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November 05, 2013

Comments

rjmadden

Art is for the people. But I would never leave it up to the taste of "the people" or "taxpayers" to get it done.

So art isn’t actually for the people, then.

David

But wouldn’t it be ghastly if people liked The Wrong Things™?

AC1

They truly believe "Art is for the people", it's just that the NPD left don't see humans outside their group as full people.

sk60

Art is for the people. But I would never leave it up to the taste of “the people” or “taxpayers” to get it done.

Aristocracy meets communism.

Stephen Keating

Speaking of ART. It's time for some real haute couture:
http://www.incrediblethings.com/art-design/star-wars-invades-thomas-kinkade-paintings/

No thanks required.

Steve

During my 20's I spent many happy hours trying to make a career of being an 'artist'. Whilst spending all available free time and every bit of spare cash writing and recording music and playing it at every opportunity I also worked full time in a real job & completed graduate & post-graduate studies. It never once occurred to me that, beyond the patronage of my tiny audience, my attempts at artistry should be subsidised in any way. Neither, to my knowledge, did this thought occur to any other of the thousands of others that were having a riotously good time doing precisely the same. When I realised that I would not make a living from music I switched focus to my real job without a shred of bitterness or regret. I cannot begin to fathom the mind-set of 'artists' who demand that others should pay for their pissing about.

Recently my attempts at artistry have gained a new lease of life, interviewed by a US indie label and gaining nearly 1,000 listens on Soundcloud where a selection of my work is available for free and every listen is greeted with much delight. https://soundcloud.com/sjenk1ns

David

It never once occurred to me that, beyond the patronage of my tiny audience, my attempts at artistry should be subsidised in any way.

I suppose that’s the nub of it. I also had a wonderfully misspent youth, making music and running a small label on an even smaller budget - none of which was subsidised by the taxpayer. The idea of receiving public subsidy, or asking for it, would have been odd. And yet the people who made this, um, installation very much do feel entitled, as does the gallery in which it occupies space, largely ignored.

Steve

David,

Having read your marvellous exchange with Mr Link I would offer just one observation - Mr Link's idea that 'collecters' (should that be investors?) willingness to pay large pots of cash for tat somehow validates the tat is somewhat flawed. It is my guess that the tat purchasers are being advised as to which tat to purchase either directly by the same lofty people who heap illegible praise on the tat or indirectly when displays at 'prestigious' galleries provide kudos to the manufacturers of tat. That seems to me to be a self-fulfilling circle. If the lofty advisors should ever re-consider their hasty approval of a tat-merchant they would, no doubt, lose the faith of the 'collectors' and then no-one would know what to buy the tat, similarly, if the collectors should decide that a particular tat producer has been over-praised the value of their 'investments' might plummet. Even if that process started honestly there is no incentive for re-appraisal from either side.

David

It is my guess that the tat purchasers are being advised as to which tat to purchase either directly by the same lofty people who heap illegible praise on the tat or indirectly when displays at ‘prestigious’ galleries provide kudos to the manufacturers of tat.

It does seem likely, yes. I suspect the appeal for collectors is often in terms of investment and status rather than aesthetics and so whether an object is unattractive doesn’t really matter. Though as I said, the high-spend market for theory-heavy hokum isn’t something I know much about. But it seems to me that the pseudo-intellectual status for such things, their institutional footing, and therefore their place in the market, would be much harder to sustain if it weren’t being reinforced at our expense by the Arts Council and similar bodies, which tend to favour conceptual flummery much more than the public does.

[ Edited. ]

AC1

"We the proles need to subsidise the arts so the ultra rich have more choice of artwork?"

Good luck selling that.

Franklin

I believe that John Link is getting misunderstood here. John's particular interest in art is a kind of triumphant modernism concerned with ultimate levels of quality, not to the denigration of everything else, but with the acknowledgement that some art is better than other art. High taste is not a populist exercise, and today it's not even particular to the moneyed or connected classes as it has been at other times in human history. That said, good art is good for anyone. Not everyone, but anyone, namely anyone with the eye to see it.

David is making a normative statement about funding, while John is making a positive statement about taste. John isn't suggesting that Something Ought To Be Done about any of this. I would direct your attention to Comment #14 at the aforementioned thread for my newly deposited thoughts on the conversation.

