Change of Heart: Why The Arts Can Be Viewed Negatively By Those Who Aren’t Involved

As the saying goes ‘All the world’s a stage and all the men and women are merely players’, but unfortunately, as you like it or not, not everybody wants to learn the script and stand in the spotlight. Shakespeare aside and instead invoking a quote from an equally influential source: when it comes to the arts you either love it or you hate it. But sadly for the arts, unlike Marmite, a lot of people decide they don’t like it before they’ve even had a taste. Why is the arts derided sight unseen more so than any other facet of society, and how can this be remedied to allow the arts to become more inclusive to convert the disparaging masses to a life they didn’t realise they were missing?

Anyone remotely involved in the arts – whether through a career, academically, or even as a ‘hobby’ – will have come across people whose noses turn up when they hear what you do. Likely you’ll have been faced with cries of: ‘Get a real job,’, ‘that’s a Mickey Mouse course’, ‘that’s just a hobby though.’ While these flippant remarks are taken on the chin, the sting in the tail remains. But could it just be that people don’t consider the arts real because they don’t get it? They understand what a play is, or a painting, or a book, or a song, but unless you’re Mondrian, Stanislavski, JK Rowling, or Morrissey you’re not a real artist.

To be paid for something you have created seems to stem the cries of disdain. Monetising the arts seems to make them somehow more real in the eyes of the masses. They understand being paid for something, they understand clocking in and out, and by amalgamating what artists do with what they do, they understand it better. But the case often is that the arts aren’t a get-rich-quick scheme, but an unbridled passion coursing through your veins. And you can’t put a price on that.


Perhaps the derision the arts faces by those not included stems from the belief that artistic pursuits don’t contribute to society. Society, especially in today’s culture, places heavy emphasis on those who contribute and are ‘hard working’. But spending hundreds of hours on a painting, or rehearsing for a show, doesn’t seem to constitute ‘hard working’. Hard working, to many, means getting your hands dirty, doing something you don’t enjoy, and paying your weekly dues. But unlike many other jobs and pursuits, being involved in the arts often does contribute something tangible once the hard work is over. There is an end product that withstands the test of time and remains as a portrait of the values imbued into it. What many don’t realise is that the arts really is all around us. Whether it be the song embedded in your head on the way to work, the latest series to binge-watch, or even the photographs used on the news. Art comes in many shapes and sizes, and often these packages go under the radar. Maybe people only consider it to be the arts if they don’t understand it.

The arts being the first casualty of any governmental cuts doesn’t help the reputation that we can do without it. Sport receives the love early on in life (why don’t we have an Arts Day at school to showcase artistic talents?) and those who are good at sports are often heralded as heroes. Footballers are never asked when they’re going to stop getting paid to do their hobby and to get a real 9-5. They do something that others do as a hobby and enjoy it, just like those in the arts. So enjoying your job can’t be the bugbear that the anti-artists hold against the arts.


Miscommunication of what people are like in the arts could also be working to prevent people from venturing into the artistic community. The stereotypes of divas and starving artists, and even the societally constructed opinion of masculinity shunning the male dancer, all go some way in formulating negative opinions of the arts. Had those with the negative views bothered to watch Billy Elliot, for example, they’d have these views blown out of the water. But, alas, the whole point of this is that they wouldn’t have watched Billy Elliot – because it’s about a boy who does ballet. There will be a segment of society who are just not interested in the arts. And that’s fine, as that diversity keeps the world alive. But a greater segment just don’t feel like the arts is accessible enough to them, a regular working Joe or Joanne who has no real artistic experience.

Perhaps it is as simple as those who aren’t outwardly artistic haven’t had the opportunity to find what they are good at in the expansive world of the arts. Maybe they’ve ventured into an art gallery, glanced around at the installations, muttered ‘I don’t get it, I prefer landscapes of horses’, and shelved any ideas of dipping into that paint pot themselves. Maybe they do consider themselves a theatrical virtuoso, but upon seeing the product of hours and hours of hard graft on the West End have deemed themselves nowhere near as good and resigned themselves to doing impressions of Phil from EastEnders down the pub.


Although the blame cannot solely be placed on those who don’t understand the value of art in its many incarnations. Dancers can feel daunted heading into a group of sculptors, and the greatest singer can be sprung when faced with a rabble of writers. Maybe this esotericism, this ‘club’ mentality, can deter people from even dipping a toe into the arts. But the club mentality that often clouds the artistic scene is a necessary defence mechanism dating back centuries. Think of the Cromwell era of no singing, no dancing, and how those involved in the arts had to do it secretly. A necessary safeguard to a comfortable life is flocking together with birds of a feather, even at the expense of a new hatchling wanting to join in.

So maybe it’s a question of meeting halfway. If those who believe that art is valueless to a hard-working society, or that a painting can’t bring a group together like cheering on a sports team can were to dip into their hidden artistic talents with the help of those who may have previously branded themselves inaccessible, maybe the gulf can be bridged. Maybe with an open mind and a willing teacher, everyone can have a slice of the ever-expanding artistic pie – and the world can never have too many artists.

Words and images by James Cullen the Writer

Part of the East Street Arts Guest Writer Project #ESAGWP