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July 29, 2012

Comments

rjmadden

Individuals applying for grants to the Arts Council already have only around a 32% success rate nationwide.

Good odds for bad art.

David

rjmadden,

“Good odds for bad art.”

For a certain kind of bad art, those are very good odds indeed. What’s revealing is the kind of projects that make the cut and are in that 32%. The Arts Council was founded in 1946 by John Maynard Keynes, who thought it would only be a temporary measure. Yet it’s still here, still bloated beyond words and still bankrolling drek in vast quantities. In 2006 – to take a year at random - the following artistic projects were deemed worthy of your money - by which I mean, obviously, worthier than you:

£20, 470 was handed to a “participatory photography and self-advocacy project” for East London’s “female sex workers,” while £15,000 found its way into the hands of those hosting “Malian mudcloth and DJ workshops.” A more modest amount, a mere £4,950, was felt necessary for “research and development to explore the writing of a poetry and music show examining issues of cultural identity and sexuality.” Despite the funding, no poetry or music need actually be produced and no show need materialise. The five grand was merely to facilitate the “exploration” of such treats. Also funded was the “research” of “live art practitioner” Helena Bryant, whose mission was “to establish the performance persona of Sally Bangs, through an inquiry into intimacy and engagement in performance encounters thematically based on love-sickness and exploring the pathology of erotic love.” When not funding trips to Mongolia and Cuba, the Arts Council uses your money to bankroll Greenpeace, whose no doubt unbiased “programme of educational activities” coined the handsome sum of £66,795.

Oh, and don’t forget this doomed attempt to leave a park bench on an iceberg. For Gaia, obviously. And this publicly-funded exercise in radical dirt relocation.

Ted S., Catskill Mtns., NY, USA

A part of me would want to take Arts Council money and do a painting of Laurie Penny getting raped, or something else that would make the chattering classes have a conniption fit. Maybe I could just be less obscene and do something hagiographic toward Margaret Thatcher. Just to make the point about government funding of the arts.

(Not that I'm British, or have any artistic talent. So I guess I'm only half like the Arts Council grant recipients.)

Darleen

In Denmark, selected artists are awarded life-long annual stipends.

The jaw drops. Do the Danes award life-long stipends to selected scientists? engineers? surgeons? entrepreneurs?

You know, productive people who produce stuff others actually want?

AC1

Maybe we should cut the Arts budget down and make it a voluntary part of tax?

Say 1% extra tax for the arts opt-in...

See how many choose
a) to let money get taken from them.
b) get it allocated by bureaucrats.
c) to what is described as art.

David

Darleen,

“The jaw drops.”

It’s a strange set of assumptions, certainly. The thinking seems to be: “There is no market for what I’ve chosen to do with my time. Therefore the state should take other people’s earnings and give that money to me. Because… well, because I’m fabulous.” And those of us who find these assumptions a little odd can then be denounced as philistines who “hate culture.

sk60

Therefore the state should take other people’s earnings and give that money to me. Because… well, because I’m fabulous.

It's the unofficial dole for really crap artists.

David

sk60,

“It’s the unofficial dole for really crap artists.”

It does attract a remarkable number of hustlers, freeloaders and incompetents on both sides of the fence. The Arts Council is a taxpayer-funded organisation that finds it necessary to employ no fewer than twenty “diversity” staff, and which blew £50,000 on two office parties, £100,000 on magazines, and another £22,000 on one year’s Christmas cards. Meanwhile, art “activists” keep telling us that commerce and sponsorship is demeaning and dirty, while shafting the taxpayer is clean and virtuous. Apparently taking money by force, rather than earning it, maintains the artists’ integrity.

Sam Duncan

And yet the operatic society my parents are members of (no church-hall operation; it has an annual production budget approaching £100k, performs in 2000-seat theatres, and several alumni have gone on to international fame) has, in over a century of operation, received precisely one grant from the Arts Council for the princely sum of £300. No, I haven't missed a zero: three hundred pounds. They've done more over the years to bring the arts to “the people” than a thousand subsidized “workshops”, and yet they, as amateurs, ordinary working joes, are the ones having their money confiscated in the name of these profligate charlatans.

