Guest Blog: The Oxford Literary Festival

What’s the Point of the Arts and Humanities? A report from the Oxford Literary Festival

Guest Blog by Catherine Batac Walder

On Monday, March 26, I attended the discussion on “What’s the Point of the Arts and Humanities?” an event at the Oxford Literary Festival. The panel included comedian and co-founder of the Arts Emergency Service Josie Long, writer Philip Pullman, and world-renowned graphic novelist and magician Alan Moore. Dr Simon Kövesi, the head of English and modern languages at Oxford Brookes University, chaired the event.

Walder3_OxfordLitFest2012.JPGMeeting Alan Moore at a book-signing after the panel discussion.

A good part of the talk dwelt on assessment, economics, and funding of higher education (HE) in the UK, that is, should the state fund the study of the Arts and Humanities? Having experienced HE in various settings - the Philippines, Scandinavia, Southern Europe and the UK - I find that criticisms about government funding are endless and that I, originally from a developing country, have the inherent habit of comparing Philippine higher education, where funding is a problem not only in HE but on all levels of education. That is also to say that funding, not necessarily the systems, in Norway and Finland left me with awe.
 
What interested me more was the main topic addressed by the panel. What’s the point of the arts? Can the arts and humanities develop without university study and scholarship? Talks of cinema vs. books, art vs. commerce/industry surfaced. Pullman pointed out that he wouldn’t wish anyone to think that by praising the arts and humanities he was downgrading the importance of science. This bigger picture, this (false) division between art and science is interesting to me as having worked with scientists at a university here in England, I got to know some who also have the same qualms about industry/commerce as artists do. I agreed when Moore said, “if we go back to the history of our culture, the high points are our creativity, that’s how we measure things, that’s what makes us human.” But you could also say the same about science and technology. Overall it was a pleasant afternoon and you couldn’t help but hang on every word: Pullman with his scholarly discourse; Long with her activism and idealism; and Moore with his astute opinion of humanities and being human that only a student of unstructured education and a man of life experiences could give.

Walder2_OxfordLitFest2012.JPGBook sale at the marquee in Christ Church (where Lewis Carroll spent time as a student and teacher).

The annual festival opened Saturday, March 24 and will run until Sunday, April 1. For details on ongoing and upcoming events, visit oxfordliteraryfestival.org.

Many thanks to Catherine Batac Walder, a writer living in the UK, for this report. She has previously written for us about Sherlock Holmes, ex-library books, and The Water Babies.

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