David

Franklin,

As you say over at yours,

My concern is that we have an essentially corporatist art market, with the non-profits and public granting agencies providing an imprimatur of Importance to Society upon certain artists and their work. That imprimatur drives up the price for the work and garners interest from (monetarily) higher echelons of collectors.

That’s where we overlap. The imprimatur, a license for hokum - and the state funding and promotion of this over that with little regard for the people paying the bill - is a kind of cronyism.

[ Added: ]

I suppose another aspect worth noting is this. If Rich Person X spends a small fortune on some god-awful shite by a fashionable artist, this isn’t insulting to me. One might laugh at the buyer’s taste, or their credulity, or be utterly uninterested. T’aint my business. I’m not being asked to identify with their purchase and regard it as a vibrant and essential part of my culture. But the Arts Council bankrolls vast amounts of the same god-awful shite, year in year out, and does it supposedly in my name, with my money, supposedly to make me a better person. The crap I’m paying for is meant to “challenge” my tiny bourgeois mind. Apparently all this “challenging” – and of course transgression - is for my benefit, and the good of society. We’re told it’s vital to the turning of the world. The arrogance and condescension is difficult to miss. And ever so slightly obnoxious.

Franklin

I was challenged once by Ben Davis, this Ben Davis, that even if government support of the visual arts was dropped, we might very well end up with the same sort of art being made. I think his assumption was that I believed that a different kind of art, one more to my liking, would rise to prominence if not for public subsidy. "I would welcome that," I replied. "At least it would then be made without my forced participation." A lot of these people think that they have a monopoly on principles.

The fact of the matter is that Rich Person X is getting sold Museum Artist Y. It happens more often than you might think that Rich Person X is a donor to a host of museums, and the process continues. As you would expect from economics, those kinds of goosed deals end up causing market inefficiencies in the form of wealth and influence amassing around connected parties. This is a much better explanation for the career of, for instance, Damien Hirst, than any virtues in the delightful oeuvre of Damien Hirst. There's a chance that removal of public funds would level the playing field, or at least make it clear that the objects under consideration were the idle amusements of the rich and not some effort of import to culture and society.

David

A lot of these people think that they have a monopoly on principles.

And yet the principle of not imposing on others unnecessarily – say, by being a financial burden – doesn’t appear to be one of them.

present & correct

David..
i have always considered that 'modern-art' tat prices are just an inflated bubble, like fiat currency, based on nothing tangible, except for trust in the 'powers that be', by those who buy into the scheme.
can't help thinking that the whole facade will one day crash & burn.

Sanity Inspector

(Cut & pasted from an old post at my place)

The fine arts in any society throughout history usually require patronage. The Renaissance geniuses had to be funded by various popes and nobility, for example. The Dutch Masters are an exception, mostly making their own way in the bourgeois markets of 17th century Holland. And there have been artists such as Pablo Picasso, John Singer Sargent and Andrew Wyeth who were both commercially successful and critically acclaimed. But for the most part the arts require sponsorship, and in a democracy (especially one with a leftover 1930s ideal of democratic art) the sponsor is the government. People need art, no doubt about it, but in a pure market environment the job of the artist too often turns into trying to prove that people need his art.

“Art happens - no hovel is safe from it, no prince may depend upon it, the vastest intelligence cannot bring it about.”
-- James Abbott McNeill Whistler

Sure, but the rent ain't gonna pay itself. It's to be hoped that the directors of the endowing bodies have enough acumen and taste to weed imposters and charlatans, of course. And we've all heard of artworks that the public wasn't ready for at the time they premiered. But it is through such thickets and blind alleys as those, that art gropes its way forward--given the funding.

Jimmy

From the perspective of an artist, I would like to see the resultant art economy after subsidies and grants were abolished.

RE above, the Dutch specialists had customers in the form of the middle class - I don't see why that couldn't happen here (generally the West). Some artworks are quite expensive, especially the larger paintings, which can sell for several thousand a piece. The customer base is obviously small, however I think there is definitely a market for cheaper works. The problem for artists as I see it right now is that this market is dominated by cheap imports, production line paintings, trinkets, mass produced designer knick-knacks etc... Local artists have a very hard job competing against this stuff in around the $50 - $200 range. You need exposure, shop space, income security etc...

