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November 17, 2013

Comments

Jimmy

Bonkers.

Rafi

It’s a bold position to take, especially for someone who uses the word “scammed” to describe his own behaviour.

I thought a lack of self-awareness was essential for getting an arts grant.

rjmadden

Rewarding entitlement and narcissism is 'enlightened'.

Extorting money from people to spend on writing they didn't ask for is 'enlightened'.

I really must update my Newspeak dictionary.

David

Extorting money from people to spend on writing they didn’t ask for is ‘enlightened’.

Strictly speaking, Mr Firth wants other people to be forced to pay for the housing of his enormous artistic potential, specifically in a well-located office that he otherwise can’t afford. That’s the egomaniacal genius of it. Taxpayers would be funding Mr Firth’s self-esteem – and the fact that he doesn’t seem willing to work from home.

Trimegistus

I don't know about Sydney, but I can do my writing in beautiful downtown buildings in major cities. It costs me about one large coffee drink.

Steve

"Tickling my tip jar will only encourage me"

Why is there no etiquette in respect of this (perhaps there is and I am just too lazy to look!). The socially inadequate in me sees this as an elaborate form of entrapment aimed at exposing parsimony. How much is enough to avoid the trap?

David

The socially inadequate in me sees this as an elaborate form of entrapment aimed at exposing parsimony.

Heh. I hadn’t thought of that. Maybe I should call this blog an art project, or a potential art project, then demand funding from the state. I could call it A Study In Tightness. Sounds suitably fetishistic.

How much is enough to avoid the trap?

Oh, sweet anxiety. Compared with Mr Firth and his associates, I’m probably a cheap date.

Franklin

When artists set out to contradict cultural mores, criticize the powerful, or engage in flip behavior, even if their temperament or creative instincts lead them to do so ingenuously as sometimes happens, they should suffer no punishment. Firth is taking this further by saying that they should suffer no consequences, which goes to show what a milquetoast radical he is. On the contrary, Mr. Firth, you may very well be made to pay for being the kind of writer you are with critical disregard, poor sales, and indifference from granting organizations. A different sort of artist would take such things as the very marks of artistic integrity. If it's all too much to bear, write that potboiler.

I think of what happened to all the artists who criticized the autocracy in which they lived and were made to suffer for it, in the form of police harassment, censorship, and gulags. This is unenlightened, not mere reluctance to fund, particularly in this case, in which the organization thinks of itself as a bit of a scam and is trying to turn a temporary favor done for them into a permanent exemption from economic reality.

John D

Wouldn't it be wonderful if this scam was the last straw for the public and led to the shutting down of state funding in Australia?

David

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if this scam was the last straw for the public and led to the shutting down of state funding in Australia?

Well, Mr Firth seems to have inadvertently made an excellent case for those who think artists should actually earn a living. He’s that clever.

Robert Edwards

One is reminded of the aphorism regarding monkeys, keyboards and the Iliad...

David

I thought a lack of self-awareness was essential for getting an arts grant.

You have to marvel at the man’s logic. Having scammed a large grant from the arts funding bureaucrats he disdains as incompetents, thereby demonstrating how incompetent they are, Mr Firth still wants taxpayers to pay for those same arts funding bureaucrats to give more of taxpayers’ earnings to more chancers like himself.

sackcloth and ashes

Charles Firth has basically admitted publicly that he defrauded the public purse by submitting a fraudulent grant application. Pardon me if I'm wrong, but has he not basically committed a criminal offence?

David

Pardon me if I’m wrong, but has he not basically committed a criminal offence?

Apparently the scam is itself a work of art. Isn’t it thrilling to have such people among us, improving us? Making the world enlightened. Selflessly, of course.

mojo

Raise the rent to 30K per month.

TimT

Really most if not all conceptual art seems like a hoax of cultural institutions and artistic audiences, designed to simultaneously send those institutions and audiences up while making an in-group of conceptual artists and critics chuckle at how smart they've been in fooling everyone. The peculiar thing about Firth's project is it seems he's not sure whether he wants it to be a hoax masquerading as a conceptual art project or a conceptual art project masquerading as a hoax.

He's one of The Chaser group of comedians who for some reason see it as their mission to perform 'pranks' (roaring like football supporters at classical music concerts, annoying shit like that) in order to capitalise on their image as eternal university students (though they, like me, are fast approaching middle age). What I liked about Firth's shtick actually was he didn't have anything to do with all of that ridiculous stuff; he mostly did televisual comic monologues in the form of a parodic right-wing presenter. (Now admittedly it looks a bit lame - but it's more coherent than the rest of the stuff The Chaser did). His career since then has been a bit of a let down: he ran a parody conservative website in the previous federal election presumably by getting money off the Labor Party (his sister Verity Firth was a former Education Minister in the NSW state Labor Party). Its effect on the overall election result - pretty much bugger all. (Maybe it even won a few votes over to the conservatives by reinforcing the impression that Labor just wasn't serious about governing).

I guess all of that will confirm your impression of him already, so I'll stop there!

