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Among the many questions that the RSA has engaged with across its long history, those concerning the funding of the arts, access to the arts across the spectrum, and arts education initiatives have figured prominently.

How artistic tastes are formed and changed and their social spread are important factors in attempting to understand how the arts figure within national life.

In a recent discussion paper, John Corner, an RSA Fellow and Visiting Professor at the University of Leeds, assesses some of the ways in which the issue of ‘difficulty’ in the arts has been raised both by writers in the arts and by sociologists of culture. He considers the fact that although difficulty is often regarded as an obstacle to enjoyment, in some contexts it is seen as a necessary ingredient of the arts experience.

He concludes that more knowledge of how people encounter the arts in different settings and circumstances and how they respond to ‘difficulties’ as either a blockage or as a stimulating challenge would be a valuable aid to policy and to arts-based initiatives.

The paper is designed to promote further discussion and to help focus both further inquiry and continuing projects at national and local level to broaden public enjoyment of arts activities.

The paper can be found here. John would welcome any comments or feedback from those involved in the arts or related areas, and is interested in starting conversations with other RSA Fellows. Contact


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