Letter: The Sainsburys are not the Medicis

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The Independent Online
I am sure many readers will have found Professor Lisa Jardine's conclusions about the future of art deeply disappointing ("Labour don says art needs a rich elite", 1 September).

Western art is still defined by the cultural trajectory from the Renaissance to the Enlightenment, and the emerging bourgeoisie she describes were indeed at the vanguard of the revolutionary upheavals in European society at that time. For them, art was an important embodiment of their radical ideals and, eventually, represented truly revolutionary advances in the artistic life of those times (for example, in the works of artists like Beethoven and Schiller).

The situation now is quite different. No longer emerging, no longer in any way radical, the capitalists who make up the ruling class of today are the main obstacle to artistic development. One only has to think of the media's increasingly shrunken and reactionary worldview, chronic underfunding, manipulative advertising and the impoverished repetitions of so much "pop culture" to know this to be true.

To compare the opportunism of Sainsburys to the patronage of the Medicis seems a little phoney. And to state that "if people spend large sums at the top, then you have freedom of expression..." is nonsense. The fact that so much artistic production is now financed by big business is surely one reason why our "culture" is becoming so frighteningly homogeneous.

Professor Jardine's "intellectual" justification for the inevitable underfunding of the arts we can expect under New Labour is predictable. Art does not need a rich elite; the rich elite no longer needs art. Art needs an audience and, once again, a transformation of society.

Paul Obermayer

London N1