Brian Eno: ‘Children learn through play, but adults play through art’, BBC John Peel lecture – 2015 — Speakola

27 September 2015, Briitsh Library, Radio Festival, London, United KingdomWhen I started thinking about this talk a few weeks ago, I found myself writing the strange sentence, something about ‘the creative industries’. And I thought, ‘industries’? That’s not really quite the right word for what I think I’m doing. And I started wondering about the genesis of that term. I can sort of understand why it’s used because, you know, people who work in the creative arts are always desperate to try to get a little bit of money from government, and apparently the way of convincing them that they should give you some money is to tell them that you’re an industry. If you’re an industry, that means you’re part of the economic framework and that everything you do can ultimately be expressed as a single number. Like your contribution to GNP or the number of jobs that you provide or things like that – the number of Number Ones you’ve had. I thought this is the sort of the beginning of the end of the arts, really: if we start to try to make things expressible by single numbers in that way, what we also do, by the same token, is we start to think that things that can’t be evaluated in that way are actually not worth anything. Now I saw a sort of example of this, I thought, a few weeks ago when the Education Secretary said she thought that it was a good idea for students not to go into the arts and humanities because they didn’t offer such good job prospects as the STEM subjects. Now, this word ‘STEM’ is quite interesting. It stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics – all things that I’m very sympathetic to and interested in. But there’s an idea around that those are actually the important things.Even the acronym gives it away, you know, the idea of stem, the thing that’s at the centre which everything else grows off from. So the idea is that those things are important, they’re part of the sort of economic mill and they’re part of what makes Britain great and increases our GNP and what have you. And the arts, on the other hand, are sort of nice. You know, they’re a bit of a luxury, actually – something you might do when you’re relaxing after you come home from a hard day’s work at a proper job.So I thought that attitude was part of what this comes from, this new idea of the arts as a kind of economic entity. And the other idea, I think, that’s underneath that, what Nicky Morgan said – though by the way I shouldn’t crucify her about this, it was an off-the-cuff comment and maybe she doesn’t really think what I say – but she did say it. The other sort of message there is that, anyway, even if you did think the arts were important, they’re so sort of untamed and random and individualistic that there’s really nothing you could do about improving and encouraging the arts. It’s not the affair of the state, essentially, was the message I got. The arts is just something that sort of unfettered individuals go into, and brilliance spouts out of their head like oil out of an oil well or something like that.So I want to talk about two questions tonight. The first one is, is art a luxury? Is it only a luxury or does it do something for us beyond that? And the second question is, is there a way that you can create a situation in which the arts flourish. If you think they’re important, perhaps you should be encouraging them in some way. So those are the two things I’m going to address: now to address those I have to come round it in quite a long way around. Essentially I think we need to rethink how we talk about culture: rethink what we think it does for us and what it actually is. We have a complete confusion about that. It’s very interesting. If you talk to 20 scientists – and this is the experiment I’ve done by the way – and say to them, ‘what do you think science does?’, they pretty much all agree. You’ll get 20 versions of a very similar answer. It’s to do with understanding something about the world. If you talk to 20 artists and you say to them, ‘what do you think art does?’ you will probably get about fifteen different answers. And there’ll be a couple of repeats. So here we all are engaged in the creative industries, but at the centre of this is a subject that none of us really have a very clear idea about. What are we doing when we make art, and what are we doing when we consume it? So I’m going to start with a definition of culture. This is treading on very thin ice because a lot of people have attempted this and a lot have failed. So I’m going to make a quite narrow definition of culture. And I’m going to call culture the creative arts. But I’m going to make a very broad definition of what art is. And my definition is quite simply art is everything that you don’t have to do.Now what I mean by that is that, there are certain things you do have to do to stay alive. You have to eat, for example. But you don’t have to invent Baked Alaskas or sausage rolls or Heston Blumenthal. So you have this basic activity that we

Source: Brian Eno: ‘Children learn through play, but adults play through art’, BBC John Peel lecture – 2015 — Speakola

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