In the early 18th century, Antonio Vivaldi taught violin to female students of the orphanage school, Ospedale della Pietà, so that they may have an occupation in adulthood.
Today, the arts are deemed, so we are told in Australia, an unprofitable “lifestyle choice”.
Before we turn to judgement, I would urge that we take this statement in the appropriate context.
Given that, raw resource extraction, the exploitation of cheap labour in developing nations, increasing car dependency and the hunger for material consumerism and housing, among others, are so profitable nowadays, why should we support the training of free expression?
It’s true that artists throughout history have struggled. Some of the most highly regarded authors, poets and painters only received their honours posthumously, when a future generation was ready to hear their message.
Others never make it for all their efforts.
From a strict financial risk assessment view point, investment in the arts is unfavourable.
Further, with the danger of sounding patronising I must also add that it’s easy to conclude materialism is our primary motivator. Just think of the mindless rush on stores around December and post-Christmas January.
Why invest in the arts when you can reliably receive greater returns in consumer goods and services?
The local art gallery appeals to a loftier crowd (who can be, or at least appear to be, judgemental to outsiders – I know firsthand).
How many venues for live local music close down each year? Of course, such venues only appeal to “youths”, drugs / alcohol and the unmotivated (so the stereotype goes). New apartments on the other hand will bring in students and young families – the industrious types.
A son returns home to tell his parents he was selected for a Bachelor degree in Creative Writing, while the daughter was previously accepted into a Medical degree. How do the parent respond? What do they envision for the relative futures of their children?
We have passively asserted to the “lifestyle choice” claim long before it was said.
I’m not casting blame here, however. We were often taught about the arts as a token gesture within our schools. In truth, it’s a feedback loop.
We are so far removed from Vivaldi.
The Arts can be an excellent low-carbon investment
Consumerism is little more than the wants of entertainment, either directly or one step removed (i.e. labour saving).
What if our culture again held the arts in high regard?
What if, rather than congealing on the couch before the “idiot box”, there was a thriving night scene in the local area?
What if, rather than buying a new computer console for the children, there were interesting / quirky activities nearby or after-school options that combined the arts with play, tailored to a given age group?
Aristotle once said that one learns music not necessarily to become a musician, but rather to acquire an ear able to appreciate good music. One could say the same of any of the arts. Thus, such a hypothetical culture would necessarily treat the arts as fundamental in all education, thereby opening up the door to this new low-carbon market.
Such a culture may also help with expression for those who otherwise suffer in silence with mental health issues. It could also be the antidote to our growing loneliness.
To repeat; we have passively asserted to the “lifestyle choice” claim long before it was said.
We do that through our cultural value preferences.
Do we choose the high-carbon, meritocratic-neo-liberal cocktail that leaves us lonely and uncreative? Or, do we start thinking about other solutions that may be more sustainable, economically, environmentally and mentally?
Antonio Vivaldi himself betted on the favour of a king who, subsequently died soon after. With that preference gone, Vivaldi fell into poverty and died a year later.
I can’t help but find an important life lesson in the life of this musical genius.
Art is not a lifestyle choice, but rather life itself. A life without art isn’t innately human. If it loses preference, we will lose something more valuable than all the smart phones, flat screen TVs – all the mass consumer items combined.
If you doubt me, press play below.