Is Culture Dead?

Carys Rose Thomas criticises claims that we are living through the 'death of culture'.

Carys Rose Thomas
15th May 2017
Image: Instagram, @teddysphotos

Recently, the National Portrait Gallery procured a 4ft tall portrait of Ed Sheeran by Colin Davidson, known for painting other fairly well-known British personalities such as the Queen. The painting has lead to some asking if having such a highly held painter paint the ginger pop-star is somehow a sign of “the death of culture”.

The public have far more access to cultural outlets like art and music now than ever before. No longer do we go out dressed to the nines to watch a film in the cinema. Nowadays, you’re more likely to just pop on Netflix’s latest release at 4am in nothing but your pants. Not only do we all have easy access to these cultural outlets, but anyone with a Soundcloud or a Youtube or an Instagram can share their own artistic creations with thousands at the click of a button. Some seem to think that an increase in quantity of considerable culture for all has lead to a significant decrease in quality, but I don’t think that’s the case.

Here we all are laughing at how on earth the man who wrote ‘Galway Girl’ could have been held up to some kind of level playing field with Queen Liz, but in many ways Ed Sheeran has been a massive artistic signpost in modern. Just as we all loved what The Spice Girls threw at us when we were all young, who began a girl-band trend we still see continuing today. kids now love Ed who has popularised singer-songwriter music. Just look at all the wannabe Sheeran buskers you hear when walking down Northumberland Street.

[pullquote]The accessibility of modern culture has dulled down the classist snobbery that was once an integral part of its being.[/pullquote]

People hear about this portrait and laugh, because we associate ‘culture’ with complicated things like classical music and the opera, but it’s a lot simpler than that. It’s just stuff. Stuff we like, stuff we share, stuff we relate to. It reflects us and our society - so when you snub Ed Sheeran, you’re sort of just snubbing your peers and yourself. The accessibility of modern culture has dulled down the classist snobbery that was once an integral part of its being.

And at the end of the day, have you actually seen the portrait? It’s really bloody good. As a stand-alone piece of art it proves that culture is not only alive, it is thriving. Art is subjective but regardless of how good you think his songs are, bagging 9 of the Top 10 in the charts is a talent in itself. Ed to be no less of a worthy portrait subject than 4 boys in a 60s pop band adored by swarms of young girls, or a dumb-blonde romcom actress who had an affair with the president.

Who has the right to say Shakespeare’s better than Stormzy, Bruegel’s better than Banksy or Mozart’s better than Miley? Who has the right to tell you Elizabeth’s worth a painting but not Ed? Nobody. And lets be honest, we’ve all drunkenly danced to Galway Girl once (maybe twice).

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