Sunday 30 September 2012

Tony Benn on art and work

I read the following text today in the latest edition of the Tate magazine. The piece is a discussion between Barbara Steveni and Tony Benn about his role in helping to establish the Artist Placement Group (APG) in the early 1970s. The group sought to position artists in large organisations, in industry, the health service and in government.

In response to a question from Steveni about why Benn was interested in lending his support to the APG he has the following to say:

"I believe that the really interesting things in life are when two disciplines interact. I don't believe in breaking people up into little sections. I think everyone has an artistic, an administrative and a creative talent, just as they have a destructive and bureaucratic capacity. What you did with the APG was to bring out these aspects in everybody. I think society finds it easier and more convenient to maintain the hierarchies so that nobody gets out of their place. It's designed to keep us in our place by using words we don't normally use and making us feel inadequate. I think what you've done is to break down the barriers."

I love several things about these observations, primarily Benn's commitment to the value of the arts in ordinary life and his understanding of the need to facilitate inter-disciplinary conversations. Having seen a fairly impenetrable exhibition in a contemporary art gallery today, the arts are as to blame as any other institution for reinforcing the separation between artists and non artists through technical language (jargon) and modes of production and display.

However, Benn's words also seem to me to be a powerful argument for the importance of artists (and other creative practitioners) playing a role in articulating the tensions, opportunities and energies present in all places of work. There have been several initiatives like the APG, Creative Partnerships being just one example. Imagine how exciting it would be if every workplace had its own artist in residence. It's clearly an idea supported by the current government since Eton College has at least four artists in residence working with the school at any one time.

Isn't it time that all schools (and other places of work) had the same resource at their disposal?

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