Why must the arts be left-wing?

George Kent calls for traditionalists and true conservatives to reclaim the art galleries and concert-halls of this country.  



When our Eton and Oxford educated Prime Minister appeared on BBC Radio 4’s famous Desert Island Discs programme, his choice of music betrayed a great deal about the state of mind of many politicians – and of Conservative politicians in particular. In his choice of a song by the 1970s’ comedian, Benny Hill, along with various rock melodies, it was clear that Cameron’s gold-plated education did not include very much classical music, or art appreciation. When Dave later appeared on an American talk show, and was asked such questions as “who composed Rule, Britannia?”, and “what do the words Magna Carta mean?” – the great man of Number 10 was stumped. Now, of course, just to single out one man, and to make a statement that all Conservatives are philistines is rather wide of the mark. But Cameron’s indifference to the arts, and the general impression of a Conservative Party that has little understanding of any culture, let alone British, is hard to escape.

On the Labour side, the situation seems more hopeful. Paul Boateng, for example, once associated with a strident egalitarianism and something of a grudge-based approach to certain political issues (such as race and immigration) is an active supporter of English National Opera. Neil and Glenys Kinnock have been seen at the Proms, and David Blunkett attended the Last Night – commenting later on how much he enjoyed the experience. In 1998, when the BBC Symphony Orchestra gave the world premiere of the completed sketches of Elgar’s “lost” Third Symphony (a major musical event for this country), Jack Straw was in the audience – clearly concentrating, and moved. I should know: I was sitting just a few feet away from him. Again, I am being unfair, as it has to be said that Douglas Hurd, John Gummer and Sir John Stanley have all been seen at the annual Aldeburgh Festival, founded in 1948 by the great British composer, Benjamin Britten. One cannot generalise too much!

So – what is my argument? It is this: the arts are generally seen by some in our political class as, vaguely, worthwhile and something to attend, but an activity that is – perhaps – not as important as the conduct of the NHS, or league tables in schools. Most Conservatives, I would suspect, feel that the art and music should “pay for itself” – that it should have some sort of market relevance. No! – screams the world of arts administrators and practitioners: this debases our culture… a true statement, were it not from a group of people who associate the name of J.M.W. Turner with galleries devoted to pickled cows, unmade beds and piles of bricks. (Even the Victoria and Albert Museum has, above its entrance, a piece of modern “art” made up of upside-down traffic cones.)

The politicians’ overall lack of artistic concern, and the Tories’ combination of free-market obsession and philistinism, have allowed the running of Britain’s arts to fall into the hands of (what might generally be termed) the professional, concerned, Toynbee-ish liberal-left. It is a pattern that has occurred everywhere else – affecting the school curriculum and higher education and the content of public libraries, and the way teachers are trained, or senior policemen appointed. Newspapers such as The Guardian and Independent – both left-wing – regularly devote (unlike the Telegraph) much time and space to the coverage of books, opera, classical music; offering opinions – not just about how good the London Symphony Orchestra sounded last night at the Barbican, but on the presentation of music, and how it relates to “society”. Great discussions are then held within the arts world on “exclusivity” and “outreach”; and radical figures – such as the modernist composer, the late Steve Martland – provide a deconstructionist discourse on why white-tie-and-tails “puts audiences off”, and why there need to be more ethnic minorities in the “centres of excellence”. Gradually, arts organisations begin to question their own right to existence – with some musicians feeling that they have to adopt informal dress, or take part in concerts with rap artists! (One late-night evening at the Proms, this year, was devoted to such an experiment.)

Fortunately, the BBC Symphony Orchestra defied the grunge-egalitarians, by performing at the Last Night of the Proms this year in white tie, although the feminist lobby loudly proclaimed the presence on the podium of the Last Night’s first woman conductor, the excellent Marin Alsop (conductor of the Baltimore Symphony in America). Once again, the left-leaning media discussed and dissected why it has taken so long for women conductors to be recognised – conveniently ignoring the fact that female baton-wielders have long been a feature of the Proms. For example, the lady-conductor, Cuban-born Odaline de la Martinez directed the Proms performance in 1994 of The Wreckers – an opera by the British composer (and suffragette!) Dame Ethel Smyth; Susanna Mallki (a Finnish musician) has also appeared at The Royal Albert Hall, as has the Chinese female conductor, Xian Zhang; and our own, very versatile Jane Glover (exponent of Handel, Mozart – and Gilbert and Sullivan!)