What Steven Fry would have said

"And yet the operatic society of which my parents are members..." Tee hee.

Forward-CPH

Ms Vestergaard may have obtained money from the Danish tax payers but from this list it is clearly not for life:

http://www.kunst.dk/om-os/statens-kunstfond/arbejdsgrundlag/om-statens-kunstfonds-livsvarige-ydelser/modtagere-af-livsvarig-ydelse/

pst314

I've heard that in the Netherlands there are entire warehouses filled with art that nobody wants but that cannot be destroyed. It seems that the art was produced under government programs subsidizing "art", but nobody actually wants the cr*p. But since it's art, it cannot be destroyed and must be warehoused forever at taxpayer expense.

TimT

After half a century of artistic grants, what has the result been? A handful of moribund artistic movements - conceptualism, etc - and a glut of 'professional' artists who have no necessary artistic talent, but who have undoubted genius in wrangling grants bodies to give them money by spouting the usual promotional guff... 'provocative... challenging... asks questions... brings into stark contrast the postcolonial mindset with...'. Bla bla bla.

Not that art necessarily has to appeal to the masses - economic value does not necessarily reflect artistic worth. Schoenberg's early atonal music will never appeal to the masses, but it has been powerful enough to provide inspiration for legions of film composers.

But a new approach to the funding of the arts would be a welcome corrective. For instance, vouchers for arts consumers rather than arts producers. What's wrong with the idea that an arts policy should aim at encouraging greater audience numbers for the arts?

There's another problem with government funding for the arts that the likes of Elizabeth Day don't like to refer to: what is easily granted by government can just as easily be taken away. And in times when government budgets are limited, that's just what they will do - I know of several cases of exactly this sort of thing happening in Australia; pretty sure it must have happened in the UK too. Being an artist funded by government puts you in an extraordinarily vulnerable position. What sort of a person would claim to be supportive of the arts, and yet want to put them in such a position?

David

Forward-CPH,

To clarify, Vestergaard’s own stipend was for six months, ostensibly to be spent ‘working’ in L.A. By the artist’s admission, the first three months were actually spent “passing time in residential Hollywood, sitting alone in my car, shopping and getting fuel… slowly but surely reducing my mental activity to a purposeless series of meaningless events.” Boredom as art, anyone? Ker-ching. Eventually, an idea formed – to let strangers deface her car with inane marker pen graffiti. This radical feat allegedly “explored” how “identity and gender is constituted in public space.”

Ms. Vestergaard’s colossal talents have also been subsidised by the Danish Arts Council, the Arts Grants Committee Sweden, the Danish Ministry of Culture and the Cultural Council of Aarhus.

A Philistine at the end of his patience.

Does England lack lamposts, or is rope in such short supply?

David

A Philistine at the end of his patience,

Public hanging seems a little extreme, a little vulgar. Being hunted through the streets by taxpayers armed with blow-darts, however…

I suppose what’s obnoxious about so much taxpayer-funded art – besides being billed for some fatuous tat you didn’t ask for – is the inherent paternalism, albeit paternalism presented as radicalism. We have a politically uniform taste-correcting class, whose idiocies we must bankroll, whatever our own preferences and priorities. It’s practically a caste thing, which, on reflection, is where socialism always goes. If some wealthy fool spends a sack of his own cash on some godawful shite, then, tittering aside, that’s his business. But Arts Council projects generally come with an air of social improvement and political righteousness, as if the tat mentioned above were somehow good for us.

We’re being screwed and insulted.

One of the local galleries – which focuses on “contemporary debates” and “new audiences” - epitomises the phenomenon. We’re told the place “plays a major role in the city’s cultural life,” and yet it reeks of clique. It’s funded by the Arts Council to the tune of £200,000 a year, and of course by the local Council, but serves no audience to speak of – other than a handful of staff, it’s typically empty. (The gallery’s coffee shop is one place you’re guaranteed to find a seat, as many as you like, at any time of day.) At most, it attracts the same fifty or so rather earnest middle-class lefties, all pretending to be impressed by things like this. And this. And this. And yet we’re supposed to believe this glorified hustle serves some vast and pressing local demand.

