HIS week at the somewhat unseasonable hour of three o'clock in the morning the House of Commons had its first debate of the new session on the arts.
One might ask what have the arts to do with politicians, especially the fine ones, but it was Lord Eccles himself, Minister for the Arts and Paymaster General, who gave the answer in an address to the Conservative Political Centre at Blackpool, when he stressed that the quality of life was very much the concern of those in politics.
Lord Keynes made a similar point many years ago when he said that politicians were the trustees of the possibilities of civilisation. The task of politicians therefore is to create conditions in which the arts have the best chance of flourishing, and in these days this means in effect providing a good deal of hard cash for the purposes of patronage.
The days of the private patron are not over but things are certainly not what they used to be. In a period of high taxation, capital gains tax, etc., the scope for private munificence is limited. This is one field the new government might profitably explore. Why not offer tax and estate duty concessions to those who use their cash to benefit the arts?
Yet however private patronage may be encouraged the state is likely to remain the No I patron. Take opera and ballet for example: no less than £1,400,000 of public money was granted to Covent Garden last year for its productions. I regard this money as very well spent.
I have attended opera in a number of world capitals including New York, Rome, Paris and Vienna, and in none of the opera houses did standards reach those. established at Covent Garden. Amongst the many contributions which Britain will be making to the enlarged common market is her tradition of excellence in this field.
One factor which makes the arts particularly important today is the decline of formal or organised religion. As a result we have a society which is suffering from spiritual starvation. This hunger cannot be wholly satisfied by the arts but it can be a tittle appeased.
Just as education by itself does not necessarily make people more moral (an illusion of some Victorians and of rationalists even today) neither does art of itself make people religious—the lives of artists show this plainly enough. Yet God is not only Love but also Truth and Beauty.