Musician and producer Brian Eno has called for a “rethink” of culture due to “complete confusion” around the subject.
The former Roxy Music star said arts and culture are worth pursuing for reasons that are not just economic, arguing that they should play a central role in people’s lives in a world of rapid change.
Delivering the annual BBC Music John Peel Lecture, Eno said art and culture offer “a safe place for you to have quite extreme and rather dangerous feelings”.
He said the reason people embrace it is because they know they can “switch if off”, so art has a role as a “simulator” in people’s lives.
Eno said: ”I think we need to rethink how we talk about culture, rethink what we think it does for us, and what it actually is. We have a complete confusion about that. It’s very interesting.”
He said if 20 scientists were asked what they think science does, they would pretty much all agree, but if 20 artists were asked what they believe art does, there would be about 15 different answers.
Giving one definition, he said: “Art is everything that you don’t have to do.”
Eno said it falls outside the activities people have to do to stay alive, such as eating, and he referred to people choosing specific hairstyles as an example.
Eno, best known as a pioneer of ambient music, said: “We live in a culture that is changing so incredibly quickly.”
He said a month in our lifetime sees about the same amount of change as the whole of the 14th century.
Due to nobody being an expert on everything, Eno said, we need ways of “keeping in sync, of remaining coherent”, adding: “And I think that this is what culture is doing for us.”
He said he sees culture as a “set of collective rituals” that everyone is engaged with.
Eno said he had heard Education Secretary Nicky Morgan claim it was a good idea for students not to go into arts and humanities because they did not offer job prospects as good as the STEM subjects.
He said: “Now this word STEM is quite interesting. It stands for science, technology, engineering and mathematics – all things that I am very sympathetic to and interested in.
“But there’s an idea around that those are actually the important things, even the acronym gives it away – the idea of stem, the thing that’s at the centre, which everything else grows off from.
“So the idea is that those things are important. They’re part of the economic mill, and they’re part of what makes Britain great, and increases our GNP and what have you.
“And the arts, on the other hand, are sort of nice, they’re a bit of a luxury actually, something you might do when you’re relaxing after you come home from a hard day’s work at a proper job.
“So I thought that attitude was part of what this comes from – this new idea of the arts as a kind of economic entity.”
He added that he should not “crucify” Morgan for this, describing her comment as “off the cuff”.