Rafi

The shorter Elizabeth Day: Not subsidizing artists is (wait for it) class warfare.

rjmadden

At most, it attracts the same fifty or so rather earnest middle-class lefties,

The disadvantaged then.

all pretending to be impressed by things like this.

I take it back. They must have special needs.

Henry

"With the above in mind, would it be too outrageous to suggest that perhaps we have a surplus of would-be artists?"

My first thought was "yep". Not only that but people are being encouraged to dream of stardom, or success in music/acting at various levels - when so many are bound to fail. So many of my friends have wanted to be 'writers' or artists, and several have given it a go. The internet is full of such hopefuls (and here we are...)

Our musicians and writers do, on the other hand, bring money into the country. But my impression is that this is despite any government interference, and the tiresome business of the way grant recipients are chosen...

Similarly, when people of my generation started writing games for ZX Sperctrums/BBC Micros/etc, I don't recall that there was any government encouragement - a few teachers encouraged kids. Apart from that it was all self motivation. And a very strong industry emerged (But is it art? maybe)

I play music a bit, and I'm firmly convinced that the pressure to be good enough (so people will voluntarily part with their you money) improves your work rate and performance every time. Visual art seems to ..um.. work differently at times.

David

rjmadden,

“The disadvantaged then.”

Snort.

The irony being that the Arts Council is forever telling us that half a billion a year in public subsidy is vital to ensure both social inclusivity and artistic and political edginess. The market, apparently, will not support innovation or give the public what it wants, and by ‘market,’ they mean the public using its own money as it sees fit. But the work deemed edgy and radical by our Arts Council nomenklatura is… well, very often the kind of toss seen above, and is therefore unlikely to thrill the wider public: Middle-class lefties dumping benches on icebergs. Middle-class lefties relocating dirt. Middle-class lefties talking to each other (again) about “the politics of otherness.” So much for inclusivity and popular appeal.

The Arts Council’s “edgy” and “inclusive” projects are rarely aimed at the people actually paying for it all, whether they wish to or not. The point is to subsidise a cliquey freeloaders’ talking shop, in which the same narrow caste of middle-class lefties pretend they’re pivotal to human advancement. Because, hey, they have your wallet and so what are you going to do?

Stuck-Record

I had a long conversation (or, I should say, was lectured at) a few years ago, by an aquaintance who is responsible for a great deal of public art. He is one of the Great and the good who decide what goes in our public spaces. He is very well paid.

His attitude - which I could not dent, or make him aware was potentially out of step with those whose money he is spending - was as follows: Ordinary taxpayers are ignorant plebs who should shut up. Their job is to let him do interesting edgy things with their money. If they complain it simply proves they are plebs.

He got quite angry as I gently pushed him on his position. After a while he simply resorted to saying capitalism was evil an everything would be better under a Marxist state.

mojo

Now, don't be beastly and suggest that if they can't create art that somebody will voluntarily pay for, maybe they should just find another endeavor. One that somebody is willing to pay them for.

Because that's not cool, man...

David

Stuck-Record,

“His attitude - which I could not dent, or make him aware was potentially out of step with those whose money he is spending - was as follows: Ordinary taxpayers are ignorant plebs who should shut up. Their job is to let him do interesting edgy things with their money. If they complain it simply proves they are plebs.”

The Arts Council does tend to attract – and give license to - extraordinary arrogance and presumed entitlement, usually presented as virtue and/or edginess. The Council recently funded an art project called The Great Wall of Vagina, which features 400 plaster casts of ladies’ panty parts and will therefore, we’re told, “provoke debate and break taboos.” (Yes, the plebs must be scandalised and made to think – because without us and our daring that simply wouldn’t happen.) But is anyone really transgressed or spurred to deep thought by this kind of hackneyed tat, variations of which get funded every year in the hope of prompting outrage and publicity? Even the Daily Mail barely raised an eyebrow. Do these people think we’re still living in the 1950s?

