Wednesday, 29 April 2009
Breath of the Spirit
‘The work of the artist’, wrote John Maynard Keynes when setting up the Arts Council of Great Britain in 1946, ‘is, of its nature, individual and free, undisciplined, unregimented, uncontrolled. The artist walks where the breath of the spirit blows him.’ It is a thrilling assertion of the idealistic role of the artist in a modern, civilized society, evoking an unfettered freedom that is both inspirational and challenging. Today, such high-minded views may seem out of touch, too idealistic for a more earth-bound society, yet they still convey some of the key aspects of the life of the artist. ACGB did not specifically include the crafts in its remit, though it did not preclude it. Retrospectives of Bernard Leach and later Lucie Rie were mounted at the Arts Council’s London gallery in the 1960s. The crafts came under the Board of Trade and received government support for its ability to generate income and, more importantly, exports. What if ACGB had consciously embraced all the visual arts rather than focusing on painting and sculpture? Craft would have developed in a different way, maybe freer from the ghetto many see it occupying. The ‘breath of the spirit’ is there but sometimes it takes some finding.