Tim Newman

...it’s simply impossible to write anything at all unless one has a large office sited in a beautiful old building in the heart of Sydney.

Funnily enough, I write most of my stuff these days from a beautiful old building in the heart of Melbourne. Maybe Mr Firth should have gone into the oil business?

dicentra

I can do my writing in beautiful downtown buildings in major cities. It costs me about one large coffee drink.

Also known as the J.K. Rowling method for acquiring a space for writing.

But she was wildly successful among the unworthy, so she doesn't count.

dicentra

One is reminded of the aphorism regarding monkeys, keyboards and the Iliad...

We've had the Internet for 20-some years. You tell ME.

Witchfinder Specific

So it started out as four writers paying $230, or $57.50 each, and by the time the building was full it was 17 writers paying$2,300, or $135.29 each.

So the cause of his woes seems to be each person being asked to pay an additional $77.89 each month. That’s about £45.

Somehow, he doesn’t seem quite as oppressed as he thinks he is.

Craig Mc

It may well be that Firth always intended to punk the system. That money was always going to be wasted on tosh, so it may as well be wasted on his mates. There's zero chance it would have been returned to taxpayers. I can respect that kind of cynical opportunism.

Further, being up front about the caper punks the fools handling our money one more time. Who on the arts council is going to put their name on anything condemning Firth - effectively admitting they're a gullible idiot?

At uni a friend set up the Monash Engineers Revolutionary Front and applied to the SUC for funds which he duly received, and duly spent on as much beer as he could get his hands on, which of course was duly drunk by the said engineers. When all you have is fools & money, you make separation.

Darleen

Apparently the scam is itself a work of art.

Bernie Madoff, call your lawyer ...

David

That money was always going to be wasted on tosh, so it may as well be wasted on his mates.

I suspect that’s a fairly common attitude. I’ve known people who’ve pretty much said, “Okay, what we do isn’t very good but it’s better than the piece of crap that so-and-so got funding for last year. Let’s see what we can screw out of them.” Said less bluntly, of course. Combine that with a grandiose sense of entitlement and the result is a strange mix of opportunism and delusion. In his article, Mr Firth scoffs at the idea that funding applications should only be accepted if made in good faith. Given the difficulties of determining good faith in contemporary art, he does have a point. Much of what is funded sounds transparently opportunist and/or absurd, and the economic reward is almost always negative. “The arts funding model is broken,” says he. “If something as fundamentally stupid as this can get funding from all levels of government then clearly there is something profoundly wrong with arts grants in Australia.” Though again, that doesn’t exactly support his demand for even more public subsidy.

G

faced with the sheer awfulness of not being given money he hadn’t actually earned

Wonderful.

David

G,

But that’s the nub of it, isn’t it? Tens of thousands of students are being encouraged to cultivate an unsupportable narcissism – to believe, as Mr Firth did, that there is (or ought to be) a publicly funded “system to support those producing cultural works: artists and writers.” In Mr Firth’s case, and doubtless others, the belief was that simply sitting in a room and calling oneself an artist was a credible basis for getting other people’s money. It’s psychologically bizarre and economically deranged. It’s rather like someone spending years collecting frayed and discarded shoelaces, slowly amassing piles of them and giving each one a name, and then wondering why people don’t rush to hand over their money. “But… but… I’m a used shoelace collector, goddammit. It’s my vocation…!”

Bart

I saw him on TV the other day. Asked what should be done about arts funding in Australia, he said, "Abolish it!" And now he appears to be saying that, actually, we need more arts funding, with less restriction and oversight, especially if it's to provide discount office space to Writers.

(And of course, capital "W" writers need a capital "R" room. How else can they produce masterpieces? Or, as Firth allows, nothing at all.)

What made him pull back? Did the arts council get to him? Had he wandered further out on a limb than he thought?

Maybe he just doesn't really know what he's doing or why. I read a book of his a few years ago, which the internet tells me was called American Hoax. I don't remember it that well, but the gist of it was that he went round the US pretending to be various comedy characters, and it all added up to something profound about America. IIRC it was just a goofy prank struggling to be important and meaningful.

This word museum thing feels similar: a half-scam half-prank that's slowly morphing into chin-stroking art the more time he spends talking about it to journalists. In a few weeks it'll be the Sydney Writers & Artists Room, and he'll be working 7 hours a day on his next provocation - which will mean filling out a lot more funding applications. Thus the blob absorbs another soul.

Bart

David,

“But… but… I’m a used shoelace collector, goddammit. It’s my vocation…!”

Art idea: A big huge pile of used shoelaces, representing victims of genocide/capitalism/global warming.

Possible titles include:

Frayed
Untied
Walk A Mile In Their Shoes
The Physical Impossibility of Man's Inhumanity to Man in the Mind of Someone Living

David

Maybe he just doesn’t really know what he’s doing or why.

