Is Art Something That Can Ever Be Owned?

monumentsmenI watched The Monuments Men on Saturday evening and I was struck by the dichotomy that the film presents.  That is, art (and culture) being very highly valued as a currency and identity in times of conflict and equally being worthless in comparison to the reality of life and death.  Each of the artefacts that the Monuments Men were seeking and protecting were representative of our collective human cultural expression, of our identity as human beings.  As such they were prized by Hitler as providing him with ownership of that identity. That identity that he also crushed in the gas chambers.

We saw the same when Baghdad was liberated and Saddam Hussein deposed – artefacts from the Iraqi National Museums were stolen, broken and destroyed (with few exceptions) because they were ‘representative’ of Hussein’s regime and yet also had an increasing cash value.  Again, culture being used as a means to communicate with the masses and demonstrate control and ownership.

So this led me to think about who owns our culture then? Is it the artist or owner or observer or ticket purchaser or writer or politician or dictator? Perhaps this principle of cultural ownership is dependent on our individual perceptions of engagement or the context in which we are operating at the time?

For me, watching a film or seeing art works does not make me feel an ownership of them.  I may well relate to them, even resonate with the content or it may move me to tears but I do not feel that they are mine.  I should point out here that I am talking about this relationship, this resonance rather than the ownership of copyright or intellectual property.  Ownership in this sense is a collective experience, not exclusive.  By my viewing a painting, I do not take away the opportunity from someone else.  My engagement does not prohibit anyone else from experiencing the same kind of ownership and this becomes a collective responsibility.

Later this week, I am speaking at the Association for Event Management Education about engaging a community’s heart and using City of Lights as an example of how this develops over time.  On an emotional level, there is a very high level of engagement from the community and particularly from those children who have been part of it both now and in the past.  There is an intuitive recognition of the value of the creative and collective experiences in the planning, development and delivery of the event across stakeholder groups.  The images of the event are used throughout publications, online and social media  BUT when it comes to asking these collective owners to contribute financially, we find it much harder to get them on board.

It seems that we need to reconnect the ownership and the value of the art in order to have a sustainable future.  Do we need to have our cultural identity threatened or even stolen before we will take on the responsibility of that ownership to enjoy and appreciate our culture, including those works saved by the Monuments Men?

Claire Eason Bassett, Managing Director, Mackerel Sky

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