Do we talk about politics too much? Politics, especially these days, seems so divisive and tribal. The red team and the blue team shout at one another in parliament. Political parties compete for votes and attention. Politicians humiliate their opponents and denigrate them publicly.

Should we focus more on what unites us? We all have interests outside of politics, and many of those are shared in common. Music, art, cinema, food, sport – these can all be shared spaces that reach across boundaries. Especially now we live in a digital age, where people can connect online and have access to music and art wherever they are, should we be focusing on healing wounds and crossing divides?

Curious to know more about how music and art can bring people together? We’ve put together some facts and figures in the infographic below (click for a bigger version).What do our readers think? We had a comment from Coralee, who doesn’t think that music and art unite us. In fact, she argues that European countries are all “individual nations with remarkably different cultures and traditions”. So, is there more about our culture that is different than there is in common?

To get a response, we spoke to André Wilkens, Director of the European Cultural Foundation, an organisation (based in the Netherlands) supporting civil society initiatives in arts and culture that work towards an “open, democratic and inclusive Europe”. How would he respond?

I think that, certainly, we have German music and art, and we have Dutch, and Greek, and Italian, and so on. But I consider all this – the orchestra of different arts and culture and music – in a way an ensemble of European arts and culture. So, you could see it as separate, but you could also see it as a big ensemble, and that’s how I like to see it. There’s so much interconnection in art styles and cultural styles, and how it has been developed separately and together, and how it’s already connected in the interactions between artists. Look at the composition of orchestras around Europe, look at who is curating in museums and exhibitions; there are Belgians, for example, who have curated exhibitions in Germany, in Britain, in Paris, and that happens all over the place. So, I think European arts and culture already connects us a great deal and is more than just national art and culture.

To get another perspective, we also put Coralee’s comment to the musician Kezz (a.k.a. Tamara Ristić) a Belgrade-based producer, live looping artist, and singer-songwriter. Her music fuses traditional music from across the Balkans (a part of the world that has seen more than its fair share of conflict and division) with modern influences.

How would she respond to Coralee’s question?

I think that music – and especially music, but also all arts – deals with emotions. That’s one of the ways people communicate. I think that instead of different cultures, languages, and everything else, we can communicate through music and art. [Artists can] communicate and change their art based on their experiences, and include different styles and forms in their art. Personally, I can say in terms of my own music that I’m using some modern genres, and when I implement some traditional-inspired moments in a modern style, it’s recognisable by any public in the world, but they can also recognise something different in that package. With modern music styles it’s acceptable, it’s not so complicated to listen and get some feeling about the music.

Finally, we had a comment from Pedro, who thinks there is a common European cultural heritage, and that Islam is an important part of that. However, there are other people who hear the words “European cultural heritage” and think about white supremacism and Islamophobia. So, how can we reclaim this idea of “cultural heritage” as something that is positive and unites us, rather than something exclusionary that separates us or makes us better than others?

How would André Wilkens from the European Cultural Foundation respond?

Culture can and is being used by different people in different ways. So, if you want to exclude people you can, and unfortunately it is used to exclude and divide people, to say ‘this is my culture and you will never be part of it’. Or it can be used by saying: ‘We have a shared cultural heritage, we have a shared cultural future, we have a shared cultural contemporary scene’. So, it depends who is providing the destination and also the space for making it happen.

Talking about the European Cultural Foundation, we see our organisation as providing this space, and also creating a shared cultural space in Europe, because having a shared public space (and culture is very important for that) is the key for creating a shared European identity, and I think that is very important for the European project and continent to develop in the future. We have had very bad experiences in Europe with culture which has divided us, which has also led to wars that until then were unimaginable. We’ve had a successful period over 70 years of developing a model of sharing society, not only a sharing economy but also a sharing society. That’s where we should continue, and culture is in many ways today a key to making the sharing society in Europe happen. That is what my foundation stands for.

Finally, we asked Kezz / Tamara Ristić if we were making music and art too political. We’ve had a similar debate about whether sport should be a neutral place, outside of politics. Should music also be apolitical, to unite as many people as possible?

I think that art is always connected to politics. I’m inspired by everyday life and my own experiences, but also sometimes I’m thinking about different problems in the world, and I have some songs which are connected with problems in my country [Serbia], especially. For me, I think in today’s world when you’re making something you really love [and it’s unique and different], it’s a type of rebellion. I think it’s really important for other people that something like this exists, because they can unite and they can change things.

For example, in [Serbia] we have popular music that is supported by TV shows, radio stations, etc. But for alternative and underground music – which might be popular in nightclubs and concerts – the media is closed. That’s a problem, because we cannot promote our work. Especially television is closed to us [and] we cannot cross that barrier. So, it’s also important to think in other ways, and to promote our music creatively, especially through social networks. It’s really important for that alternative music and art to exist because in that way we can choose our future and make alternatives visible, and also connect people who are thinking in similar ways.

Do music and art unite us? Or are our cultural traditions too different? Has culture been atomised by the age of ‘on-demand’ access? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!

IMAGE CREDITS: (c) BigStock – stockcentral; PORTRAIT CREDITS: André Wilkens (c) Gerlind Klemens, Kezz (a.k.a. Tamara Ristić) CC – Flickr – Friends of Europe
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18 comments Post a commentcomment

What do YOU think?

  1. avatar

    Love Eurovision. It’s kind of corny and cheesy but I wish more nations would sing in their own beautiful languages instead of Brexit English.

  2. avatar

    Art doesn’t govern countries.

  3. avatar

    Music is an infusion of diversity and cultures which in turns inspires diverse art, creativity and expression so then we have minds that are at peace with each other no matter where and who they are kids listen to flamenco, blues, pop, rap..they don’t care where they are from .they don’t label.them they only try and sing the lyrics irrespective whether they can or not and dance to the rhythm…that is the melting pot of music…the world’s sing a long..

  4. avatar

    When I’m looking at Italian renaissance art, or french baroque or dutch impressionism or Spanish Mannerism, I feel familiarity, it’s my culture in which I grew up, it reflects my values, it’s a part of my people’s history and its great accomplishments. It’s a very different feeling from when I’m looking at Chinese, Japanese or South-American or African art, which are interesting, exotic, strange and foreign. When I hear La Marseillaise, I have a patriotic feeling, it has a lot of meaning for me, the french revolution shaped my ancestors thoughts and deeds too. European art and music are our art and our music, Chinese or African art and music are foreign. European nations have a common cultural background, that unites them, and separates them in the same time from other cultures. It gives us a sense of pride and belonging, the same as, I’m convinced, Asian nations feel for their culture. We respect other cultures, we want to trade with them for our mutual profit, but we won’t ever change ourselves, to become more compatible with them. This is who we are, these are our values, this is what we stand for, take it or leave it. That should be Europe’s message to the world.

  5. avatar

    Culture defenetly unites people!

  6. avatar

    Every form of art is a window to the artist soul ,soooooo in a way you can say so

  7. avatar

    Yes. Armin van Buuren forever.

  8. avatar

    Sometimes. But it can go the other way too.

  9. avatar

    Yes! A defining commonality of human expression.

  10. avatar

    the beauty of music and art is their diversity, not their unity.

  11. avatar

    It can do both. Black metal and choir chants are on both ends of the spectrum. In the middle is Folk songs and shantys.

    Some unite. Some divide

  12. avatar
    George Yiannitsiotis, PhD

    Music introduces harmony. Even the hardest for human ears, styles of music incorporate harmony to a certain degree. Therefore, music can speak to the heart of people irrespectively of color, sex, nationality, mother-language, political belief etc.

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