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藝術冇社會作用嗎?

藝術冇社會作用嗎?
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This article is written in response to 藝術有社會作用嗎? By 林龍傑
Please see his full article here.

林龍傑’s article was about the research report “Understanding the Value of Arts and Culture”, the full report can be downloaded here (is 200 pages long, but the Executive Summary is worth reading):

Understanding the value of arts & culture | The AHRC Cultural Value Project

Below is a quote from 林’s article as an introduction

// 這報告最中心的結論是沒有任何證據顯示藝術與「社會作用」有任何聯繫,反之研究會提議將藝術恢復到成為個人的經驗,因為藝術對每一個人的影響也不同,但在以「社會作用」標籤藝術的世界裡,個人對藝術的經驗成為次要。//

I have only read the executive summary of “Understanding the Value of Arts and Culture”, however that is enough to see problems with Lam’s conclusion. My responds are based on my understanding of Lam’s article, who believes that “正如二十多年前藝術學校裡的討論,藝術是沒有社會道德的規範,每一個人創作或接收藝術的方法也不同,被藝術影響的反應亦不同,企圖量化藝術的成果根本是錯的方法。希望這報告可以在這「政治正確」零創意的藝術界,打開一片新天地”. If my responds has somehow misinterpreted his message, hopefully it can still further discussion on the social impact of art.

My first difficulty in accepting Lam’s belief is that in his argument, 社會作用is not defined. If this discussion is based around the report, then the report’s usage can be a reference point. The report’s impact areas include education, civic engagement and health (where the report found their positive impacts to be convincing) and also the areas of economy, urban development and conflict resolution (where the report found the impacts to be questionable).

A second difficulty lies in basing the argument mostly on “量化藝術的成果根本是錯的方法”. Though I agree with the problem of “量化藝術的成果”, it does not mean that “藝術是沒有社會道德的規範” or that the arts do not or should not have social impact or social responsibility.

Contrary to Lam’s propositions, “Understanding the Value of Arts and Culture” is actually quite supportive of the view that the arts can have positive social impact. The report is no doubt critical in pointing out past ineffective assessment and evaluations. However, the criticism is made in the spirit of advancing the understanding of the field. Moreover, this report is not the first in questioning poor assessments of the positive value of art.


The Report

Moving beyond a criticism of Lam’s article, I like to share some of the findings of this report. I have separated the main points of the executive into 2 areas above:
a) those with convincing positive impacts and
b) those that are questionable.

CONVINCING positive impacts:
Personal development - “Particular attention is given to the ability of arts and cultural engagement to help shape reflective individuals, facilitating greater understanding of themselves and their lives, increasing empathy with respect to others, and an appreciation of the diversity of human experience and cultures”

Civic engagement - “Participation in arts and culture may produce engaged citizens, promoting not only civic behaviours such as voting and volunteering, but also helping articulate alternatives to current assumptions and fuel a broader political imagination. All are fundamental to the effectiveness of democratic political and social systems”

Health - “Cohort studies of health in the Nordic countries show an association between long-term arts engagement and positive health outcomes”

Arts in Education – “Arts in education has been shown to contribute in important ways to the factors that underpin learning, such as cognitive abilities, confidence, motivation, problem-solving and communication skills. These are more compelling than claims to significant improvement in attainment on standard tests where the evidence is much less convincing”.

QUESTIONABLE Impacts
Peace-building and healing after armed conflict…”Evaluations of such interventions are, however, rarely of the long-term character that is needed to convince of their sustained effectiveness. It has to be acknowledged, in any case, that culture is not only a positive force in relation to conflict and has often played a part in initiating and perpetuating antagonisms”.

Gentrification – “The regeneration of places is usually accompanied by gentrification, the rise of the ‘experience economy’, and the disruption and exclusion of communities as those who live there and produce there are forced out by rising property prices”

Economic benefits of arts and culture – “have been central to the case that has been made for public funding, the report questions the significance, and at times the quality, of economic impact studies”

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The Questionable impact in economic benefits and gentrification has recently been discussed in local contexts, especially in the Sham Shui Po project, and I definite canNOT do a better job at it. However, I like to look at the convincing outcome.

With the exception of the health benefits, the convincing outcome in personal development, civic engagement and art in education are all somewhat indirect. Despite the fact that these areas are difficult to quantify, they are all recognized to be convincing areas of positive impact. This suggestions an implicit recognition that society and communities are made up of individuals, and by building up the individual, positive impact on the society will occur.

How do the arts begin its impact on the individual? The report suggests focussing on the “reflectiveness, empathy and imagination that have as their starting point individual experience”. In fact, the report suggests that some of the

“most important contributions of arts and culture to other areas are embedded in that individual experience: perhaps not economic impact but rather the capacity to be economically innovative and creative; perhaps not urban regeneration driven by large new cultural buildings but rather the way small-scale arts assets and activities might help communities and neighbourhoods; and for health not just clinical arts therapies but also the link between arts engagement and supporting recovery from physical and mental illness”.

Do the arts have social impact? And how do we know if it is good impact

Advisor to the report, Eleonora Belfiore explained that this debate has been around for a few thousand years (2006; Belfiore & Bennett, 2008). For centuries, the debate has been between that the arts are either GOOD or BAD for people and the society in general. It was since Kant where the 3rd option was raised, that the arts have no function beyond the arts. (Belfiore 2006 provides a short good explanation)

Along this line, the report is in essence the search for how the society can try to use art in good ways rather than bad, and furthermore, how can we tell.
The report suggests that qualitative studies are as important as quantitative ones, that they need to be analysed together. But even before that, how do artists ‘know’ that they are doing ‘good’ things?

I like to conclude with a quote from Ivan Hewett’s article on this report:

“That’s what makes this report, in my opinion, so profoundly subversive. It suggests that the arts can indeed have positive effects, but only if we give them the freedom to be themselves. Art is like a capricious god, which has to be wooed and cajoled. It bestows its good effects as a gift; try to wrest that gift by force, as successive governments have tried to do, and the god will flee”.

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The article by Ivan Hewett can be read here
Belfiore, E., & Bennett, O. (2008). The social impact of the arts. Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan.
Belfiore, E. (2006). The social impacts of the arts–myth or reality?.

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