After talking about the function of an artist, a friend sent me a link to a document published by the Arts Council England. She wanted to draw my attention to the following quote taken from the document, “When the arts achieve excellence they offer something to each individual that is hard to describe. This might be a challenge, conflict, insight, understanding, amusement, an intellectual or an emotional connection. It’s unique for each person.” This is a great quote and most notable for its inclusion in the document published to explain the purpose of the Arts Council. It got me thinking about what the equivalent document for the National Endowment for the Arts would say, so I took a look.
I found a published piece from 2007, relatively the same period as the Arts Council document. The tone of the NEA’s document is different. Its focus is on describing the means by which arts are funded in the United States whereas the focus of the Arts Council’s document is on describing the role of art in society. These differing emphases are best conveyed through the specific words used in the documents.
I searched for specific words and recorded their number of appearances in each document in a chart. I searched for words I felt were most indicative of a particular focus in the writing. What I found to be most interesting was the number of times courage (10 times in UK document, 0 times in US document), confidence (5 times in UK document, 0 times in US document), revenue (0 times in UK document, 13 times in US document), independent (2 times in UK document, 10 times in US document) and engage (10 times in UK document, 1 time in US document) appeared. I think these differences reflect a difference in a societal attitude towards art and artists in both countries. I have felt a difference since arriving here. I am still working on understanding it and trying very hard to truly hear it. I think our words are chosen (especially in our writing) very specifically to express what we think is true. The way the arts are written about here is different than the way they are written about in the US. I believe this difference is internalized in artists and influences our paths.
My favorite quote from the Arts Council document is this: “the heart of what Arts Council England is for…… [is]: ‘to give courage, confidence and opportunity’ to artists and their audiences.” I love the idea of an arts agency seeing as their mission to give courage, confidence and opportunity to artists and their audiences. With this as a societal goal, the attitude of the artist to her work has to be more healthy. An emphasis on finding funding is competitive whereas an emphasis on confidence and courage is collaborative. Although in reality there is competition for funding here (made even worse by the current cuts to funding), the stated purpose of the arts council is to benefit the growth of the artist. There is value in “just” being an artist and this value is expressed by the government. That value has to be felt by the artist.