Let's set the scene. It's Friday night. 11pm. It's raining outside and we're in Paris. We're in a dark corner of a dingy jazz bar. Someone's wearing stripes. We close in on one girl, eyes fixed on the main stage, foot tapping and head swaying. She's been jazzed and she isn't afraid to show it. The girl is me. For 10 months last year, I lived in Paris and for every second of it, I felt like a pretentious elitist. Even saying the words I live in Paris filled me with self-loathing.
Since returning to the UK last year, I have been wondering why I felt this way in Paris. During the months leading up to my departure I fantasised for hours and hours about everything that I would experience and learn, all of the art that I would see and every piece of culture I would soak in. And I think that's where the problem lay. Although I craved art and culture, when I spoke about them to other people, I couldn't help feeling a little snooty.
'Culture' is a dangerous word. Utter it to the wrong people and you're an outsider, talk too passionately about it and you're an elitist snob. It hasn't always been like this, though. Go back 100 years or so to the advent of cinema and everyone was a fan. Venture back a few hundred more and and droves of people were listening to the latest Beethoven piece. Somewhere along the way, our general perception of culture changed. What is an inclusive and open form of expression somehow became skewed as being a 'members-only' club.
Ever since the arts became attached to the country's economic status, they have been placed under intense scrutiny. Commodified as a means to a financial end, they have been forced to prove themselves by pulling their weight in money. When that began to happen, people started to question the worth of the arts and to scrutinise how they contributed to our country's financial situation. Of course, art is not about financial gain; money and self expression are directly opposed from one another and yet it seems that if something doesn't better the economic standpoint of the country, it is achieving nothing. If you champion an economically empty endeavour, people will naturally assume it's because you want to prove a point.
My life in Paris taught me so much about culture, art and people. Yet somewhere along the way, I forgot the real aim of art and how it enables us to expand our ability to understand. Art is not a monetary commodity, it is a communicative tool. Void of a global language, we can express our most abstract ideas to people from all around the world and in turn, enable them to think differently about their own. We need art not as a tool of finance, nor as an elitist institute. Art brings us to other people and that is one of the most valuable tools we could hope to gain. The next time I visit a gallery, or a jazz club, I will try to brush off a little of my self-awareness and fully appreciate the art on show. After all, you can't get more French than that, non?
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