Instead of being so damned afraid of this notion of a market and the boogeyman of commodities, the schools could be teaching students business skills, accounting, etc... Give them a hand into the real marketplace instead of filling their heads with intellectual noodlery and the faint hope that they could be the next Damien Hirst.

clazy

Sanity Inspector, There is nothing to prevent contemporary artists from acquiring sponsors. Except, perhaps, that it's easier to ask favors of their friends over at the NEA.

Jake Haye

With tiresome predictability, leftists yet again claim a benefit by totally ignoring the cost, seemingly oblivious to the dehumanising contempt for other people it betrays.

Sam Duncan

Communism/socialism is aristocracy, sk60, up to a point. Some of us recognise that unearned power attracts the worst in society and must be limited. Socialists assume that the best can be given power for the benefit of all. Aristocracy means “rule of the best”.

It's not the same kind of aristocracy, of course - it doesn't rely on heredity, for example (although, North Korea) - but it should be no surprise that socialism became so popular among the British nobility once they realised that alms for the poor and enlightened rule by the educated élite is exactly what they'd been advocating for centuries. Oh sure, the Lower Orders would get to elect some MPs, but they, as the Best, would naturally rise to the top...

Franklin

i have always considered that 'modern-art' tat prices are just an inflated bubble, like fiat currency, based on nothing tangible, except for trust in the 'powers that be', by those who buy into the scheme.

You are not alone in that consideration.

Hal

The fine arts in any society throughout history . . . . Sure, but the rent ain't gonna pay itself. It's to be hoped that the directors of the endowing bodies have enough acumen and taste . . .

Etc.

Dear Laurie. The several of us here have observed how you are clearly the unquestionable expert on the artistic movements of today's society, and given such, we request that you kindly grace us with your insightful critique of the subtle and inspiring glories found at http://stores.ebay.com/Black-Velvet-Paintings . . . . . .

(signed) The Several Of Us . . .


I'm horrified myself. Surely someone has to have thought of painting Jesus, Elvis, or both, with really big eyes. I just dropped terms into Google and the majority of responses were of Weird Al Yankovic and The Velvet Underground. The lack of this immensely inspiring opportunity is clearly a sign of the patriarchy and must be addressed.

David

Black Velvet Paintings

Oh, I dunno. I quite like the giant alien Jesus and his big rig. I think it’s the eyes. Plus, being velvet, it’s “quality you can feel.”

David

More views on the subject. Via a discussion at Samizdata, there’s this by Brian Micklethwait:

Is art “essential”? Press your Champion of the Arts and you generally find that by “essential” he means: essential for “civilisation” or for “the real fabric of civilisation,” as Lord Goodman puts it. But what is “civilisation”? Press further. It emerges that no country is “civilised” unless it has “Arts.” The essentialness of The Arts is a mere definition, of The Arts and civilisation in terms of each other. But suppose that The Arts really were “essential.” Suppose people really did shrivel up and die if forced to pass three entire days without once looking at an oil painting. This is no argument for government spending on oil paintings. Food really is rather important, but for that very reason the more completely the government keeps out of the food business the better for all concerned.

Of course now the arguments for coercive subsidy are much more sophisticated. And so Arts Council advocates conflate art that no-one will pay for voluntarily with the “creative industries.” A term intended for advertising, commercial television, recording studios, graphic designers, computer games developers... i.e., businesses run as businesses and which generate profit because what they produce is of value to their customers, as determined by their customers and not by some imperious committee of patrician lefties.

Lance Boyle

Google Bryan Nason and read about this great contributer to Australuan theatre. You will note that despite his vast contribution during the course of 50+ years he did not seek government funding , preferring to get on with the show and let the audience decide if they wished to attend: for a price of course. More often than not, they did.

David

This point, by Brian Micklethwait, is also worth noting:

Arts subsidies turn art into political agitprop, in favour of subsidies for art and for everything else that the subsidising classes consider to be worthy, and at the expense of everything productive that the subsidising classes consider to be unworthy. This is why abolishing arts subsidies is politically and ideologically so much more important than the relatively small sums of money involved, compared to other subsidies, would suggest.

Even the Observer’s Jay Rayner and the Guardian’s Jonathan Jones have had to concede the leftist groupthink of state subsidised art. As Jones says, “In all the years I’ve been seeing exhibitions at Tate’s galleries, I have never once encountered anything that could conceivably have been construed as an advertisement for… any corporation, or for capital itself. Very much the opposite… Go to any Tate museum and the only ideology you will encounter is anti-capitalist.”

