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Experiment 13

Not With A Bang

page 38

Not With A Bang

There has been a lot of talk about "culture" recently. First the National Development Conference's Social and Cultural Committee; now the National Arts Federation (NZ). The general idea seems to be to bring "culture" to the public at large so that "people can be made aware of the greater possibilities for living latent within them." (NDC Social and Cultural Committee Para 55) — an ideal which seems to me entirely laudable, though rather loosely defined by those who have been doing most of the talking. The NDC had some sensible things to say about the general nature of "culture" (especially paras 42-55) provided the wheat can be sorted: a greater pity, then, that such thoughts are so sadly belated — they must have been abundantly apparent to many for a long time. Furthermore I am sure that such ideals are behind the NAF's thinking although so far no one has been able to confirm or deny this. But I wonder whether either the NDC or the NAF realises the full implications of its position, at least insofar as it can be deduced from the present state of creative "art": further, if either of them does so, whether it seriously intends to proceed from the limb on which it may appear to have placed itself, to the even further-out regions of the "cultural" world.

From this point it seems pertinent to enquire of both NDC and NAF just how many creative artists have figured in their deliberations. By "creative" artists I mean men and women who are daily actively involved in the realisation (not the reproduction or performance, nor the administration) of new works of art. How many of these people a, are on the NDC Committee, b, made submissions to that body, c, were invited to the NAF's foundation meeting, d, are on the NAF's steering committee? I am open to correction, but I think a tiny minority only.

Yet para 46 of the NDC's committee report says "Once the community has demonstrated what it wants ..." — as if the community can know what it wants when it doesn't know what is going: the present "cultural" system has relentlessly seen to that.

My conviction of the truth of this last point is thus borne out by the fact that so little account has been taken of the creative artist in the present machinations. Yet surely these people are those most able to pass on ideas which are currently shaping their crafts? Or perhaps the talkers aren't especially interested in these ideas? Their activities to date seem to confirm this.

I really wonder if the NDC and the NAF actually have anything approaching a philosophy or ideal of art, and moreover of its community function, if there in fact be such a thing.

The greatest fear must be that it is the ambition of those presently interested in promoting the arts merely to graft present "cultural" activity onto a larger section of the community on the assumption that the status quo (albeit a little enlarged) is the magical answer to today's sagging public interest. In light of the current failure to involve, the status quo is however, manifestly not what very many people want otherwise they would be heading for halls and galleries in large numbers. There is much justification for saying that despite its protestations to the contrary, the NDC's incipient "status quo-ism" is expressed in, say, para 49, in the reference to "... the number of exhibitions performances, and works of art ..."

Again, the statement of NAF's progenitor Mr Arthur Hilton earlier this year to the NZ Federation of Chamber Music Societies to the effect that "you and I certainly don't want our tastes altered" seems to confirm my greatest apprehensions that at least some arts spokesmen have a fixed and unalterable notion of art ("taste") which is also depressingly narrow in scope. Mr Hilton's scheme for "under twenty five's" page 39concerts sounds simply like a souped up version of what happens at his over twenty five's concerts (though hopefully without the fur-coast and snoring — still, one never knows).

If the plan then, for more of the same (with, in deference to the NDC a bit more "local content") but now government-blessed in small (non returnable) bottles — some may prefer the tubes — labelled "Culture" and available at all good stores? A better plan would be to stop flogging the dead (or at least dying) horse and get on with the business of placing before people the cultural experience which might make them "aware of the greater possibilities for living latent within them."

The time is not yet here when I can believe that even a few official representatives of the "arts" have a general grasp of the notion that "culture" is not a thing that can be imposed, or given out on a plate or in literal or figurative bottles to a society or to the man in the street; "culture" for the average person is something which happens to him when circumstances are in favourable phase. His "Culture" is not measured by the number of times he goes to the Town Hall or the gallery, or the theatre, but rather he senses it in terms of a state of awareness of many things' his understanding of himself, of his fellows, and of his place (not his "role") in humanity (not just in society) and in his sensary appreciation of his physical surroundings, visible, aural, and tactile. Until enough people can make enough noise to bring this to the notice of the pundits, their efforts to fertilise us should be strenuously resisted. They will not be pleased: if they chance to listen, NDC (S and C) and NAF will have become redundant.

Gordon Burt