Nick Ahad: Raging against the lies we have been told about the arts

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FRIENDS, we’ve been lied to!

At school, we were told that poetry was hard work, that it was something we had to ‘learn’ and fight to understand.

Lies.

As adults, we are told that, in order to appreciate ‘the arts’ we need some kind of special understanding, a key to unlock the door to a secret club. The arts were not for the proletariat, but the special chosen few.

Lies.

In recent years, we’ve been told that culture is an added extra we can ill afford, that the only way to get our fix of life-enhancing art is to pay for it – and if we can’t afford it, well, schools and hospitals are more important and must be funded first – even if it is at the expense of funding the arts. All lies. I’m here to reveal to you a truth that might just change your life.

Poetry is not ‘hard work’, we don’t need a special key to appreciate the arts, and far from not being able to afford the arts – we can’t afford to not have the arts in our lives.

Yesterday was National Poetry Day and, although probably dreamt up by some marketing bod with a ‘haircut’ and children named Quinoa, it is a useful day to reflect on a great artform.

Now, like Timms in The History Boys, I don’t pretend to understand a lot of poetry. I find it sometimes quite dense, thanks to uninspiring teachers who introduced me to it as a form of writing when I was a teenager. At least, that’s how I used to feel.

I realised that I might have been lied to about poetry, when I realised I had been lied to about the arts while talking to actor Sam West earlier this week. I first got to know Sam, the son of Timothy West and Prunella Scales, when he was running the Sheffield Crucible. An eloquent and charismatic man, he is also fiercely intelligent and always seemed ablaze with a political fire.

He has been putting these qualities to good use by touring the country and taking the message of a campaigning group called My Theatre Matters to UK audiences.

Interviewing Sam, I put it to him that theatre is actually a minority interest, indulged in by the few.

I’d been sucked in, said Sam. More people go to the theatre than attend premiership football matches. Would I call football a ‘minority interest’ in Britain? Only if no-one could hear me. So why label theatre thus?

But the arts costs us money that we can ill afford – again I put the notion to Sam.

The arts generate money for the economy, pure and simple, Sam argued. He believes the attack on the arts is purely ideological. Being told that they are not for us, that we cannot afford to pay for them, well, it’s the same as a teacher telling his pupils that poetry is hard.

Lies. We should rage, rage, against the telling of these lies.