his position on a Bill of rights and multiculturalism. Throsby helps clarify cultural policy for us.

It is not a single piece of legislation, he says, but a collection of ideas, a backbone for developing the culture we would like to see. The closest we’ve come was in 1994, when the Keating government released its Creative Nation statement, which promoted a role for the federal government in areas such as nurturing creativity, making arts and culture accessible, preserving heritage and promoting creative industries.

But that’s not all.

A real cultural policy, he suggests, should also cover refugee policies and indigenous issues.

“I would see the arts as being central, but if you think of culture as being the things that bind us together – the values that we share, the traditions we’ve inherited, the whole sense of our own identity – then you really need to look at everything that government does. If we treat refugees or indigenous people in certain ways, we need to be sure that what that says about us as a people is what we want it to say.

“A cultural policy would give the Government some clear ideas on how to build our culture. In other words, give the arts a chance to flourish,”

That my friends is real enlightenment, real Renaissance. It would give true direction and freedom without self-censorship. An expession that is nurtured and embraced no matter the message, no matter the medium, to open new possibilities and new directions in societal evolution.

Also crossposted at Larvatus Prodeo.

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Categories: Australian, Design, Ideas
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