Today it is God in this last attribute who has a strong appeal and the arts may well be the channel of the spiritual, the other, the transcendent, in our time. The arts may not be able to save, but perhaps they can lead men towards their salvation.
There is one other function of the arts in society: they show men what is going on in their own day. Paradoxically its much easier to understand the past than the present. It is our own age that baffles us. The artist has insights which others do not possess. He is endowed with what the now unfashionable scholastic theologians used to call preternatural gifts.
The arts are the mirror of the age. Hence we should not be surprised to find that the works of art of today tend to lack the moral integrity and ethical coherence of works of previous ages. They reflect their times. We should beware lest our anger against what is thought to be an immoral book or play is merely the rage of Catiban who sees his own face reflected in the glass.
The government then has duties towards the arts and its fair to say that the present government is fulfilling 'them. Jennie Lee was a deservedly popular Minister for the Arts; she obtained much money for them and fears were expressed that when the Tories came in the arts would suffer a deprivation.
Quite the reverse has happened. At a time of drastic government spending cuts Lord Eccles obtained an increase in the Arts Council Grant of £2.6 million bringing the amount spent on the arts by government up to £11.9 million. As Lord Goodman said in an expressive if inelegant phrase: "not half bad."
I would like to see more money given to the Royal Shakespeare Company which is just completing a magnificent decade of achievement. At the moment it is selling seats at Stratford to 93 per cent of capacity and to 80 per cent at the Aldwych. There is clearly not much scope for more money there and the management is rightly reluctant to raise prices further. If deficits are to be mei and production standards not to be lowered then the money must come from the government.
I would also like to see the grants made to Covent Garden placed on a triennial rather than on an annual basis. This would enable production planning to be made at an earlier date.
The Prime Minister himself takes a keen interest in the arts, especially, as is well known. music. This is in sharp contrast to his predecessor. Mr Wilson had many admirable qualities but appreciation of the arts was not amongst them. Indeed it is not unfair to say that Mr Heath is the most civilised Prime Minister to have been at No. 10 since the days of Arthur Balfour.
The Conservative party is certainly not yet the party of the beautiful people and its image is still rather hatchet and hard faced. but Lord Eccles may well be able to bring about a face lift. The fact that so distinguished a man should have been appointed to the post of Minister for the Arts shows the important the government attaches to it; the fact that he emerged from retirement to take it on is equally significant, since it shows the measure of his hope S for the future.