Expression and Appreciation

G. H. Bantock
1981, Vol. 13, No. 2,

Abstract


In a democracy, every man his own politician is acceptable - at least on a five year basis; but every man his own artist is a more dubious proposition. The doings of politicians, after all, affect us all and it is perfectly right that we should be able to take some steps to regulate their activities from time to time. Now it is true that the stuff of artistic enjoyment is the common lot of humanity, but the means through which in the past it has been deployed would seem to involve technicalities and sophistications there is no reason to assume are at the beck and call of everyone. Indeed, there is every reason to suppose that they necessitated apprenticeships and a dedication that no ordinary person otherwise engaged could be expected to afford. How then has the modern notion of artistic ubiquity arisen?

No doubt its origins are to be found in that period of emancipation which dates from the later eighteenth century and culminated in a further period of romantic protest during the nineteenth century. A characteristic feature of this Enlightenment, as it came to be called, lay in its optimistic assessment of human potential once freed from the bonds of 'superstition', 'prejudice' and social inequality which had marked the ancien regime of absolute monarchy and traditional religion. Admittedly, such notions existed more as ideology than as implemented actuality: Voltaire, for all his corrosive attacks on the society of his time, certainly regarded the populace with contempt. But the critical impetus of Enlightenment polemics gradually eroded traditional social certainties; and the notion of a potentially creative but currently frustrated citizenry arose - those 'mute inglorious Miltons' of Gray's Elegy (which, of course, also drew on a traditional pastoralism): 'Full many a flower', no less, 'born to blush unseen'.


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