He isn’t very coherent, no. But it seems to me the art world cultivates unrealism and mental disarray. More to the point, it’s where any number of self-flattering assumptions converge. For instance, the idea that the public, which is paying for art via taxation, should have only “a limited role” in the transaction and shouldn’t be permitted to determine whether a thing constitutes art or not, or by extension whether an artist is opportunist and/or fraudulent. Or the idea that if the public doesn’t swoon over a piece of art, or supposed art, it’s because they’re afraid, stuffy and uptight, or aren’t sufficiently educated. It couldn’t possibly be that the art isn’t very good. Because, well, how could the mere public know that?

Put these things together with expectations of coercive subsidy, repeat them endlessly, and – surprise, surprise – you’ll end up with an awful lot of incompetents, narcissists and liars. Not a great recipe for visual skill or moral probity.

Ross

Have you seen this revealing quote from theatre director Richard Eyre:

"I never understand politicians – they could buy themselves, for such a small price, the silence of a swathe of articulate, prominent, celebrated people who give them a hard time."

http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/news/graemearcher/100246412/the-arts-worlds-threat-give-us-public-money-or-well-put-on-more-dreary-leftist-agitprop/

The original article is behind the Times paywall.

David

“I never understand politicians – they could buy themselves, for such a small price, the silence of a swathe of articulate, prominent, celebrated people who give them a hard time.”

I can’t help thinking there’s a word for that kind of thing.

Nik White

At least as revealing as Firth's imperviousness to irony is the fact that this article demonstrates (again) the shockingly narrow intellectual space that most, maybe all, artist / activist / cultural studies etc. people inhabit (see e.g. David's recent post here: http://davidthompson.typepad.com/davidthompson/2013/10/a-dull-hum-of-distant-agony.html ).

I know from personal experience how even a vague hint that you might be introducing an idea from beyond the 'bubble' as it were is met with immediate hostility, is abruptly shut down and leaves you in no doubt that you are now henceforth to be considered in the category of 'neoliberal' (which you are also left in no doubt is seen as equivalent to being a Nazi). And this, bear in mind, is just for attempting to raise it as a subject for discussion with no actual reference to what one's view on it is - it's treated as if it's the most virulent disease imaginable.

That Firth can write this and (presumably) believe that it represents a reasoned and reasonable case for abandoning any kind of criteria for the funding (because after all, artist sometimes really do fail) and not be taken for what it actually appears to be - a strong argument against any kind of funding at all - seems a perfect illustration of the scale of his ignorance of reality beyond the bubble (or even that there such things are possible).

Then again, given the strict intolerance of those inside the 'bubble', he'll probably never have the chance to become aware of the argument, either because he'll never hear it or because it will be so loudly and vigorously vilified the second it arises that it'll be inaudible.

David

And don’t forget, according to the Observer,

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

It being the Observer, this extraordinary news was met with much howling and weeping and rending of garments. You see, a one-in-three chance of free money simply isn’t enough. Apparently, when dishing out our cash the Arts Council should be even less discriminating.

Nik White

Boy, that Observer article from Elisabeth Day is really something, isn't it?

Who exactly do they imagine the audience for such an article is going to be? Surely, it's going to be primarily younger people in their 20s, recent graduates and the like? And its from such people they want sympathy for their wonderful lives?

Was Day genuinely expecting to elicit sympathy when she interviewed Jennie Rooney, 'an in-house lawyer for a television company' and published novelist? Or Louise Brealey, an actress who has starred opposite Benedict Cumberbatch in a BBC drama, who 'used to juggle acting jobs with journalism and was the deputy editor of Wonderland magazine' and who 'has been working as a documentary researcher and has just produced a children's comedy drama for the BBC'?

Presumably her intention was to show that even people who have 'made it' in the arts have trouble getting by financially but, with an apparently complete lack of insight into the lives of the average reader of the article, it simply looks like massive boasting about having had jobs that people in their 20s can only dream about getting an interview for (let alone actually doing) – and yet both women are complaining about their lot and trying to elicit sympathy(!).

Quite what the intended effect of this other line was meant to be, I really couldn't say:

"Likewise, when Hilary Mantel won the Booker prize in 2009 for Wolf Hall, the £50,000 went – rather unglamorously – on reducing her mortgage."

Jimmy

"Likewise, when Hilary Mantel won the Booker prize in 2009 for Wolf Hall, the £50,000 went – rather unglamorously – on reducing her mortgage.

Sweet merciful god... The gall of these people!

Rafi

Apparently, when dishing out our cash the Arts Council should be even less discriminating.

Are they going to start dropping cash from helicopters?

Jim Whyte

As a start to the betting line, $30,000 per year covers rent plus enough for some coffee and tea each month.

In happier times the great lexicographer Eric Partridge used to do all his work at a table in the library of the British Museum. I think he paid for his own tea.

Rac

Maybe I should call this blog an art project, or a potential art project

Hmm, I wonder if lying in bed reading your blog counts as a potential art project: after all there is a very slight chance I might write something as a result. Do you think i should apply for a grant?

Also why can't Charlie and his mates work at home? Did he bother to explain this? And if he really must work in an old beautiful city building then he can go the State library for free.

plus.google.com/114207610186423089169

Why can't they just work in the library like students do?

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