Reflecting on culture and art in these times

„When the wind of change blows, some build walls and others windmills.“
(Chinese proverb)

Cultural institutions and cultural workers are not doing well these days. What the cultural workers complain about above all is the lack of appreciation shown to the cultural sector by politicians. While people are once again travelling abroad in packed planes, the stages, galleries, cinemas and museums are lacking opening perspectives despite well thought-out hygiene concepts.

Are cultural products dispensable? And what do we actually understand by culture?

Humans populate the entire planet and settle in the most inhospitable places. They can only do this because they are able to adapt to the respective environmental conditions. What we call culture is the way people live under these conditions, i.e. how they feed themselves, what dwellings they inhabit, how their communities are organised, to name just a few examples. It is obvious that the diverse living conditions have produced a diversity of cultures. And it is also obvious that cultures change when external conditions change. This can be climatic changes or exponential population growth, as we have experienced since the emergence of agriculture. The diverse cultural adaptations have their origin in the creative nature of humans and are essentially based on the human imagination.

The culture in which we grow up imparts to us a view of the world that usually accompanies us throughout our lives. It shapes our perception and our relationship to the world, and most of us are only prepared to question it when external conditions leave us no other choice. This perhaps explains why so many insights that we owe to the sciences take decades to enter the public consciousness and are reflected in our way of life.

Food culture is particularly suitable for making cultural change visible. This area of our culture is also interesting because our eating habits provide information about our relationship to the (non-human) world. I am thinking of the tacit acceptance of factory farming. Its cruelty and harmfulness to the climate is currently a major topic in the media. Meat consumption in this country has declined significantly in recent years. This is due in no small part to cooks and nutritionists who are willing to experiment and free us from false assumptions that are deeply anchored in our subconscious. While scientists research food with regard to our health, the concern of cooks is to prepare food (also meatless food) in such a way that food intake remains a sensual experience in the future.

Science and culture creation always and everywhere go hand in hand. And at this point it is important for me to emphasise that we are all creators of culture, insofar as we modify our behaviour and establish new habits on the basis of our experiences and the information that is available to us, which may then eventually become the cultural standard.

Many actors from different disciplines have a share in the fact that our view of the world is changing. There are those who do research and bring new things to light, those who write about them, make films or appear on talk shows to spread the news, and most importantly, people who think about what the findings mean for their own lives, their everyday lives, and experiment with new habits. So all of us. There are the artists who share with us how they perceive the world and enchant us for the moment, confuse us, trigger something in us, make us think and/or show us new perspectives.

Cultural creation is a living process that needs actors who inspire each other. Creative energy needs impulses.

During the Corona period, reading interesting texts helped me not to become lonely and to remember that we are in the middle of a process in which each of us can influence the course in his or her own way. At a time when there is hardly any other topic in the media than the pandemic, authors have taken me on a journey to the beginnings of humanity, shared their experiences of nature and kept my curiosity about the world alive. Cultural products (currently especially freely available ones such as books, films, radio and blog posts) are more important than ever at this time, because they can steer thoughts in a constructive direction, while almost every conversation, whether outdoors or on the phone, after a short while revolves around the topic of Corona. Our view has narrowed and sensual events have become rare. That is why inspirations are an elixir of life.

Sensory experiences are immensely important. The brain needs moments of purposelessness and stimulation so that new connections and new images can emerge.

The cultural sector creates such spaces that enable creative thinking.

At some point, Corona will disappear from the headlines. However, this does not change the need to radically change our lifestyles. It is good that many people are already developing and testing new ideas and concepts. Artists and researchers are predestined to set impulses. Their attitude is that of seekers.

„Every creative act is a rebellion against the reality that is familiar to us. Whoever wants to change the world must be able to see what is not but could be.“ ( Stefan Klein, How we change the world)

Unfortunately, too many people still believe that it takes special, innate abilities to participate in shaping the world. We have been taught that there are two kinds of people: on the one hand, a very few gifted people, the so-called high achievers of society (mostly men) – on the other hand, the great mass of average citizens whose participation consists largely of „keeping the mill running“

In 1981, together with a friend, I visited the impressive exhibition „Westkunst“ in the Rheinhallen of the Cologne Fair. Contemporary art after 1939 was on display and everything of „rank and name“ in the art scene was represented. In the entrance area, there was a large sign that could not be overlooked:

„Every human being is an artist.“ (Joseph Beuys)

I remember that we had a lively discussion. In essence, it was about the question of who is allowed to call themselves an „artist“, or what constitutes an artist. In a society that relies on comparison and competition and in which everyone wants to be something special (including the corresponding social recognition in the form of fame and money), success must be exclusive.

Today, 40 years later, there seems to be a change in our way of thinking. We are beginning to realise that intelligence and creativity are less the result of genetic predispositions than of the experiences a person has and the opportunities his or her environment opens up. Social interaction plays a decisive role in this.

„Ideas make people people. But where do our ideas come from? The creative mind, which sets us apart from all creatures of nature and from artificial intelligences, is still considered the most enigmatic quality of our being. (…) Now, however, brain research, cognitive science and new archaeological finds from the distant past show what makes us imaginative: Ideas are not born in individual minds, but in our lives together. Creativity can be unleashed.“ (Stefan Klein, How We Change the World)

We need each other and common activities and challenges to develop our potential and make our specific contribution. Every human being is unique. So is every other living being on this planet. The life processes on earth create an almost inexhaustible abundance of life worlds as a result of permanent mixing. At present, we also speak of the co-evolution of plants, animals and humans.

I am grateful to live in a time when more and more people feel the need to experience themselves as part of a global network of the living. That is what we have always been. However, the way of life of the last centuries creates a sense of separateness, a division into valuable and worthless life, into rulers and ruled.

It is now up to us to decide which path to take. We can reflect on the fact that cooperation has made us so successful as a species. We can start to trust ourselves more and get involved. The conditions for this are there. The internet enables unprecedented exchange with the whole world – in real time. Information spreads in the blink of an eye. Anyone can have their say. Movements „from below“ are emerging everywhere, demanding one thing above all: participation in the important decisions that affect us all. All over the world, people are trying to get rid of autocratic rulers. But overcoming patriarchal structures is not that easy. Setbacks are inevitable.

And yet – the spirit is out of the bottle.

Just as the invention of printing once contributed to the spread of knowledge and changed societies permanently, digitalisation is now ushering in a new era.

Like everything, of course, the inflationary dissemination of information has its downsides. Too much“ can easily lead to overload and we can succumb to the pull of jumping from one piece of information to the next without taking a closer look at a topic. And if everyone can have their say, „fakenews“ are inevitable. This is precisely why debate spaces are so important.

„What we need are no prescribed formulas, no pre-chewed simple answers, but inclusive, transparent discussions about the future of our society“. (Kübra Gümüşay, Language and Being)

Always remember you matter, you´re important and you are loved, and you bring to this world things no one else can.(Charlie Mackesy)

I see us at a crossroads. The winds of change are shaking mightily at the pillars of our Christian-based culture. Science is making it clear that the term „race“ is a useless construct. There is only one humanity. Humans, differ from each other because they have each adapted optimally to their environment.

More and more people feel that gender roles are too restrictive, language is changing, and gendering is becoming more and more self-evident. Presumably, gendering will become superfluous when the concern behind it has arrived in society. The abuse scandal in the church reveals that adherence to a morality that is against (human) nature has fatal consequences, as does the false assumption that man is above nature and should „subdue the earth“. Today, we can clearly see where this has led.

This great disillusionment opens up a space of possibility that we as cultural workers can help to shape.

All of us. With the decisions we make every day.

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