Europe is unusual – it can monetise culture

Europe is unusual – it can monetise culture


norman lebrecht

December 06, 2019

From culture columnist Janan Ganesh in the Financial Times:

… In the 1960s, Europe’s power to bewitch outsiders with its cultural riches was an unambiguous asset. As the continent feels its way gingerly into a very different century, I question whether that is quite so true….

None of which is to pretend that Europe is a unique store of genius. China and India are much older civilisations. But they have been poor enough recently enough to be inoculated against lethargy. The US dominated many or most art forms in the past century. But those feats are not so old as to (yet) be a source of complacency. No, Europe is unusual in the extent to which it can monetise its cultural legacy, even its built environment, and draw status from it. If the result is a relative lack of energy, it did not matter when much of the world was cut off by ideology. It matters rather more in a century of ferocious competition….

Read on here.




  • Mustafa Kandan says:

    Europe is the mother of the modern world globally and its civilisation is no longer confined to a particular geographical location. Its emphasis on the individual and the necessity for constant change or transformation was something totally unique and (in spite of some challenges) came to dominate the world that we know today. As the mother of the modern world, it makes sense for it to be a place of pilgrimage & (as a less positive feature) kitsch.

    • John Borstlap says:

      Yes, but its civilization is double-edged. On one hand, Enlightenment values answer universal needs of humans anywhere, so when circumstances allow for it, people embrace these values, but the downside is the erosion of local cultures, and of its own culture. Within every culture on the planet, universal human experience is encoded; but the West has – with its focus on progress – enveloped all cultural knowledge which has been inscribed in cultural traditions, with the wrapping paper of ‘the past’ and thereby designating everything that humans have thought, achieved, experienced in the past, as ‘no longer meaningful to the present and future’ of the human species. This means that much knowledge and understanding is no longer ‘mentally accessible’ to many people. And in the end, this black hole of ignorance of the human condition undermines the West as well, with the result that this dark side of the West is now a problem everywhere.

  • Roland Berry says:


  • Tamino says:

    Which art forms did the US dominate in the last century?
    What else?
    In Film or Pop the US dominated popular commercialization, but artistic originality was dominated by others.
    Which art forms?

    • Ramon Figueroa says:

      Only the second half of the twentieth century, while Europe was recovering but:
      Musicals. They are a great American form and, at their best, very original.
      Dance. Granted, Balanchine was trained and had most of his fundamental experiences in Europe (in Russia at that, which is its own entity somewhat separate from Europe), but The United States gave him the forum where his art flourished.
      Until the advent of the blockbuster, US film was extremely influential, and it is constantly referred. It continues to be extremely influential, but in a completely degraded way.
      And let me tell you, classical arts, especially opera, would be in much better shape if The United States market were still a full participant in it. But that time is past. Americans are getting an increasingly bad education in and out of the classroom (for political reasons).

    • Eric says:

      Modern dance. And popular commercial successes
      are sometimes artistic successes as well.

      • Tamino says:

        Dance? How so?
        Can we agree, that “The US dominated many or most art forms in the past century” is nonsense?

  • sam says:


    Here are the top 19 tourist destinations in 2019. Only 5 (26%) are European cities.

    19. Bali, Indonesia — 8.26 million
    18. Palma de Mallorca, Spain — 8.96 million
    17. Barcelona, Spain — 9.09 million
    16. Milan, Italy — 9.10 million
    15. Pattaya, Thailand — 9.44 million
    14. Phuket, Thailand — 9.89 million
    13. Mecca, Saudi Arabia — 10 million
    12. Osaka, Japan — 10.14 million
    11. Seoul, South Korea — 11.25 million
    10. Antalya, Turkey — 12.41 million
    9. Tokyo — 12.93 million
    8. Istanbul — 13.4 million
    7. New York City — 13.6 million
    6. Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia — 13.79 million
    5. Singapore — 14.67 million.
    4. Dubai, United Arab Emirates — 15.93 million
    3. London — 19.09 million
    2. Paris — 19.1 million
    1. Bangkok — 22.78 million

    If you have other metrics, share them. (Sorry, FT firewall, they certainly monetized THAT!)

    • Don Fatale says:

      Talk about monetising! Article behind a FT paywall!

      Sam, I know it’s not your own list but as it’s all we have left to comment on… Milan gets more tourists than Rome, Florence, Venice or Prague? Been there a few times for La Scala, can’t think of any other reason to be there as a tourist.

    • MWnyc says:

      How are they measuring? I can’t help thinking that the numbers for Dubai and Singapore in particular include people changing planes at the airport. (If the numbers include people that decide to spend a day or two staying in Dubai or Singapore while traveling between continents, that should count, unless those people are simply staying at an airport hotel.)

      But yes, the rise of the huge Chinese and Indian middle classes is making a big difference in international tourism.

      Should pilgrims to Mecca count as tourists? It just doesn’t seem like the same thing.

    • Tamino says:

      What‘s the relevance to the debated subject?

  • John Borstlap says:

    There is a paywall. The fragment as in the post seems to reveal the kind of woolly generalized thinking which does not touch any real theme but meanders along vague impressions. But the lack of energy in Europe on so many fronts is a real thing.

    The malaise which can be noticed in Europe’s cultural field, which has been pointedly described by Emmanuel Macron in his speech at recieving the Charlemagne Prize in Aachen in 2018, is the stalemate as a result of WW II and consequent urge to break with the past, ALL past. Impoverishment was logically the end result. Hence the development of the European museum culture in the visual arts and in music where ‘the repertoire’ is treated by management staff as a tourist product, while performers still do their very best to keep the music alive. The bubble of classical music is a good example, as are the museums with the ‘old collections’ and the historic city centres where the locals are pushed-out because of the rising house prices and rich foreigners buy-up the space since living in a chique museum is status-enhancing.

  • Michel says:

    China is surely older than Europe but Lang Lang plays européan classical music and is very famous for that and not classical chinese music ! Have you ever heard of a chinese Shakespeare ? A chinese Rembrandt ? 5000 years of civilisation to produce … well, not many valuable things apart fine porcelain cups.

    • John Borstlap says:

      Nonsense. Chinese literature and especially, Chinese poetry, is a rich trove of sophistication. When it began to be translated and read in the West, it quickly found many enthusiasts. Mahler’s Lied von der Erde is based on such translations. Chinese painting on rolls of silk are world famous and preserved as precious treasures. The oracle book of I Ching still poses philosophical and religious puzzles to experts, and what is more, it is an ancient oracle that still works in the modern world. Chinese opera is powerfully expressive in its ritualistic intensity. Etc. etc…..

      “With China being one of the earliest ancient civilizations, Chinese culture exerts profound influence on the philosophy, virtue, etiquette, and traditions of Asia to date. Chinese language, ceramics, architecture, music, dance, literature, martial arts, cuisine, visual arts, philosophy, business etiquette, religion, politics, and history have global influence, while its traditions and festivals are also celebrated, instilled, and practiced by people around the world.”

  • Caranome says:

    Michel: your statement is ignorance laced with chauvinism. Have you ever heard of gunpowder, paper, flood control, and many other inventions/discoveries of 5,000 years of Chinese civilization? Have you heard of–let alone been to–the National Palace Museum in Taiwan, universally recognized as the greatest repository of Chinese art, where you will find Chinese Shakespeare, Rembrandt, and other masters of crafts that put others to shame? Western culture has permeated across the world because western powers have dominated the world for the past 600 years. I suggest you educate yourself a bit more than the porcelain cup of knowledge and perspective you have.