People care about identity. Look at what’s happening in Catalonia or Britain today and it’s obvious that questions of national (and individual) identity can bring about profound political changes. We are constantly being reminded that the world is more than just dull, grey rationalism.
We had a comment sent in from Gustav, who argues that European art (the kind we all learned about in school) has helped to define a common European culture:
There is definitely a European culture. You cannot speak about the Northern European Albrecht Dürer or Jan van Eyk without speaking about the Southern European Michelangelo or Leonardo da Vinci. Nor discuss Shakespeare without acknowledging the influence of Classic Greece. Nor Chopin without Bach. The cross-cultural influences were so immense that none of the cultures in Europe stayed isolated, culminating in a European culture.
To get a reaction to Gustav, we spoke to Felipe Santos Rodríguez, Director of the Cervantes Institute in Brussels, a Spanish government agency dedicated to promoting Spanish language and culture around the world. What would he say to Gustav?
Of course, I think European art is a part our common heritage. But, to be a bit provocative, it’s worth considering what E. H. Gombrich wrote in his masterpiece ‘The Story of Art’: There really is no such thing as Art. There are only artists.
There is no ‘Art’ in a strict way, there are artists. What we have in Europe is a group of artists across the ages that gave us a common heritage, and common references in and around our daily lives. European history is long and it’s made up both of things that we got right and things that we got wrong, and we learn from that. That’s probably the best goal for so-called ‘European’ artists.
But do Europeans really care about artists like Jan van Eyk or Leonardo da Vinci (or, indeed, writers like Miguel de Cervantes)? Aren’t they more interested (as John argues) in a global culture, dominated by American pop music, films, and TV?
It’s true that the fundamental common ground in art and culture is universal. Ultimately, art is universal. And artists have always been influenced by other artists from other cultures. There are no ‘pure’ artists not influenced by others. The same thing happens in America, whose culture is also influenced by (and reacting to) European art and culture. But we live in an interconnected world, and even our pop culture is building on what came before.
Does European art represent a common cultural heritage? Or is global culture, led by Hollywood and pop music, more relevant? Does art bring us together? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!