the following resolution was passed by the Trades Union Congress in 1960.
“Congress recognises the importance of the arts in the life of the community especially now when many Unions are securing a shorter working week and greater leisure time for their members.
It notes that the Trade Union movement has participated to only a small extent in the direct promotion and encouragement of plays, films, music, literature and other forms of expression including those of value to its beliefs and principles.
Congress considers that much more could be done and accordingly requests the General Council to conduct a special examination and to make proposals to a future Congress to ensure a greater participation by the Trade Union movement in all cultural activities.”
In itself this is a remarkable demonstration by the Unions of their awareness of the role they have to play in society, a sign that it is not enough to secure higher wages and increased leisure if nothing is done to enrich that leisure and thereby add stature to the man.
But the resolution does not stand alone. For some years now individual artists have been feeling dissatisfaction with the position allotted them in society. There has been a resentment that we should continue to be regarded as romantic misfits whose works could only be understood and appreciated by an exclusive upper middle class minority. Yet painters, no matter how frustrated by it, have had to try and sell their works through the strictly commercial galleries for this minority public. Some indeed have made fortunes in becoming the gross caricature of an artist that this set-up demands. Playwrights, whether they liked it or not, have had to count themselves lucky if their plays had even a short run in one or two progressive theatres, again playing to this minority audience. Writers have had to contend with the debasing of literary standards by the glossy magazines. And all of this set against the background of an industrial society whose members were getting more money and more leisure than ever before. Yet the gulf between artist and public persisted. In spite of massive changes in the social structure, art was still held by the majority to be the preserve of the few, an attitude which has been increasingly encouraged by the manipulators of mass opinion.
Something was going wrong somewhere and although the answer seemed to be embedded in education and through a socialisation of the arts, it was difficult to see how this could effectively gain ground in the kingdom of Harold Macmillan, with its slick superlatives and easy corruption.