Curtailment of the arts affects quality of life

Viewpoint by Marshall Baron, of Bulawayo, The Chronicle


Having no seaport, Rhodesia has from the start been isolated. It is dependent for contact with the outside world upon the goodwill of its neighbours and their readiness to allow us to use their surface transport facilities or their air space.

UDI – the result of which has been the withdrawal of recognition of Rhodesia by every country in the world – has intensified our isolation.

A community already conservative in its outlook and unsophisticated in its technology has had to look inwards increasingly, thus further delaying its emergence as a fully fledged participant in the rapid developments of the 20th century.

Good Enough

People better qualified than I have already dealt with the effects this has had upon our economy, not to mention our general business ethics.

After all, when a government depends upon surreptitious dealing to survive, what is good enough for the “powers that be” must be good enough for the common man.

The present paucity of motor vehicles, the obsolescence of most civil aircraft, and the shortages of machinery, are other sacrifices which have been made in the name of a so-called independence.

However, I do not wish to dwell too long on the overall economic exigencies created by the foolish leap into a political wilderness.

I am more directly concerned here with the drastic curtailment of supplies of gramophones and magazines.

One leading stationer was compelled for some months to display a notice in all its branches apologizing for the lack of material because of the diminution of its foreign currency allocation.

Gifted People

Presumably books and records are regarded as being of secondary importance for a country struggling to survive, but the quality of life is just as important as sheer physical survival.

I dislike the word “cultural” but find no alternative to describe that area of activity where the thoughts and experiences of gifted people are encapsulated in some art form or another.

Without music, without theatre, without ballet, without reading matter and the visual arts, the quality of our lives and our awareness of matters outside the mundane grind of our daily occupations are dreadfully undermined.

Sharp Decrease

Furthermore, such material as does come through, whether films, plays, books or magazines, is often censored.

I consider censorship completely indefensible. A regime confident of its strength should not fear the free flow and exchange of ideas. To stop this is fascist.

In any event, as has been found in countries overseas, free discussion and expression of sociological (including sexual) and political concepts has the direct effect of releasing tensions.

For example, in the Scandinavian countries there has been a sharp decrease in sexual crimes since the abolition of censorship.

I believe also that ugly physical outbursts of violence, such as we witnessed recently at the university, occurred because the emergency regulations limit the free expression of ideas.

Social Comment

The arts can often give expression to political and personal philosophies in sublimated form.

Literature is filled with pungent social comment clothed in fiction, allegory and splendid writing. Consider Dickens, William Swift, Alexander Solzhenitsyn and Kafka for starters.

In the theatre, think of Shakespeare, Marlowe, Shaw, Brecht, John Osborne (consider the exuberant affirmation of Hair and Godspell), and in music, the titanic figure of Beethoven thundering against fate, the merciless honesty of Bartok, the iconoclastic bravery of Ives and Schoenberg, and the excitement of aleatory events (John Cage, etc.).

In painting, Michaelangelo, Da Vinci, Breughal, Goya, Hogarth, Daumier, Van Gogh and the New York School of the 40s and 50s, all left blistering commentaries of their respective situations. The list is endless.

Some Safeguards

If the premise on which censorship is based – that exposure to the proscribed material leads to corruption – were valid, then the censors would be the most corrupt people in the world.

I do not concede that some safeguards might be required to protect children from undesirable thoughts or actions, but suitable grading would cover this.

Another disturbing factor is that censorship here is not always honestly applied. I have seen films overseas in their original version, and thereafter seen them here again, advertised as “completely uncut”. However in several such instances there has been a diligent seamstress snipping away at the celluloid.

No Chance

Before I leave the subject of contact with artists activity overseas, I do feel it to be a great pity that whenever one of the wealthy foundations presents an exhibition, whether of paintings or sculpture, it is inevitably a most conservative choice.

And though much of the work has undeniably been exciting, it gives us no choice to keep touch with current developments in thinking and technique in the outside world.

While throughout history certain artists in all fields have been able to work in an almost autistic world, without reference to or contact with other artists – for the most part, art remains a form of social communion.

In fact, the Buddhists rate the activity even higher, speaking of art as a mediation between this world and God.

Deeper Problem

This may or may not be true, but art does derive its impetus from the social current of the times.

It is imperative, therefore, for us to keep in touch with others concerned with the same objectives. It is for this reason I deplore the conservatism of the exhibitions presented by the various foundations.

To be concluded.

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