Welcome speech to new students at University of Bergen

In his speech to new students at the Faculty of Fine Art, Music and Design Anders Beyer talks about art that in the very essence is the most generous of activities – opening up new horizons for meaning and making one’s interpretations available to the whole world.

By Anders Beyer

Welcome to the Faculty of Fine Art, Music and Design!

This newly established faculty is a melting pot of disciplines offering education of future artists – designers, performing musicians, composers, music therapists, musicologists, curators, music and art teachers and much more. And the building housing fine art and design is also relatively new – it’s a fantastic framework for creative minds. Let’s hope that the Grieg Academy will be a close neighbour in a not too distant future. During the coming years you will work here, and you will develop your creative mindset and hopefully find a personal voice in a rapidly changing world.

How will the art world develop in the coming years in a global turmoil with huge problems and right now in the midst of a crisis caused by the pandemic? That’s a tough question. In an uncertain and technology-driven world the only thing we know with certainty about the future is that there will be a premium value in the creation of experiences that are able to reproduce shared human and physical values.

From my experience working with an international art festival encompassing all art forms, I’d like to invite you to go a step further and share the idea with me, that art should offer alternatives to the status quo. Art cries more than ever out for social significance and to be used to create change.

Art is in the very essence the most generous of activities – opening up new horizons for meaning and making one’s interpretations available to the whole world. But art longs to be used – not exploited, but used – as a catalyst in the development of society. Thanks to our open mind-set I believe that we have the best preconditions for doing so, in this faculty, in this city, in this country.

We are now living in a new reality, and there is reason to believe that the world will never be the same as it was before COVID-19 turned everything upside down.

The consequences of having to keep our distance from one another and avoid large gatherings are far-reaching. Art and culture are far from the only area affected by the crisis and the reservations it has given rise to, but it is perhaps the area where the differences between before and after are greatest. Cancellations, commercial failures and desperate cries for help have affected art and culture since the crisis began, and the public is increasingly demanding cultural experiences that do not involve exploring yet another Netflix backwater.

Now, as we gradually begin to get the feeling that the crisis can go on for years, there are reasons to think deeply about how cultural life can not only survive but actually thrive in this new reality; a reality we can expect to persist in one way or another even when the crisis is officially over, because at the global level mankind has been so affected and alarmed, that our collective behavioural patterns will certainly be changed for a whole generation.

Fortunately, the cultural life of Norway is well placed when it comes to exhibiting the famous adaptability that is so highly appreciated at present. We have seen this in a wealth of initiatives that range from drive-in concerts and live short-story writing to digital plays and artistic podcasts that put the whole extraordinary situation into perspective.

These are excellent initiatives that deserve praise but are also to a great extent about handling the crisis here and now. If the wellbeing of art and culture is to be ensured in the longer term, this richness of ideas must unfold on brand new, visionary platforms that combine the physical and the digital in ways that in the best case can make us ‘first movers’ in this area.

Viewed in the international perspective, our starting point is strong. The world takes a view of our culture, values and art as something ‘Scandi-cool’. The ideas, creativity, skills and visions are all there. We have the players, you are out there, but you must be brought into play with one another. True social development takes place through radical and generous cross-pollination of ideas. That is exactly what has laid the basis for the success of Scandinavia – and what helps us to navigate through the crisis much more nimbly than many other countries, because our cooperation with others is based on a strong community-based principle that what we do must also benefit others.

The model could for example be 59 Productions’ exhibition format Digital Revolution, which brings together musicians, artists, architects, game developers, designers and others with the proviso that they must shift and exceed their normal boundaries through the use of digital media. This ensures the artistic work a highly explorative nature, among other ways through the use of new methods and devices inspired by domains outside the world of art. Here the walls around the independent artistic modes of expression are torn down, which stimulates the intended cross-pollination that is embodied in the DNA of this faculty.

I believe that you guys can produce fantastic results with cross-aesthetic collaborations, which again can lead to effects that also endure outside the world of art and culture. I believe that you can create and present new works and modes of expression born at the intersection of the analogue and the digital, and dealing with exactly this aspect of our life: that for the whole of the future it will unfold in these two parallel but interlaced worlds. For the digital will of course not simply replace mankind’s fundamental need for the physical encounter around an artistic experience.

Do not hide yourself too much in your own studio, initiate instead groups of like-minded and start a conversation on what you want with your art, what you want to achieve with regards to societal changes. I encourage you to:

  • Initiate dialogue about what art is, its enabled forms today, and actively to speculate over what art can be in the future.
  • Challenge and explore public attitudes to the placing of technology in new artistic settings.
  • Erase the distinction between our digital and analogue realities and question what ‘truth’ and ‘reality’ are today.
  • Inspire bold, out-of-the-box thinking along the lines of ‘stay hungry, stay foolish’ – among both artists and the public.
  • Forge links among creative environments that have never collaborated before, to trigger explosive creative synergies.
  • Constitute a platform for artistic experiments – an arts lab for relevant social debate and the creation of a new kind of audience involvement and innovation.

This kind of dual germination should be established, because we lack accessibility and diversity, so that art can reach and involve a new and larger audience, including new talents.

Revolutions are made by the sum of individuals’ courage to act. We have already been facing the need for a huge social readjustment if we are not to leave our children with a planet that has been robbed of its natural resources, ravaged by violent wars and is full of exhausted human beings.

And now on top of this we have also been facing a pandemic that makes the readjustment even more massive. However, the aim must still be to avoid being reduced as human beings to columns and numbers in a spreadsheet that will never be able to account for what truly makes life worth living. Beauty. Solidarity. Love.

It would be seriously Scandi-cool if you guys could be the ones who make innovative art, design, music, music therapy, musicology and so forth in a way that your output could be catalyst for that transformation.

I wish you all the best and good luck!

© Anders Beyer 2020.