What role does the creation and appreciation of the visual arts play in building and sustaining a civilised society in your view?
The visual arts are primarily characterised by making and doing, and particularly in the case of painting and sculpture, the experiences of the senses, especially touch. Recognizing the value and innate intelligence of touch is profoundly humanising, as it draws attention to individual temperament and its nature.
A society that cannot encounter the touch and play of making without being overpowered by the burden of purposefulness (What is it for? What are you saying? What does it mean?) will be less happy and struggle to understand, let alone sustain, its inheritance. Art is an essential quality. It is more about experience, which is personal to us, than knowledge, which is general to everyone. The appreciation of art, with the values of attention, perception and imagination that make it flourish, is central to any society that describes itself as civilised.
To what extent, and why, would society be poorer without the existence of the Royal Academy?
We would lose Britain’s oldest art school and its entirely free postgraduate school that is able to choose its students on the basis of talent and potential alone.
We would lose the greatest set of exhibition galleries in the world and the integrity of our priceless collections and archives. Perhaps above all, society would lose this demonstrably viable model of thinking about and seeing art in a place uniquely led by and run by artists and architects themselves.
Why is it important – if indeed it is – that you remain a privately funded charity?
Independence is vital to us. With no government funding we are free of the bureaucracy which necessarily comes with shadowing or duplicating supervision. It is vanishingly rare for public support for the arts to be unencumbered by some other non-art cause.
Since our founding purpose is the promotion of art and its values, it follows that any art that is in servitude is diminished, no matter how benign the intention or mood of the day, being less open to trust. We are more likely to trust something in which the aesthetic value (beauty) is pre-eminent. We would resist any deflection from the clarity of our founding purpose.
What would you say to a parent wanting to know why they should send their son or daughter to the RA Schools?
The Academy Schools have rarely had a higher reputation. Today in art schools the prestige of the word is such that art increasingly needs to be substantiated by theory, to the extent that students may well be taught by professional teachers rather than by professional artists. Many undergraduates also find their courses are overcrowded, with little space to paint or sculpt. By contrast, at the Royal Academy we maintain the practical studio tradition, with generous space and time and direct access to everything, from our collection and library to our extensive programme of lectures and exhibitions and the Academicians themselves - who are all professional artists and architects.
How would you respond to the suggestion that the Royal Academy is an elitist institution?
In everything we do we aim for the first rate, but we are not exclusive.
What do you see as the greatest current threat(s) to a civilised common life?
The passionate advocacy of grievances masquerading as progress.