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The arts: how and why are they important in our lives?

This step explores, contextualises and explains what the arts are and what purpose they play - and have played throughout time - in all of our lives.
I’m constantly looking at things and saying, what is art? I don’t know. I’m 86, well nearly 87 next week. I really ought to begin to make up my mind. I don’t know. I haven’t done yet. Well, till yesterday, I didn’t like modern art. But I went to the Picasso. So I’ve changed my mind. I doubt like unmade beds and things, but I do like craftsmanship. In the 21st century, the arts are ubiquitous. So every newspaper has an arts section, and there are now over 300 different arts festivals across the UK and more every year, I think. And yet, there’s still not a lot of consensus about what the arts actually are.
So the dictionary says that they’re imaginative and nonscientific branches of knowledge. I’m not sure that I agree with that entirely.
Tolstoy wrote a small volume called What Is Art? that I’ve always found quite helpful. And he talks about how art is a means of union among men, so it joins us together. To answer personally, I would say that the arts help me and help maybe all of us to clarify things which are otherwise a bit disparate, that they offer a sense of harmony and unity in our worlds and that they also help us deal with things which are often appalling. I think, in all societies and through all time, the arts are present. They are part of us.
You know, we find cave paintings and you know, people decorated their dwellings in ways that we continue to recognise now and are not hugely dissimilar. I think some of the oldest musical instruments that have been found are flutes, things that we would recognise. And these flutes are between 42 and 43,000 years old. But the arts are absolutely part of us. They are a way for us to reflect on and to communicate what it is to exist as human beings in this world and ways for us to make sense of that experience and also to communicate that to other people. There are ways for us to connect with and express our emotions and ideas as well.

This step focuses on exploring, contextualising and explaining what the arts are and what purpose they play – and have played throughout time – in all of our lives.

In it you will hear the personal reflections of Elizabeth Ann who lives with a dementia, as she explains what she feels defines art.

You will also hear from Dr Hannah Zeilig (Senior Research Fellow at London College of Fashion, University of the Arts London) and Julian West as they discuss the poor consensus that surrounds the question of what art is, even at a time when the arts are all around us.

You may find it of interest to read Leo Tolstoy’s ‘What is Art’ (1898).

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Dementia and the Arts: Sharing Practice, Developing Understanding and Enhancing Lives

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