Today I met three Bulgarians studying at our School of Art and Design. While standing in front of a supermarket, we were approached by an interesting character, a 50-something man who noticed we were speaking a Slavic language. It later turned out he was of Czech origin, speaking also Russian and claimed to be one of the few people on Earth who can read the Church Slavonic language – which I doubt, because I believe every priest and lots of Slavic Linguists can also read it, but anyway. He wanted to talk to us: ‘Are you students? You shouldn’t be socialising, you should be reading books!’.
Then he asked us what each of us was studying.
‘Illustration and Animation’, answered one of the girls with pride.
‘Theatre’, added the other girl.
‘Media’, I said when it was my turn to answer.
‘Music’, answered the only guy with us.
‘Doesn’t anyone have a real profession? No engineers or doctors?’ The man was puzzled.
The only one of us that got his attention was the musician. ‘Music is for the soul’, he said, ‘It is there when you go to heaven.’ And then he said he used to listen to a lot of music while in New York. He used to travel a lot, because of his work – a soldier.
He was fighting for his country. ‘Right or wrong, it is your country’, he said – meaning that as a soldier, you shouldn’t care what the cause is – it is your country, so it is your duty to fight for it.
Coming back to music, he tried to make a joke about our musician friend (when he found out he’s a drummer): ‘Oh, so not Mozart, but rock and roll… Sex, drugs and rock and roll. I don’t like it. I missed all that.’
We asked him if he lived in Coventry. No, he just came here to attend a friend’s funeral. ‘I hate this city’, he said. ‘It’s all grey and boring.’ Then I asked him if it used to be different before. ‘Oh yes, there were factories everywhere. You could walk into a pub and go out with a job. Everyone was looking for people.’
This reminded me of my recent visit at the Transport Museum. While of course impressed by all the exhibitions and creative decisions about how to curate them, what really got my attention was this part of the museum:
For the last 20 years, Coventry’s auto industry has been in constant decline. Factories closing, businesses moving elsewhere… And while impressive in its size and range, the Transport Museum itself made the point stronger – it was, indeed, just a museum of transport. From all the years of glory, innovation, production and blooming factories, all that has left today is a museum. A memory of the past glory.
Coventry University still preserves its fame as a ‘go to’ University for automotive design and engineering, but… This guy’s words got me thinking – if there are barely any factories and a shortage of engineering jobs, is it still worth it pursuing an engineering career and/or claiming it is a profession to be proud of as it used to be? I’m not implying the arts are more ‘real’ professions than engineering, but… if the country’s economy relies on soft skill and ‘intellectual’ types of business, then what are today’s ‘real’ professions? And if none of them are creating products (engineering implies production of material goods, while the arts and services result in ‘intellectual’ products that can’t be touched), what is it that shapes the economy? Can information take the place of ‘real’ products?
Just some thoughts…