Till Brönner: The Free Space of Art
Mr. Brönner, your most recent album is titled On Vacation, of all things . . .
Till Brönner: Well, we chose the title when the whole Covid thing was still far from our radar screens. Back then, we thought it would perfectly convey the feeling of the times. And when the pandemic hit, there was indeed some discussion with the record company about whether the title might suddenly sound a bit cynical. Personally, I see the virus as something that has nothing to do with art. And as I’ve never before experienced a time that was as uninspiring and artistically unproductive as the one we are living in right now, I’m quite happy that we chose to keep the title. The album’s release is creating exactly the resonance that I originally envisaged. There are so many people out there yearning, perhaps even aching for art, culture, distraction and emotion.
“Music is one of the strongest expressions of life and a direct, unequivocal way into people’s hearts.”
You hinted at how difficult life has become for artists, and you’ve spoken out publicly about that. What are we currently learning about the standing of culture in our society?
I have the impression that people who don’t have anything to do with the arts on a professional level or who don’t enjoy culture on a regular basis consider it to be non-essential. This is not happening for the first time, and I’m guessing it won’t be the last either. So there is a real and immediate risk that the exact same thing will happen again in a future crisis if we don’t do anything about it. That is a depressing thought. But you could also call it a learning opportunity. Culture is what distinguishes humans from animals, though ironically it does so exactly in those moments when we turn on our autopilot and follow our instincts. But it’s exactly this part of ourselves that we constantly have to work on. The belief that culture is essential for a society needs to be set in stone.
Would you agree that culture and a love of pleasure and enjoyment is not as anchored in our society as it is in others?
Yes, you could say that. [laughs]
Are we too cerebral when it comes to culture? Do we lack passion?
Saying we are pleasure-averse makes for a bold theory. Still, I think we should take a close look from time to time at how pleasure and culture manifest themselves in Germany. It’s easy to compare the Germans to the French, to note that the French are happy to spend forty or even fifty percent of their annual income on food, and then say that proves their greater affinity for culture and enjoyment. The German understanding of culture and pleasure may manifest itself differently, but that doesn’t mean it’s not there. At the end of the day, no other country invests as much tax money in culture as we do, and the pandemic hasn’t changed that.
How important would it be to have more people in our society think like artists?
As far as that is concerned, I’m a realist. In this country, we don’t instinctively perceive culture all around us. But it is important to develop unusual ways of thinking within the free space of art, so that reality can live up to its possibilities.
Is that also a question of educational policy?
Of course. We need a complete turnaround for the future. I’ve been saying this for years: we have to raise the standing of music and art within our schools in order to make sure that future generations consider culture important and can rely on it as a crucial way to express themselves and solve conflicts in their everyday lives.
Let me ask you directly: how important is music for society?
More than anything else, music is sheer emotion. These days, it is something that people think they can do without. But the truth is that no other institution provides us with a comparable emotional harbor, which is basically what music is. It is unfortunate that, although music is currently doing more than ever to fulfil its purpose, nobody feels the need to discuss its value. Music is one of the strongest expressions of life and a direct, unequivocal way into people’s hearts. No movie could do without music. But the availability of music has assumed a political dimension. Just like water, music doesn’t just come straight from the faucet when we open the tap. In this respect, artists will need to advocate for their concerns and the use of their intellectual property much more vocally in the future. Otherwise, the profession will die out.