“Britain’s arts industry is suffering a sudden and violent death”; thus ran a headline in The Telegraph at the beginning of July last year – and it is undeniably true that the arts industry, which brings in more than £100bn to the UK coffers each year, has had a very hard time of it during the pandemic. But to conclude, as the article did, that “we will, I fear, sit and watch it die” is to miss the point. So long as there is humanity, the arts will never die. The arts exist on the highway between the human soul and the senses; they travel to and fro, and they always will. The artist bares his soul; and we drink it into our own. Have you ever read a book, or watched a film, or seen a play that has made you laugh out loud, or cry, or feel angry, or frightened or move you in some way that you can’t explain? You know it is not ‘real’, in the sense that it cannot affect you physically, but it gets to you nevertheless. You can’t sleep afterwards, or you keep thinking about it for days, or it makes you feel helpless or perhaps suddenly hopeful. I have just listened to an excellent dramatisation on the radio of Hardy’s Tess of the d’Urbervilles – neatly constructed and beautifully acted – and I almost cried at the end; after watching Schindlers’ List at the cinema, I did not want to speak to anybody for a full three hours – I felt almost ashamed to be human; watching Every Good Boy Deserves Favour at the National Theatre, a play by Tom Stoppard which also featured a full orchestra playing music by André Previn, I was presented with the opposite effect as I left the theatre – it made me simply wonder at what humanity can achieve; and there have been a number of books I have read where I simply did not want the book to come to an end – it had become an intense, but alas too brief, friendship. The arts, at their best, reach inside you and leave you changed for the better. You are forced to think; to challenge your own position; to confront; and, ultimately, to feel uniquely human. I don’t think this happens to birds, or plants, or fish; but it does to us – the arts touch what it means to be human.
So, I think The Telegraph article almost a year ago could not be more wrong. We long for things which move us, and we always will; we will search for things which move us and never forget the feeling; and we respond to things which move us by wanting more. It is innate; and right now, we are hungry for it. I predict, therefore, the complete opposite; the arts will never be more vibrant than in the post-COVID period, and I, for one, can’t wait to see what humanity can come up with.