The Social Impact of the Arts: An Intellectual History
By Eleonora Belfiore and Oliver Bennett
Palgrave Macmillan, 2008, 248 pp., £45.00, ISBN 9780230572553
The Social Impact of the Arts offers an intellectual history of claims made over time for the value, function and impact of the arts in Western societies. With chapters on corruption, catharsis, education and 'art for art's sake', as well as a number of other key themes, the book examines the many different ways in which writers have attempted to articulate the social impact of the arts. It also relates contemporary policy debates to a history of ideas, making a timely contribution to public debate about the value of the arts in modern societies.
The book starts with today's heated public debate about the 'intrinsic' and the 'instrumental' in the arts, and then locates this debate within a history of ideas that goes back over two thousand years to classical Greece – Plato's Republic and Aristotle on catharsis. In tracing this history and revealing that there is nothing new under the sun in arguments about the arts, the authors show how the meanings of some key concepts – among them, "the transforming power of the arts", "art for art's sake", "the arts are good for you", "the arts and cultural identities" – have evolved over time, as parts of a very long-standing argument. The aims of this book are ambitious: to nourish public debate, to reconnect us all with a rich tradition of thinking, to show how certain ideas turned into commonplace beliefs, and in the end to encourage "a more nuanced understanding of how the arts can affect people". This is a much-needed study and a timely one as well: an examination of what lies behind the rhetoric, it fills a surprising gap in the fast-expanding literature on cultural policy.' - Sir Christopher Frayling, Chairman, Arts Council England, and Rector, Royal College of Art
Eleonora Belfiore is Assistant Professor of Cultural Policy Studies at the University of Warwick, UK, where she teaches postgraduate courses in British and European cultural policy. Her published work explores the function of the arts in modern societies and the relation of arts policy to other forms of social and economic policy. Oliver Bennett is Professor of Cultural Policy Studies at the University of Warwick, UK. He has published extensively on the politics of culture and is the founding editor of The International Journal of Cultural Policy. He is the author of Cultural Pessimism: Narratives of Decline in the Postmodern World.
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