Saturday, 27 May 2017

High culture as commodity

"Die große Herausforderung für Kunstbetrieb und Kulturpolitik in Deutschland besteht darin, die bestehenden Institutionen gemeinsam mit neuem Publikum, neuen Nutzern, neuen Akteuren zu verändern. Zudem müssen dem institutionalisierten Kulturbetrieb neue, flexiblere Organisationsformen entgegengesetzt werden, die auch kulturelle Interessen zukünftiger Generationen und Kulturschaffender berücksichtigen."

Thus Mrs Birgit Mandel, Professorin für Kulturvermittlung und Kulturmanagement der Universität Hildesheim in an interview on the website of the Goethe Institute. After claiming that high culture forms a structural part of Germany's national identity, she observes a decline - in Germany - of public interest in this type of culture, and foresees the necessity to change the cultural institutions (orchestras, opera houses, theaters, museums) so that they will also answer the interests of future generations and creators. Of course such perspective is defined by the increase of pop culture as offered in public space and the increasing numbers of immigrants who could not care less about Goethe, Beethoven and - who shall we name? - Thomas Mann. Let alone later culture figures. Suggested is the function of cultural institutions as merely providing service to a clientèle, as on a market. In fact, professor Mandel treats the subject as commerce, and not as the formation of cultural identity. Namely, something like identity is not a commodity, the price of which is determined by demand: it is the center of a being, or a culture, or a nation, and a value in itself. Investment in an art form which represents cultural identity means: investing - in terms of education and of money - in the material which represents this cultural identity, which should be preserved as a living thing, so that consecutive generations can enjoy it and learn from it. That is where culture is for, and in this case: classical music as a genre. Thinking that classical music has to adapt to market demands, is the opposite of preserving a cultural identity, it is destroying it because in such thinking, demand replaces intention. Where identity is sold, it becomes prostitution. Germany has understood itself always as a Kulturnation, but if its self-understanding is treated as a commodity, it throws away its greatest asset and its strongest means of creating an important part of a European identity.

Here we look into the dark heart of the identity crisis of the West, under the pressure of populism, pop culture and immigration. Because, this is not only happening in Germany but everywhere in Europe and America. Who are the culprits? Wild capitalism, populism, the egalitarian world view where there is no value distinction, relativism which claims that culture is merely a human construct which can easily be replaced by some other (non-cultural) construct, and postwar guilt about colonialism and exploitation of the Third World. Added can be: modernism in all its forms, from glass and steel buildings destroying, like a cancer, traditional urban fabrics, to concept art which is merely an offence of intelligence and sensitivity, to sonic art as a state-subsidized playground for eternal toddlers. In Germany the hangover of two world wars and the holocaust adds extra weight to the pressure to give-up the family jewels and replace them by plastic and ephemeral bubbles.

And yet, a renewal of Western culture, and especially art music, should start at the location where the concept of culture is still an important part of most national identities - Europe, and especially Europe's heart: Germany. If Germany wants to be Europe's real and respectable leader, instead of a war-mongering psychopath, and become entirely European, it should - as an example - invest in cultural Bildung instead of commerce and create, through Bildung, the new audiences and practitioners that will preserve and further develop the heritage that has remained the best that the West has given to the world.


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