What’s interesting, though, is what offends and “breaks taboos” at Arts Council HQ.

The current Arts Council chairman Liz Forgan is a devout Guardianista, the head of the paper’s governing trust, and didn’t take kindly to an article by the Mail’s Quentin Letts, in which he combed through the organisation’s spending. Forgan claimed Letts’ reference to her “multicultural nomenklatura of senior lieutenants” was “grossly offensive.” Lawyers were involved and stern letters were sent, all at public expense. “Sincere and personal apologies” were demanded for the entire Arts Council board and senior management team for the outrageous suggestion that their appointments might have had anything to do with race. The added insinuation being that Letts had somehow been racist. Which is an odd and rather daring claim, given that, as noted previously, the Arts Council uses public money to openly indulge in racial favouritism, with bursaries and preferential hiring for people deemed sufficiently brown and exotic. So no racism there, obviously.

It seems to me the Arts Council’s own taboos are more interesting, and more revealing, than people who might be off-put by plaster vaginas.

watcher

How silly of me not to realise at once. "In Denmark, selected artists are awarded life-long annual stipends."

Of course they do, and what a good idea. It is to keep them quiet and out of the way.

A small price to pay for peace of mind, perhaps.

watcher

Stuck-record: "After a while he simply resorted to saying capitalism was evil an everything would be better under a Marxist state."

Yep, he's right things would be better under Marxism. No worry about being paid, though in a Marxist state the 'edgy' things required of artists would be to paint tractors (either on canvas or in factories) and produce inspiring portraits of the leaders, usually from a low point of view so you can almost see up their noses. Portraits that the plebs would be rounded up to admire. Plus there's a huge demand for the careful positioning of military equipment on parades. I mean, you don't want those well-painted nuke missile noses touching the rear of the one in front.

Plus photoshopping out undesirable smaller leaders from podium photos.

And after the well-portraited leader's death, the required two-year lying in state would require good make-up artists to hide the red noses from all the drinking and whoring they did.

Squires

"...presented as virtue and/or edginess."

And yet what they practice, produce, and hold desperately to in order to sustain the self-obsessive lifestyles are neither virtuous or edgy. The specific fashionable phrases have changed, but at heart and in spirit, it's the same nonsense that has been presented as the courageous forefront for generations. It's this kind of pseudo-intellectual, pseudo-profound, pseudo-spiritual facade of humanity-degrading gibberish (posing, of course, as uplifting and liberating gibberish - repetition of it and displays of appreciation for it being rewarded with confirmation of one's "worthiness") that Charles Manson used to suck the souls out of his followers decades ago, sending their moral compasses spinning into a solipsistic void of narcissism and co-dependence, their only remaining guide to right or wrong being the approval of his own psychopathic motivations. And it wasn't anything new then, either.

Spiritualized and intellectualized nihilism wrapped up as rarefied virtue and bold daring; the suffocation and misdirection of the rational and critical mind as clarity and reason. It reminds of something I once heard a man say his Cuban exile grandfather had taught him: If you want to know the truth, take everything the bastards want you to believe and invert it.

David

It’s important to understand that the projects linked above – the dirt relocation, the masturbation fantasies, the proposed instructions for how to fold a bus ticket – they aren’t aberrations. They aren’t errors of judgment that slip through the system once in a blue moon. It’s standard fare. And they’re bankrolled precisely because of the laughable claims of importance and intellectual radicalism. It’s the kind of phoney noodling that the Arts Council thinks we should like and admire. Which, as I said, is kind of insulting. In addition to its own budget of around £400m, the Arts Council also administers National Lottery funds. £14,000 of which was spent on this. Because who wouldn’t want to spend 24 hours watching a narcissist eating chocolate and trying to induce a seizure onstage? Inclusivity, see? They’re doing it all for us.

