"Murray is the best kind of literary biographer" – The Financial Times.
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Winner of the 2015 Basil Bunting Award for poetry

Tuesday, 30 March 2010

The Luxury of Art

A clutch of letters in The Guardian has appeared on "the battle between arts and science" – a phoney war surely?  Many of us are the victims of a British educational system that created, around the age of 14, a division into arts and sciences that has been intellectually damaging and, of course, it is scandalous for artistic and literary people to be ignorant of science – or of anything else for that matter.  Although the queasy spectacle of watching Ian McEwan writing about brain surgery in Saturday could in itself constitute an argument for writers not attempting to mug up on science, clearly art and science are fundamental aspects of human knowledge and shouldn't be set against each other.

But one of the Guardian letter writers, Iain Morgan, Professor of Molecular Oncology at the University of Glasgow, insists that science is necessary, not to further knowledge, but because "without science and technology our country will lag behind others". Moreover – and this is his killer conclusion – "only by science and technology generating inventions and wealth can we afford the luxury of art".  Why do I find this such a miserable conclusion?

Because art is not "a luxury", a by-product of wealth-creation.  Art simply exists, it is. Art is fundamental, necessary, needs no justification, is the element in which sentient, intelligent human beings move like fish in a stream.  It is not a by-product or an incidental consequence of anything. Given the current state of British universities where money-making is the summum bonum, I suppose it is not surprising that such ideas as that of the Prof. flourish.


Hannah Stoneham said...

interesting post - thank you indeed for sharing your thoughts. I agree - art is a fundamental part of the huiman story - not something that is "afforded". Many other luxuries in a developed economy of course are afforded by science and technology, without which our lives would be unrecognisable. I think that the idea that it is ok for an artist to know nothing of science is daft - as art is surely a mirror to life. Anyway - lovely post - thanks so much for sharing


Stephen Mitchelmore said...

Of course, had it not been for science and technology we'd be without the paintings of Jack Vettriano and have to put up with the cave paintings at Lascaux instead. Praise Be to Scottish common sense!