Margaret Atwood trumpets art to global elite at Davos

Wednesday, January 27, 2010 3:05 PM
By Jane Taber in The Globe and Mail

Margaret Atwood was poised to tell the world’s business and political elite today that politicians have “done their best to finish” off art. The renowned Canadian author was at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

Indeed, she likely had images of Stephen Harper in her head when she wrote and delivered that line – in the 2008 election campaign she vowed she would vote for separatist Gilles Duceppe if she lived in Quebec to stop the Prime Minister and his cuts to cultural programs. Her criticism, as well as that from others in the arts community, damaged the Tory campaign.

Ms. Atwood would not comment on that line, only to tell The Globe in an email: “An Artist Never Interprets Her Own Work.”

Coincidentally, Ms. Atwood and Mr. Harper are together in Davos this week. He is delivering a speech tomorrow; she received a prize today – the Crystal Award, which honours those who have used their art to improve the state of the world. But the speech she had planned to give was never given; time was a factor. So she sent the speech to The Globe:

“What is the place of the arts at an economic forum?” she asked in her speech. “Each of us views the world from a limited vantage point, so it’s natural for those connected with economics to try to work out an economics of art. … Is it useful? What does it contribute?”

She says that many people have “defended its intangible worthiness” but others – “politicians among them – have done their best to finish it off.”

And she wondered if art is in danger of dying. “Unlike the discipline of economics, and indeed unlike money – a lately-come tool we invented to facilitate trading at a distance – art is very old. The anthropologists and neurologists are now telling us how old – it’s as old as humanity. It isn’t a frill,” she said. “Art isn’t only what we do, it’s who we are.”

Ms. Atwood concludes that “any theory of humanity that fails to take account of human art fails indeed.”
And she waits with great interest, she says, to see what younger artists come up with, what the art of the future will be.

“I wish for these young artists what I wish for all of us: a cool head in a crisis; a knack of lateral thinking; grace under pressure; and a sackful of good luck. We will need all of them.”

(Photo: Christian Hartmann/Reuters)

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