David Gillies

I think a lot of the nastiness and venom directed by the avant garde towards the poor saps who bridle at being asked to bankroll their transgressivism stems from a realisation that they just aren't very good at anything. They lack the inclination or intellectual wherewithal to make a decent fist of it in the real world, and to cap it all they aren't even any use as artists. There is genuine middlebrow art being created, unsubsidised, all the time. Middlebrow is not a pejorative. I use it to mean art that is accessible without being banausic. The trendies must see this and understand how meretricious they are. It's the rage of Caliban on seeing himself in the mirror.

David

David Gillies,

“It’s the rage of Caliban on seeing himself in the mirror.”

I think something like that is often in play. As I said a while ago, you have to wonder what it’s like to be doomed to such a glaring shortfall between ambition and achievement, or at least rhetoric and achievement, not just once but over and over again. And to nonetheless get away with it and be given public money, over and over again. Of course narcissists aren’t exactly known for self-awareness, so it’s possible some of these parasites are largely oblivious.

Either way, a good hard sack beating seems in order.

Horace Dunn

"Either way, a good hard sack beating seems in order"

Well, perhaps. But our severest thoughts should, I'd say, be directed at the state operatives who direct the funds towards these bozos. I have to say, that were some official with access to public funds to offer me the wherewithal to make a living by dicking about (as opposed to working hard at something productive and useful, which is what I've wound up doing) I'd find it difficult to refuse (though I hope I'd have the good grace to do so).

A rough analogy might be drawn with the current situation in banking. I hold no brief for the bankers, but were their recklessness not being shored up by the politicians, they would be forced to seek practical solutions rather than just making things worse. Tim Worstall has it here http://timworstall.com/2012/08/01/dear-god-this-is-ignorant-sir-simon/

The analogy, as I said, is a rough one. One can't really blame these so-called artists for creating untold economic misery on a grand scale. Rather, the artists are just being dicks.

David

Horace,

“Rather, the artists are just being dicks.”

Well, I’m assuming that Liz Forgan et al are already in the sack. As it were. Obviously, to change the system significantly, one has to rethink the scope and/or existence of the Arts Council itself, which wasn’t intended to be permanent. But I don’t think we should assume that artists are all innocents. Remember this? And don’t forget Laurie’s belief that without unending public subsidy of her leftist shipmates, “we have no business speaking of social progress.” This is a fairly widespread and self-serving assumption: that voluntary sponsorship and commerce – i.e., earning a living - is somehow indecent and corrupting, while shafting the taxpayer is a sign of seriousness and integrity. Not being given money just because you want it is apparently unfair. And grumbling about the bill for their grandiose self-indulgence is, Laurie says, “anodyne” and “inconsequential.”

There’s a mindset to be challenged, not just a bloated and farcical institution.

Squires

This happened to turn up the other day on an anti-Anti-Smoker website I check occasionally:

"I also noted a few interesting things on the way home. Near Glasgow, there was a statue of a four-armed mermaid that appears to be made out of squashed and polished Tennents’ cans. At the roundabout at Perth, there was a huge wire-frame bird. So, while councils cut back on frontline services, it seems they are quite happy to spend money to baffle future archaeologists with mysterious idols."

http://underdogsbiteupwards.wordpress.com/2012/08/01/approaching-normality/

Yes, perhaps they really are idols. To their own egos. The magnificence of me...

David

Horace,

Further to my previous…

During the discussion about Rita Marcalo and her attempted seizure-as-art, one of the people involved in the event (or non-event, given the failure to convulse) took exception to a commenter’s use of the word “parasite.” “People who choose to push the boundaries are always an easy target for ridicule,” she said, quite seriously, adding, “I doubt they’re bothered.” Well, people who are in fact ridiculous are also easy to ridicule. More so, perhaps.

