Richard Eyre: utilitarian arguments diminish value of art

Posted on: February 17, 2011

Tuesday (2/15) at the Guardian online (London), Richard Eyre, former artistic director of Great Britain’s National Theatre, responds to proposed arts funding cuts in England. “Governments have always been wary of the arts because they’re wayward and ambiguous and because they deal with feelings rather than facts. … Can’t government for once be persuaded of the virtue of subsidising weapons of happiness rather than weapons of destruction? We’re assiduous in presenting arguments that it should: we say that the cultural industries are of enormous and growing value to the British economy; that a healthy cultural realm is a powerful reason for Britain’s magnetism as a tourist destination; that British cultural excellence is a valuable element of British identity abroad. And, like a 19th century curate’s wife distributing pamphlets to the deserving poor, we argue for the social usefulness of art: we say, for instance, that music makes schoolchildren better at maths or that drama makes our society more tolerant. These things may be true—I hope they are—but this utilitarianism takes away from art the very thing that makes it alluring: its mystery and its joy, its irresponsibility, if you like. Any utilitarian argument for art will succeed only in diminishing the thing it’s arguing for.”

Posted February 17, 2011