This post is not specifically about cultures.
Rather, about an argument I recently encountered on the subject.
I asked a guy what the current minister for culture in Malta does about the country’s cultural development considering that he also runs the ministry for tourism and besides other little things like, hm, his family.
The person I argued with knew the minister in question and, I think, took offence of my not-so-innocent question because I implied whether the minister was good at his job.
He said, “having to run a ministry for culture doesn’t mean you need to be knowledgeable on art”.
The opponent’s mother happened to be there, too, so she had her say, “knowing his smart parents, what do you expect, of course he’s knowledgeable”.
My eyes popped and rolled down on the carpet. How is his parents a measure to what he’s capable of and how much he knows?
It’s not a guarantee, to put it that way.
I actually didn’t say anything to her because, if I were to use her logic, then that made her son very uneducated since she never went to school, but I was still looking for my eyes on the carpet.
You don’t necessarily have to be a doctor to run a hospital, in fact, better not because, if he’s a surgeon, he’ll always try to solve the management problems with a scalpel.
I get that.
But being a lawyer and running two ministries doesn’t make you a good leader of cultural affairs, either.
And that’s when the guy sent me to hell.
To be precise, he sent me to America, of all places, “if you want culture so much…”.
If I were to pick a cultural spot, it’d be Florence or Paris.
I kept quiet for a while and wondered what really means to be a minister for culture.
Is it a guy who tells his employees that the population needs to be educated on better manners, speak in only one language at a time – and not mix the Maltese with the English all the time; help open up local theatre, opera, and national ballet companies with opportunities for full-time jobs; implement compulsory training in etiquette in primary schools…
I dared say that Malta hasn’t changed for the past 13 years in terms of their artistic contribution.
If there are geniuses, like Joseph Calleja, the tenor, they won’t stay in the country.
And with regards to literature, I haven’t really heard of a famous Maltese poet, playwright or novelist.
That’s not to blame anyone, of course, but it certainly is a challenge to the minister, isn’t it?
What does he do about that?
How does one foster the production of plays, paintings, music that can level up with international standards?
My whole point to this argument wasn’t whether the minister for culture was competent.
But what he was doing with his ministry about fostering cultural development in the country.
I attacked the country for the lack of creative people and for killing the creativity of those few who might have it in them.
And I know that because of its younger population, who unfortunately leave the country to find an outlet of opportunity for their art and creativity elsewhere.
I personally know a Maltese composer, who, of course, lives in Paris, because, as he puts it, there isn’t a chance for him in Malta with his particular profession.
Doesn’t that bother the minister for culture – the exodus of his country’s talents?
On the other hand, exodus of talents and their clustering in one place has a scientific explanation.
Jonah Lehrer puts it quite convincingly in his book Imagine, which helps explain partially, why there aren’t famous writers, composers or painters in Malta.
He quotes the statistician David Banks who says that, “human geniuses aren’t scattered randomly across time and space. Instead, they tend to arrive in tight, local clusters.
Athens during 440BC and 380BC was home to Plato, Socrates, Sophocles, Aristophanes, Euripides, and Xenophon.
Florence, between 1450 and 1490 hosted Michelangelo, da Vinci, Ghiberti, Botticelli, Donatello, to mention but a few.
Elizabethan England, too, was home to so many writers from Marlowe, to Ben Jonson, John Milton, Sir Walter Raleigh, to Shakespeare and Francis Bacon.
Look at the Silicon Valley, Palo Alto, and the great amount of geniuses it is home to.
These, as the author Lehrer says, aren’t random clusters.
“Culture largely determines creative output”, as Lerher puts it.
It’s the fact that we’re surrounded by so many creative people that awakens our own creativity, or the lack of it thereof.
“From a poor imitation of Marlowe, Shakespeare developed to be the greatest writer of all time”.
Meaning that, he read and saw from those preceding him, tried it for himself, and added onto the imitation – creating something even better.
By imitating from what you see of the others, you add on to the creation and develop a new one.
You foster more creativity and new art explodes.
No wonder Zuckerberg moved to Palo Alto, because that’s where all the greatest creative minds of his field are.
Because they need each other as inspiration to each other, to their creative genius.
What was the point of that whole argument?
None, now that I think of it.
The argument was foul and feckless.
It was offensive to any culture and embarrassing for the arguers, me to begin with.
Out of all that, however, I realised just how little I know about the job of the minister for culture.
But now I checked.
It is “a cabinet position in some governments, responsible for protecting the national heritage of a country (1) and promoting cultural expression (2)”.
Number 1) straightforward.
Number 2) just begs for many more questions.
You can promote cultural expression all you want, but if you can’t scrape off a living by being an artist, or an actor (a non-existent professional job in Malta), then what exactly constitutes cultural expression?
A hobby on the side will hardly ever turn into something outstanding.
Once you need to earn a living, your creativity hours necessary as input to your art are diminished to exactly that – a little hobby in the attic.
Again, the point?
Never compare cultures, unless it’s a thesis of some sort and you’re tracing foreign influences or developments.
Learn what the term culture and cultural expression means.
With regards to cultural societies, I guess, each one has a cultural heritage.
That, however, doesn’t necessarily make the society creative and innovative.
Just like a parents’ background isn’t a prerequisite to a person’s own achievements.
It’s only a stepping platform.
From there on, however, you’re on your own.