Art rationing: the culture of less

There is talk of rationing in the air. Hilary Benn, Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural affairs has done the maths and warns that population growth and climate change will affect our future food security. Amongst the green left, there’s a nostalgic enthusiasm for this kind of wartime frugality. A rush of books is digging up techniques of how the wartime generation coped with shortage.

After decades of plenty, we are coming to believe we are overburdened by consumption. I’m sure a lot of the world would find this more than a little ironic, but let’s not knock it. A culture of less would be a good thing.

But I started wondering whether it’s not just food and goods we should be thinking about having less of. What if the culture of less were to mean less culture as well? I remember listening to a talk by director Mike Figgis a couple of years ago in which he likened cultural over-production to global warming. The inventions of photography, then magnetic tape and now digitisation means that all culture is now permanent. Nothing is thrown away. New culture constantly pours into the lake at an ever increasing rate, but the lake is now dammed. “Is there too much culture?” asked Figgis. It was an idea that created a few ripples at the time.

If artists are suggesting we could live with less, should we also be living with less art? What if we had cultural rationing books. You might only be allowed five CDs a year, five books, two exhibitions, four films, one orchestral concert and two gigs. Would that make you choose what you consumed more carefully? What would you cut out? And (though the numbers of artists thrown on the dole queue would be huge) would the experience you took away from each encounter stamp itself a little deeper on your mind?

Go to RSA Arts & Ecology