The Writing on the Wall
Several entries have talked about definitions, 'What's in' and so forth. I think that's one of the real values of the idea of expressive life itself: its capacity to connect seemingly different activities, strands of policy and - for want of a better phrase - what people actually get up to.
A couple of years ago, I did some work at Demos on conservation, making the point that conservation is about caring for the material world, and hence the physical manifestations of things and objects that symbolise concepts like identity and community. We produced a short video to accompany the pamphlet. It features professional conservators talking about their work. Alongside this, we asked a graffiti artist to talk about his art (expression). As we interviewed him, he began to talk with sadness about how the history of his peers (his heritage) gets whitewashed and painted over. I accept, graffiti can be controversial - I don't want to make an argument about its pros and cons here. The point is that the graffiti artist was talking about heritage in exactly the same way as the conservators we interviewed for the film. Here, we had two worlds coming together around the values of expression.
What really appeals to me about the idea of 'expressive life' is the constructive challenge that it poses to professional self-conception - what actually is a cultural form and why are we showing it, collecting them, selling them, listening to them and so on. In particular, it helps make links that might not otherwise be apparent. My fear was that some of the conservators with whom I was working would look at the video with horror. They didn't. Instead, many said that they looked at graffiti anew.
So, when Adrian asks 'Where do we go from here? Who are the agents who will press this cause?', my answer is that thinking about expressive life is a means by which seemingly disparate groups can find common ground. To take this wider, it would be great to hear other bloggers and readers comment the role of cultural organisations and professionals in encouraging public debate about expressive life (by that I mean beyond policy) and what implications the idea has for education.
Adrian Ellis; Alan Brown; Andras Szanto; Andrew Taylor; Bau Graves; Douglas McLennan; Ellen Lovell; Bill Ivey, William James; James Early; Jim Smith; Lewis Hyde; Marian Godfrey; Martha Bayles; Nihar Patel; Russell Taylor; Sam Jones; Steven Tepper
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