Arts Lab

Sohrab Ahmari on Identity, Truth & Beauty

Transcription from BBC Radio 4 interview on 3rd January 2019

‘The art world is in crisis – an identity crisis.

The vital purpose of the arts for me is the pursuit of truth and beauty, the elevation of everyday life, the opening up of new awareness of thought and new ways of seeing the world.

Clearly, there’s a place for a political message within art. But it shouldn’t ? the whole endeavour as we’re ? today.

One of art’s many virtues is how it allows artists to dream, to conjure up new thoughts and even new worlds. …. 

Art, like literature, allows us to experiment, to take ourselves into another world, another age, even another body.

I think it’s worth remembering that things have always been miserable for most people. From a material standpoint, our age is a lot more comfortable than the time of Caravaggio, for instance. If we’re constantly venting collective grievances – real or perceived – we’re in risk of closing ourselves off to the possibilities of truth  and beauty, even amid life’s injustices.

We’re living through a period of cultural crisis and social disintegration across the west and we desperately need to preserve the permanent values of our civilization – those which transcend race, gender, sex and other divisions of the kind. One of those values is beauty, which the west has long linked with truth, and, with the highest aspirations, the human spirit. Those lofty things aside, we also need beauty sometimes just to escape the coarseness and dreariness of modern life; to see something refreshing; to connect with others who don’t share our background or world view; to think new thoughts.’