Sewell, Stephen: Friday essay: the arts and our still-born national identity

Sewell, Stephen

Friday essay: the arts and our still-born national identity‘, The Conversation, 18 November 2016

Wide-ranging essay from NIDA academic and commentator. Compares cuts to arts funding with spend on Anzac commemoration. But at the same time government spends heavily on advertising. There is pressure on the arts to fend for itself yet the arts also has a role in reflecting society and its values. Governments today expect the arts just to provide a distraction, bread and circuses.

For when my parents’ generation went to war, it was in the name of freedom and democracy and in the hope that their victory would be a victory over war itself, not merely the prequel to another war; but war in the hands of today’s politicians has become a way of life, something hardly even debated, but undertaken after a phone conversation with a great and powerful friend.

We are not a country anymore, we are a dispatch box receiving orders from overseas. And what does a dispatch box need art for? Or science? Or education? Or anything, really, other than a willingness to serve.

Today, we face ‘the crisis of our own nationalism, indeed the crisis of our national identity’. The nationalism that led to the artistic flowering of the 1970s has gone.

And so, still-born, our nationalism has to make do with pallid myths of self sacrifice and chest-thumping assertions of our sporting prowess. So why would Australia need any art other than the art of self-promotion? And why would any Government want to pay for it?

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