Thursday, 27 January 2011

Progress and the arts

A few years ago I attended a talk by Professor Anthony O'Hear. He dealt with the subject of Progress, concerning which he appeared to take a conservative view. He tried to undermine the concept by asking, "Has there been 'progress' in the arts?"

It was only afterwards that I realised that the riposte should have been that there has certainly been progress in the access to the arts. Everyone in a country like Britain has more opportunity for reading good books, looking at good art or architecture, or listening to good music, than at any previous stage in our history. My local Oxfam shop could supply the basis for an excellent book or music collection at very little cost, quite apart from what is available in local libraries or over the radio. In fact, the only reason for not having access to the fine arts nowadays must be sheer lack of interest.

If this easy availablity is not 'progress', I don't know what is!


  1. There's been indeed technological progress (one of few upsides of modern technology), but easy access to art is pointless when most people have lost the ability to perceive and appreciate it.
    On the other hand, access to quality art is rather limited -- not everyone can afford to buy really good recordings, audio system or tickets to top-notch symphony orchestra concerts, for example.

    As for Art, it's long since been dead, we are living off the past.

  2. Can you justify the comment that "most people have lost the ability... (etc)"? This implies that most people did once have this ability. What is the evidence that the number of people able to perceive and appreciate fine art has actually declined? Furthermore, I would think that even a mediocre recording of (let us say) Mozart is infinitely better than none at all!

  3. I don't know the context of the professor's remarks, but you're talking about the art of the past and its consumption (aka 'culture'). Has there been any 'progress' in the production of art? Is the art produced today an advance on art produced 50, 100, 200 years ago.

    If your 'conservative' professor addressed this question, I dare say that he would have said that there has been no progress in the visual arts since the impressionists. He may even look askance at T.S. Eliot!

  4. Actually, there's been regress in the production of art. What we call art today are just low quality commercial products.
    "The evidence that the number of people able to perceive and appreciate fine art has actually declined" is the kind of trash that most people (especially the young) listen to, watch or read.

    On one hand, even a mediocre recording (nowadays mediocrity is rife in every field) is better than nothing, on the other hand, it's self defeating since it usually puts true music-lovers off (at least, it does in my case), but doesn't win many new fans either.

    Don't you see the world around you?