Musician and producer Brian Eno has spoken about how arts and humanities are seen as “a luxury” while science and maths are viewed as important and “part of what makes Britain great”.
The former Roxy Music star has called for a “rethink” of culture due to “complete confusion” around the subject and picked up on what Education Secretary Nicky Morgan said about STEM subjects – science, technology, engineering and maths.
Delivering the annual BBC Music John Peel Lecture, he said he heard Ms Morgan claim it was a good idea for students not to go into arts and humanities because they did not offer job prospects as good as the STEM subjects.
He said: “There’s an idea around that those are actually the important things, even the acronym gives it away – the idea of ‘stem’, the thing that’s at the centre, which everything else grows off from.
“So the idea is that those things are important. They’re part of the economic mill, and they’re part of what makes Britain great, and increases our GNP and what have you.
“And the arts, on the other hand, are sort of nice, they’re a bit of a luxury actually, something you might do when you’re relaxing after you come home from a hard day’s work at a proper job.”
He added that he should not “crucify” Ms Morgan for this, describing her comments as “off the cuff”.
Last November, Ms Morgan warned that too many young people were still making exam choices that would hold them back for the rest of their lives.
She said that as little as a decade ago, young people were being told that maths and sciences were the subjects you did if you wanted to go into a specific career, such as medicine, pharmacy or engineering.
”If you wanted to do something different, or even if you didn’t know what you wanted to do, then the arts and humanities were what you chose, because they were useful, you were told, for all kinds of jobs.
”Of course we know now that that couldn’t be further from the truth. That the subjects that keep young people’s options open and unlock the door to all sorts of careers are the STEM subjects – science, technology, engineering and maths,” she said.
In his lecture, Eno said arts and culture are worth pursuing for reasons that are not just economic, arguing that they should play a central role in people’s lives in a world of rapid change.
Eno said: “I think we need to rethink how we talk about culture, rethink what we think it does for us, and what it actually is. We have a complete confusion about that. It’s very interesting.”
He said if 20 scientists were asked what they think science does, they would pretty much all agree, but if 20 artists were asked what they believe art does, there would be about 15 different answers.
Giving one definition, he said: “Art is everything that you don’t have to do.”
He said it falls outside the activities people have to do to stay alive, such as eating, and he referred to people choosing specific hairstyles as an example.
Eno, best known as a pioneer of ambient music, said: “We live in a culture that is changing so incredibly quickly.”
He said a month in our lifetime sees about the same amount of change as the whole of the 14th century.
Due to nobody being an expert on everything, Eno said, we need ways of “keeping in sync, of remaining coherent”, adding: “And I think that this is what culture is doing for us.”
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