We in the cultural sector enjoy a good diatribe about soft power. That is, patrimony’s uncanny ability to attract rather than coerce affections and followings. It’s become a sort of catchphrase employed when attempting to justify the sway of the arts to more skeptical others; just how massively music, imagery, literature, cinema, sports, cuisine et al. have shaped, and continue to shape, their personal and collective mindsets.
It’s big stuff, enough to make you go blue in the face and prattle on about Colin Firth’s Mister Darcy, as I recall of the time I wrote a rather long tirade on the subject some moons ago.
Though the passage of those moons has me tweaking my ways of thinking. Perhaps I’m just another year older and tireder of the arbitrary slinging of money, militaristic threats, corruption and oppression that qualifies as real power across the world stage. Perhaps I’m still in that shiny, cliché New Year mood…
Because, hark! The angel of late-night thoughts sings. I propose a simple resolution (perhaps a mere shift in semantics, but the nudge has to start somewhere). Let us stop referring to soft power as soft!
A more equitable definition of power has to begin at home. With art administrators and educators, fine artists, designers, researchers, journalists, collectors, critics, visual culture enthusiasts and creatives of all stripes who most believe in the life-altering, horizon-expanding, carthartic gifts of beauty, inspiration, and hard critical looks at circumstances past and present. With anyone out there who can see possibilities.
Those who experience and benefit from the immense power of the arts every single day are those best equipped to spread the joy and have it be taken seriously. Let us stop being so obligingly soft. There’s not one lily-livered thing about expression. Let us call the things we love and do and make what they are — wonderfully potent.
Emily Catrice

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