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Art for Art's Sake

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The UK is great at ideas, ok we may not always get to put them into practise (television) or other people learn the rules and do it much better (football) but we are great at cooking them up.

Turning on the radio the other day I heard Peter Blake speaking about his career, you know? Peter Blake, the artist? Of course you know him. He designed the iconic Beatles Sergeant Pepper Lonely Hearts Club Band album sleeve amongst other classic and much loved images.

He had grown up working class and that without the grants available at the time he would not have been able to attend art college and he was not just speaking about himself he was speaking about David Bailey, Terence Donavan people whose work I cannot imagine never having seen.

For a small, cold, damp island off the coast of France we have churned out some greats, some epoch changing trend inventing masters of the arts and I am not saying that all of these people were working class or that they all had help from the state but imagine Britain without those who could not have attended art college if it had, say, a £30,000 plus price tag.

Jarvis Cocker, who attended St. Martins, was last week awarded a fellowship at the University of The Arts and he too chose to speak out about safeguarding funding for arts education as Pulp would never have survived if the price of attending art school had been so high, citing his time at art school for teaching him how to use his mind.

These are not simply famous faces, who have over the years, added a bit of excitement to our lives, covering our chip paper or providing our 'water cooler moments'. These are people whose work has created employment, whose work is internationally known and promotes Britain as somewhere culturally relevant.

It was recently announced that in Wales universities could only charge over £4,000 by autumn 2012 if they submitted plans to subsidise low-income students. Could something like this be done for art colleges and universities? Perhaps the government should facilitate institutions being able to do this, perhaps.

We are in a recession! I hear you cry but in answer to you I ask. Who flies our flag abroad? What is it that you see when you enter a British themed establishment when on holiday, yes you see photographs of the Queen or a beefeater but it is also our cultural royalty that decorates the walls.

Our rock stars, artists and actors. Perhaps a red phone box, a Routemaster bus or a tube map. These things did not come from nowhere they were trained, made or designed in the UK.

Having a variety of voices is what makes Britain's artistic output great. If it becomes dominated by any one section of society I think we will be loosing something invaluable.

The arts always get sniffed at when cuts get announced as though defending investment in the arts is somehow ill considered or bourgeois but in making art school and the creative industries inaccessible for today's Alexander McQueens I think we may be in danger of loosing a huge and valuable part of our national identity. Can you put a price on that?