Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 30 August 2014

DebateNI home of Northern Ireland politics

Art is what makes us human, and it's for everyone

Here's the thing – arts are not a luxury, they are a right. It is as important to be able to sing or make music or write or sculpt or paint or dance or act or whatever blows your hair back, as it is to live and breathe – otherwise we just exist at a basic level similar to (forgive me if you're eating your tea) slugs.

Arts can be what you want them to be – yes, a Damien Hirst shark in a tank, or a Banksy on a wall in a street near you, a play by Shakespeare or a One Direction concert. And don't turn your nose up at any of them; they're all somebody's art.

Making art is how we express and identify who we are as human beings – but it is vital we realise we can all be a part of art, that it is not exclusive and that we have to seek it out as well as expect it to come to us. That is the fundamental problem: we need to believe and engage and accept that it makes us better as people and we need to join in.

It's definitely getting better. It used to be that art was thought of as purely the domain of the well-off who had leisure time and could afford to visit the opera or commission paintings and visit galleries. People had to go somewhere to experience art.

Now art is coming to us – but it is a two-way street. We're building better venues, we're having more festivals in more communities – in whole cities. Art is becoming a byword for progress.

In Shakespeare's time it was the ordinary people who popularised his work. At least a third of his audiences paid to stand as 'groundlings' for a penny and were amazed and astounded at the magic of theatre and exotic settings and plots he unfolded. The people made him famous. The people weren't stuck in the house in front of a 72-inch plasma being drip-fed talent shows and online bingo – if they wanted leisure they had to go and seek it out.

Television, the great arbiter of popular taste, is polarising us like never before. At one end of the spectrum are incredible, clever and groundbreaking programmes, while at the other are the crass, vulgar and voyeuristic.

Ironically, because of good and bad TV we are getting it back into our collective heads that we can make our own art. The makers of art have come full circle and are making more and more work that is about us and for us. Yes, some of it is the quick-fix talent show. But it gives us hope – if they can do it, so can we – and we can do it better.

Government is still slow because we the people who vote for them don't encourage them to move faster, but art is around the corner from your house if you really look. It might even be a Banksy...

Dan Gordon is a Northern Irish actor, director and playwright

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