She also seemed quite pleased that several commenters were “outraged” by Marcalo’s hustle. (Noting the presumption of an artist, or pseudo-artist, is now defined as “outrage,” regardless of how outraged one actually is. By not approving wholeheartedly we must of course be prudish, stuffy and scandalised.) We were also told that the coercive funding of tat is “the joy of a democracy,” which is a strange claim to make, given that the public has no say in what gets funded or why. Her final argument – one she considered devastating - was that the state spends our money on winter fuel payments for the elderly and therefore – yes, therefore – talentless hustlers should be bankrolled by the taxpayer. And so the parasitic caste must remain free to leech.

As I said a while ago, once an entitlement culture has been created among artists, and once that sense of entitlement has been framed as normative and virtuous, it’s very hard to shift. For some, arrogant presumption becomes a default state. And a belief in one’s entitlement to other people’s earnings, even for activities like those above, isn’t likely to encourage self-awareness. After all, what would there be to gain from it? And so we reach a point where rewarding narcissistic flummery is in effect considered a legitimate function of the welfare state. Not to indulge such people, and indulge more of them indefinitely, would risk the end of civilisation itself. Apparently.


[ Added: ]

Regarding the presumed outrage, which crops up repeatedly, I suppose the basic dynamic is something like this:

Those people said mean things about my work.
They are laughing at me.
Therefore they must be outraged by its radicalism and edginess.
They are threatened. (Their laughter must be nervous laughter.)
Therefore I am “pushing boundaries” and shocking the bourgeoisie.
Therefore I am radical and edgy.
Therefore I am important.
Therefore I am entitled.

It’s a neat line in self-deception, if you can pull it off.

mojo

"three to one, two to one... We have achieved normality.
Anything you still can't handle is therefore your own problem."
-- Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

sackcloth and ashes

Liz Forgan will be taking over as chair of the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain. From what I can see I can't see any musical expertise on her part, but she is a non-executive director with the Guardian Media Group, which obviously qualifies her for any job under the sun.

Her predecessor was Alan Rusbridger. I shit you not.

Roseberry

A Show of 5 Young Canada Council Award Winning Artists Working in Britain: D. Schindell, Elaine Kowalsky, Bill Laing, Sylvia Palchinski, Chris Woods. Canada House Gallery (London)1974.

You might find this catalogue in some publicly funded library. It is based on a show at Canada House in 1974 showcasing the work of five Canadians given a substantial grant to the UK to live for a year and, as far as I can tell, make what they regarded as art. The show was opened with great fanfare by a Canada Council bureaucrat who flew in from Ottawa for the reception, then flew back again. I recall that one of the 'projects" for which Canadian taxpayers were responsible involved one of the artists and her friends slipping naked into clear plastic raincoats and having themselves photographed running through a rainstorm. To be sure, the wordy description of the work given by the author was was much more elaborate and could be read, with equal profit, from right to left or bottom to top.

My point is only that this has been part of our national cultural life since *at least* 1974.

Sandeep Tiwari

Went through all the comments and was deeply debating in my mind when I came across the quote from Hitchhikers Guide.... 3 to 1 , 2 to 1 , and I immediately snapped back to normalcy...

@mojo you are cruel for dropping it here, but I thank you all the same for bringing that comic relief

Dotted Frontiers

PJ

I'm an artist - specifically a musician. I pay for my own upkeep: partly by teaching other people to play and a few other kinds of other work as well. All private, self-employed work. I'm poor but I'm happy, because I'm doing what I want and I'm my own boss.

The idea that the taxpayer should be forced to fund my personal life choices/dreams is absurd. No-one owes me a living.

Mark Alger

I am their worst nightmare. I am an artist who has earned his living at it for thirty years and I know them for the sellouts and fakers they are. Talentless hacks. I laugh up my sleeve at these poseurs. They are not fit to carry a real artist's pencil case. They are wankers, smearing their own feces on the walls of galleries whose stupid and tasteless owners should be horsewhipped for their presumption. All they have in their favor is a winning smile and the ability to gull idiots with more money than sense or taste (for all it's other people's money). They SHOULD be mocked, ridiculed, and shouted off the public stage. I'd call them whores if it didn't slight honest ladies of the evening in the process. Pah! Get a job, wankers!

M

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