It has long been a topic of discussion as to whether the arts have much to do with the evolution of a nation. Some nations that have a positive answer to this question — I’m sure there are already names popping up in your mind — have taken it as almost a duty to improve themselves on a creative level. The countries of France and England are the two that come to my mind immediately. Think of their art collections and how proud they are of them. I remember as a teenager wondering why Elton John and Ian McKellen had the title “Sir,” because they didn’t look like a royalty to me. Later on, when I learned that they got their titles because of their contributions in the field of arts and culture, I was quite impressed.
Now, risking giving the impression that I’m comparing Europe and Turkey from a biased perspective, I want to move on to Turkey. What I will write about from this point onward is based on personal experience only. My history with the arts dates back to when I was six years old, when I first started to play the piano. That, combined with the hours I spent looking at my mother’s oil paintings and joining her in putting brush to canvas from time to time, were my first experiences in the field. However, on a more professional basis — in theater and literature — I can’t say I have more experience than that of a beginner. So the moment I was absolutely sure that I was passionate about the arts, I knew that I needed to improve myself. Because as is true for every field, there can be no self-improvement without learning from the past and observing the present.
So I started seeing as many plays as possible. I did all that was in my power not to think about the fact that one of the oldest theater stages in the country would be demolished, and that the state theaters would be reorganized according to the liking of the government. As long as I was in Turkey, I met people who were really good in their fields, and we all moved past the painful question of what their position would be if they were to live in another country. Would they get paid for their works? Would they at least have a chance to reach an audience, even if only for one performance?
I overlooked it all and didn’t think about it. I probably wouldn’t even be writing this article if I hadn’t gotten the chance to visit Brussels and Amsterdam during the summer. The reason I decided to write is to share one particular event that is still very vivid in my mind. When I visit foreign cities, I always try to see the best-known museums first, before going to any of the rather dull tourist attractions. I knew from the beginning where I wanted to go in Amsterdam: the Rijks Museum and, more importantly, the Van Gogh Museum — a childhood dream.
I wasn’t so sure about Brussels, however. I went to the Fine Arts Museum but couldn’t figure out where else to go. Then, upon climbing a very steep hill, I saw a building that had a sign saying “Musical Instruments Museum.” I went in only because I didn’t have much else to do, and I was curious. As the name implies, the museum had a collection of musical instruments dating back to centuries ago, from all over the world. They also had a solution to the problem that often comes up: that is, that it doesn’t really mean anything to see an instrument if there is no one there to play it. The audio guides one could get to obtain more thorough knowledge about the exhibitions were programmed to start playing a song written for whatever instrument the visitor is standing in front of. I must say that as far as museum concepts go, I found this one the most creative, even though the idea was very simple.
I must emphasize that this was a small museum in Belgium. When I arrived in the Netherlands, I got a map that contained the descriptions of 25 museums one must see in Amsterdam, and was later informed by locals that there are a lot more than only 25 museums in Amsterdam. Then I tried to think of a single museum one must see in Ankara. Yes, definitely the Sabancı and Pera Museums in İstanbul, but that was it. And this is certainly not because we in Turkey are not creative or productive enough, nor is it because we are not interested in the arts.
If we could be presented with such a museum — one that would allow us to understand the true beauty of what is displayed there — and get support when we come up with new works, we would have so much potential. We can even say that we have even more potential, considering the fact that the emphasis placed on art education here is very small compared to that in the aforementioned countries and yet we are still interested in it, to the extent of creating original works ourselves. Thinking about arts education always reminds me of a news article I read about a group of high school students selling their own paintings to have enough money to go to an exhibition in İstanbul. Even this says that there is hope, because it is nothing more than hope that makes one write, draw, sing or act: the hope that through the act, one will be understood.