the essay on The Nature of Gothic by Ruskin apparently was a revelation for his contemporaries. I tried to buy this in Charing Cross Road the other day and was informed that many people were buying Ruskin and the book of essays I wanted was unavailable. To quote from an essay by Furneaux Jordan, this was the first writing “to see a link between art and labour, to see that the savage ruggedness of a northern cathedral might be humanly—and therefore aesthetically—a more tender, a nobler thing than the classical formulae of the Mediterranean styles: the one produced by men and the other by slaves.” This is as exciting a conception today as then.
That an age reveals itself by its culture we are learning from our own times. What, however, I am personally not certain of is whether that culture appears inevitably or whether artists are aware that an age is marked culturally and therefore they must make that mark. What comes first? One is tempted to say, and no doubt history can prove, that artists unconsciously reflect the age. But this means: God help the joyous artist in a sordid age! On the other hand someone once said “truth is not merely what is but what can be.” There is hope.
As artists, we would like to think we were either reflecting our times or pointing to new worlds; but if a people is not aware that the culture it produces is a reflection of itself (if it did it might take its arts more seriously), and if a people is not around to whom we can show our new worlds (that is to say the theatres are empty), then neither of these two observations can be applied with any weight. Unless culture is the shared experience of a whole nation these observations remain frustrated tools. Yet tools they certainly are, but for what?
Bill Holdsworth and myself have started a campaign to urge the Trade Union Movement not only to spend money on the arts but, in doing so, to make it a natural part of its members’ life. They have succeeded to a large degree in sharing out the nation’s economic wealth, why can they not do the same for its cultural riches? We are not asking them to create a particular kind of art but rather to make sure that art is, in fact, a nation’s shared experience. Our aims and suggestions are outlined in two pamphlets which were sent to every trade union in the country and the response was exciting. Now comes the time to organise it. New Left Groups throughout the country can assist in this way. At this year’s congress the ACTT have put forward a resolution. We do not know at the time of going to press what will happen to it—we are assuming it will not be passed. This whole campaign, therefore, must be an attempt to get it passed next year, or the year after.
We are aiming to organise a big, professionally run, festival of the arts specially for Congress delegates during their week of meeting, but what is needed is a softening up process. Before they arrive at their week’s conference, it would be a great help if campaign committees all over the country could have been responsible for smaller festivals specially for delegates and trade unionists. BUT—the festivals must not be esoteric little gatherings on the one hand or weak, amateurish efforts on the other; they must be robust, exciting and as professional as possible. The ACTT resolution must be demonstrated and proved relevant.
So far NLR groups have centred round the CND campaign; here could be another focal point of activity, here in fact could be a further means of knocking down that barrier between the worker and the artist that breaks us all. NLR groups, together with university groups and local reps, could all combine on this project. Because he has not the millions to compete with the commercial world, the artist must go out and pull in his public by the hair. I cannot see another way. The ACTT resolution is the piece of paper around which we could change the whole cultural climate of this “dead behind the eyes” society, and every trade unionist should know of its existence.