Magazine article The Spectator

Augustus vs Maria Miller

Magazine article The Spectator

Augustus vs Maria Miller

Article excerpt

The Culture Secretary, Maria Miller, has said the arts world must make the case for public funding by focusing on its economic, not artistic, value; it must 'hammer home the value of culture to our economy'. The ancients would have wondered what she was taking about.

There was no concept of 'the arts' in the ancient world; nor any concept of 'art', at least among the Greeks.

What we call 'art' was, in Aristotle's definition, 'the trained ability to make something under the guidance of rational thought'. It was, in other words, craftsmanship. So 'artists' were regarded rather as we would regard car mechanics or dentists. The only time the state put aside funds for 'art' was for the worship of the gods, resulting in magnificent temples decorated with superb statuary (the museums of the ancient world) and in splendid public rituals. But that, of course, had a strictly practical purpose - ensuring the security of the state.

When Augustus dished out lolly for lyrics to Horace and Virgil, he was acknowledging the political potential of poetry to bolster up his regime. …

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