Here’s the text of the speech I would have given this evening, if I’d given it — as it was, artists’ speeches were cut due to time constraints.
It’s a great honour to have been chosen by the World Economic Forum for one of this year’s Crystal Awards. As you know, these awards are presented on the basis of artistic achievement, but also for having somehow contributed to the world’s well-being in other ways.
A cautionary note: At my age, those who’ve followed the artistic path are not usually dwelling on their achievements: They’re thinking about how much better they could have made their art, give or take an extra hundred years. Nor are they boasting of success in making the world a better place. Better than what, or when? They reflect, too, that all arts awards are made subjectively, since there’s no way to measure artistic achievement. It’s not like high-jumping. So I will say simply: Thank you. I’m deeply grateful, and I’m happy to accept this Crystal Award – which could have gone to hundreds of others – on behalf of all artists.
What is the place of the arts at an economic forum? Each of us views the world from a limited vantage point, so it’s natural for those connected with economics to try to work out an economics of art. Is art an object of charity? Is it useful? What does it contribute? Many people have defended its intangible worthiness in an attempt to keep the poor creature alive, as if it were a stray kitten. Others –politicians among them – have done their best to finish it off.
But is it in danger of dying? Unlike the discipline of economics, and indeed unlike money – a lately-come tool we invented to facilitate trading at a distance — art is very old. The anthropologists and neurologists are now telling us how old – it’s as old as humanity. It isn’t a frill – something human societies can choose to indulge or to discard. Art isn’t only what we do, it’s what we are. Our musical and dancing and linguistic abilities appear to be built in to every single one of us, in every society on earth. So it’s not a case of whether or not we’ll have art: it’s a case of what sort of art we will have. Good, or bad? Old, or new? Our own, or somebody else’s? Whatever the choices, any theory of humanity that fails to take account of human art fails indeed.
Like you, I wait with eagerness to see what new sorts of art the younger generations will produce. Whatever astonishing forms or media they invent, they won’t stray far from their age-old themes, which are those of humanity itself: its struggles, its tragedies, its relation to its biological home, its loves and triumphs, and above all, its sense of wonder. I wish for these young artists what I wish for all of us: a cool head in a crisis; a knack for lateral thinking; grace under pressure; and a sackful of good luck. We will need all of them.