Cultural commentary in an age of extremes

I have, this week, written a review of a comic book by a Glasgow writer/artist duo (whether it sees the light of day will depend on my editor!).  I found myself, while writing it, questioning whether writing about such things seemed trivial given what is happening all around us.  Trump, Brexit, and constitutional uncertainty – not to mention the terrorist incident at Westminster yesterday.  Am I in danger of fiddling while Rome burns or, worse, standing to one side and giving Nero marks out of ten for composition and delivery?

While pondering this, I came across this article in New Republic defending cultural criticism in Trump’s America.  It’s subtitle says it all – that art needs a space separate from the state and, I would add, separate from politics.  If all art is political then what kind of society have we become?

Art, at it’s best, is about storytelling.  It is a way for the artist to communicate with the audience in a profoundly emotional way (when I was an undergrad, I wrote an essay about aesthetics where I described art which only made sense, unexplained, to the artist as “intellectual onanism” – it did quite well.  Not many people can get decent marks for an essay while calling artists wankers!).  

Storytelling is itself a means of bringing people together.  I recently finished reading Connected by James Fowler and Nicholas Christakis.  One of the interesting points from this is the idea that language evolved in humans as a counterpoint to the grooming that apes within a group to promote cohesion.  In short, when we tell each other stories we build and strengthen community.

At a time when political forces are trying to tear us apart and economic forces are trying to atomise human society, surely we should celebrate the things that bring us together?  By this I am not talking about the “high culture” of the New Republic article, although that certainly has its place, but culture in general from opera through to game of thrones, from comic books to Shakespeare.

So, if it is all the same to you, I will continue to go to art exhibitions, read books, listen to music, and, yes, write about them without demanding that they, or I, address the extreme times we live in.  Of course, if they do, I am happy to engage with that also……….

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