Arts coverage, arts criticism, arts administration – all tend to be in the hands of the “great and the good”. But now is the time to question this liberal hegemony. The arts are as much of the Right as they are of the Left – as much a forum for a traditionalist landscape painter such as Brian Yale, as they are for a Tracey Emin and her unmade bed. Modernist experimentation is a healthy thing, but as Professor Roger Scruton has pointed out, the old and tried-and-tested must exist – for how else can we judge what is original or daring? And why should it be, for example, that in this, the centenary year of Benjamin Britten’s birth, practically every biographer of the composer is (broadly) “of the left”? Britten, it is true, was a pacifist – but the composer of the coronation opera Gloriana, and a man who expressed a profound affinity with his home-soil of Suffolk and the folk-song of Saxon-Anglican-rooted England – could one not make out a case for him, in some senses, as a composer “of the Right”? Why must everything be interpreted their way – the Left’s way?

It is time to turn our attention to the composers, poets, artists, writers, folk and popular musicians of this country; to reclaim our arts, and to challenge and decrease the depressing influence which The Guardian-Radio 4-Independent axis now exerts over our hearts and minds.


7 thoughts on “Why must the arts be left-wing?

  1. (Party Member) I went to the Victoria and Albert Museum aged about twelve and although I found it very stuffy I appreciated that it portrayed wonderful achievements by fantastic people, the British! The news that the entrance has been spoilt with “modern art” by Lefty with upside down traffic cones, probably on a Government grant, fills me with dismay !

  2. I know the answers to both the questions that stumped Cameron. But then, I went to a grammar school where I was taught the basics of both Latin and Greek from the age of 11 before concentrating later on my chosen subjects.

    The education our youth gets at even (allegedly) the best schools these days really is sadly deficient

  3. From the Winged Victory of Samothrace through the Sistine Chapel to Tracy Emin’s bed and pickled sharks.

    If that isn’t a steep decline, what is?

    Oh, I was forgetting. An unmade bed is a Work of Art ‘because Emin says it is’.

    There has got to be a flaw in that argument somewhere…..

  4. The problem with ‘unmade beds’ and the presentation of brick walls as art, is that it is all a bit like the Emperor’s New Clothes. People are made to feel stupid if they don’t appear to appreciate and admire. This is as much a mind game being practised on people as all other PC nonsense. If people had derided and scoffed at Tracey Emin, she would never have dared to show her face again. However no one wants to seem dull or unintelligent, so they pretend that they understand the point, even if there isn’t one.
    Art schools used to teach drawing and technique in painting. At Goldsmith’s College of Art there are courses on painting with paintball guns, bicycling over canvases, throwing paint at walls, etc. One person presented her degree demonstration by going to Spain, taking a plant from the person she stayed with, and smuggling it back into UK without being detected. What that had to do with art I have no idea. These were all degree courses taken by post-graduate ‘students’. Some were in their forties. I don’t know if they were being subsidised by the taxpayer or not, but it all seemed to me like a form of abuse of something or other – the public’s intelligence/good-will?
    Until the people who promote this kind of nonsense are removed from their positions then the official promotion of ‘Art’ will carry on going down in a sewer direction.
    There is hope, however, as far as the visual arts are concerned. The ‘Not The Turner Prize’ is more popular every year, and the Mall Galleries put on some excellent shows, among them the Royal Water-colour Society. The Royal Institute of painting, plus all the specialist painters, marine, animals, etc too. The Royal Academy also puts on some really first-rate shows. These are all very popular. So, as far as the visual arts are concerned, there is a fight-back. It’s just a pity that tax-payers’ money is wasted on the conmen and women of the ‘modern art trend’.

  5. Tracy Emin’s junk art is financed and promoted in the MSM largely by such as the Saatchis and their wealthy ‘charities’.

    Of course plenty of our own arty fools rave about this junk, primarily as it helps their careers and social life.

  6. I mentioned the evil being spread through contemporary art. The book above mentions the dog starved to death in a Chilean art gallery. This evil art must be combated.

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