At the end of a gallery talk at Yale about his latest film Mr. Turner, Mike Leigh said: “The audience is a collection of people who are at least as intelligent as me.” He added that it didn’t matter how much the audience knew in terms of general knowledge of the subject, what mattered was that he assumed nothing and conveyed his message in a clear way.
Mike Leigh said those things to a full house of especially intelligent listeners, most of whom knew Turner’s work well. His lecture was part of the annual Festival of Arts and Ideas in New Haven.
Mike Leigh is right: previous knowledge of art is not a prerequisite for enjoyment as long as the message is clear. Mr Turner is an important and enjoyable film for viewers who know Turner’s work well, and also for those who were introduced to him for the first time.
In order to make Mr. Turner, a period drama about a painter in the early part of the 19th century, Mike Leigh invested a lot of time and money in researching Turner and his period. He enlisted the help of historians and art historians who are expert in the field.
For hundreds of years the responsibility of art, in all its forms, included both instruction and delight. It was seen as the best and most effective way to teach people about life. Following that tradition, Mike Leigh, a serious film maker with professional integrity, brings knowledge and insights to his audience while treating them with the utmost respect.
But our new Cultural Minister Miri Regev doesn’t understand those concepts, or the value of art. For her “the cultural world is uptight and ungrateful” and the Ministry of Culture is a consolation prize for not getting the Welfare Ministry which she coveted.
Miri Regev is not alone in her disregard for culture; for 19 years I taught in a business college here in Israel. The college specialized in “useful” subjects like business, law, economics, behavioral science and computer science, but it didn’t offer any courses related to art and ideas. Most of my students stopped reading altogether once they had finished high school.
Earlier in the 20th century, the thinker, and the great educator, F. R. Leavis emphasized that the humanistic subjects were the essential foundation for the making of the “educated man” (and woman). He claimed that it was the challenge of today’s university to produce that educated man – the man of humane culture who was equipped to be intelligent and responsible about the problems of contemporary civilization.
My students viewed college as a necessary step for having a career. They didn’t know that there was more to education than learning a profession. Moreover, no one told them that the world of art and ideas could bring them joy, improve their ability to think critically and to solve complex problems, and ultimately could help them achieve more in their life.
Dear Miri Regev: You don’t need to protect us from the dangers of art and ideas. But, being so proactive, perhaps you could push for topics in art and ideas to be part of the curriculum in colleges and universities, as a protection against ignorance.