Tautology Tuesday: “Cultural arts”

You’d think that no one truly interested in either culture or the arts would use the tautology “cultural arts”. After all, the arts are a part of culture and culture includes a variety arts. Either “culture” or “the arts” will do – and will certainly be more accurate than using the phrase “cultural arts”.

But 1,540,000 instances on Google suggest many people think otherwise. Indeed, the topic has its own journal devoted to it: the somewhat pompously titled “Aesthetica Magazine – The Cultural Arts Publication”.

The phrase seems to crop up among organisations desperate not to draw a distinction between high art and low art. In effect, they’re trying to rebrand culture as art – hence “cultural arts” can embrace everything from blockbuster movies and popular music to furniture design, fashion and architecture (sorry, I mean “the art of the built environment”).

Forget “Hamlet”, Mozart’s “Don Giovanni” and anything at all that was given the thumbs up by Alan Clarke in his admittedly now rather crusty-seeming TV series, “Civilisation”. “Cultural arts” are interdisciplinary, diverse, and unmistakably hip and now.

Unless, like me, you can’t ignore that nagging sound of a box being ticked.

Like all tautology, “cultural arts” sounds desperate, untrustworthy and just a little bit fake. But by now you’ve probably got the message – so this will be my last post on the subject.

7 Responses to “Tautology Tuesday: “Cultural arts””

  1. clare says:

    I received an email today from the MD of Aesthetica magazine objecting to the above post. She didn’t want our email exchange published, and I’m happy to comply with her wishes, even if I don’t respect them (coming as they do from someone who claims to want to promote dialogue and debate through her publication).

    I’d be very interested in knowing if anyone else thinks I misunderstood the “ethos and character” (tautology?) of her magazine – and if you think I was being “slightly slanderous” and “unnecessarily harsh” in my post.

    Let me know!

  2. Wasn’t it Kenneth Clarke, Alan’s dad, who was responsible for “Civilisation”? (Wouldn’t that be rather a different accusation without the quotation marks?)

  3. clare says:

    Thanks for pointing that out, Richard. You have proved why every writer could use a good sub-editor.

    I don’t know how I managed to confuse the snaggly-toothed tweedy one with his suave son, whose main contribution to lowercase civilisation was his diaries.

    Perhaps it’s because, as the diaries reveal, Clarke Junior was a master of the “cultural arts” of bitchy political gossip, shameless womanising and ferocious hypochondria.

  4. Tom Myers says:

    Personally Clare, I think your entry lacks understanding, and you’ve written a good example of bad copy.

  5. clare says:

    Thanks for your comment, Tom. Can you explain why? I’d appreciate some more thoughtful feedback.

  6. Brad Shorr says:

    Clare, Here in the States, people like to make the distinction by using “fine arts” and “pop culture”.

  7. clare says:

    Thanks, Brad. That’s a perfectly sensible distinction – I encourage others to use it!

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