A while ago I mentioned the local city-wide arts festival, which isn’t exactly festive, largely due to the prevalence of tat, but also because of its overt political leaning. If you want to look at objects and images that are captivating and pleasing to the eye, you should probably stay home and do something else. But if you’re inclined to socialism and want to reinforce your own assumptions with a “critique” of “international market forces,” a “critique” of privatisation and “neoliberal policies,” a piece that “highlights economic and social inequalities,” and a film about an attempt to unionise office cleaners… well, it’s practically catnip. And it’s the same every year. Lots of hackneyed leftism curated by lefties, who are selecting work by artists who are largely leftwing, or pretend to be, and attracting a small audience of people whose politics generally correspond with those of the artists and curators.

And gosh, how challenging is that?

Dr Cromarty

It's not the same kind of aristocracy, of course - it doesn't rely on heredity, for example (although, North Korea)

Srsly?

Benn (Viscount Stansgate, Hilary, Emily) Straw (Jack, Will), Prescott, Mandelson/Morrison, Kinnock, Blair
No, the hereditary principle is alive and well in leftist politics. Don't get me started on acting and journalism....

Ted S., Catskill Mtns., NY, USA

What happens when somebody creates government-sponsored art with the wrong views.

It's transgressive and challenging, but dammit, it chalenges the wrong people!

Anna

and a film about an attempt to unionise office cleaners

I'm booking my train ticket now.

David

I’m booking my train ticket now.

And it’s like this practically every year. In 2010 the city’s arts festival was themed around “care ethics, affective labour” and “corresponding notions of otherness and the marginal.” As you can imagine, the objects on offer weren’t exactly festive or nourishing to the senses. And a couple of years before that the townspeople were treated to a cheap table covered in sand. And fag ends.

They spoil us, they really do. These keepers of the culture.

pst314

"Oh, I dunno. I quite like the giant alien Jesus and his big rig. I think it’s the eyes. Plus, being velvet, it’s 'quality you can feel'."

David, I was amused by the comment "I think John is agnostic about funding, and David is agnostic about taste." It has always seemed to me that you just like pulling our chains with comments such as the one about Big Rig Jesus.

Franklin has not figured out that while one might have strong opinions about what is good or bad art, what is beautiful or ugly, one can simultaneously believe that it is deeply pernicious for an unaccountable elite to require the populace to support things they do not like (and that may in fact be intended to undermine their values)--that tyranny is a bad thing which not only harms its targets but corrupts its practitioners. (And is there any doubt that today's elites are deeply corrupt in manifold ways?)

David

Franklin has not figured out that…

Oh, I’m pretty sure he has. It was my chain being pulled. Franklin makes a very similar point to yours in the last paragraph of his post at Artblog, “What goes unsaid here is that our objections are to a prior assumption by believers in state power, namely that because some undertaking is worth doing, that the state ought to be doing it.” And in a sense I am agnostic about taste. I don’t trust or respect our official taste-correcting caste, of which the Arts Council is a huge part, and I have no mission to elevate the tastes of other people, whatever that might mean.

Franklin

Yeah, we're all on the same page here.

Hal

A while ago I mentioned the local city-wide arts festival . . . .

Well, obviously David, you need to follow the guidance of the enlightened masters of creative genius, and at the next opportunity that they offer, join in and enter a painting of The Last Supper, with Mao, Che, Stalin, Castro, Lenin, Trotsky, Etc, and with Hitler portrayed in the place of Judas, all of course with Really Big Eyes, on black velvet.

Clearly you'll be the guaranteed focus of the festival, the envy of all, praised by Penny, and cited for years as being the great exemplar of The Undoubtable Artistic Genius Of The People.

Mr Andrew D Rowe

I can just imagine all those arts council artists dreaming of the effect on reactionary forces of their challenging art. It'd be just like this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VnZnnkJxoC8

Sam Duncan

Fair point, Dr C. I thought of adding them after the Norks, but I was trying to keep it short. :) They're exactly the sort of people I was thinking of in the last part of my comment, though.

Stephen Fox

Yes, wasn't it dear Stephen Fry who recently quite failed (I'm shocked!) to be able to imagine a political philosophy according to which Art should be subject to free market laws of supply and demand.
He and his like do not simply believe they are right. They believe nobody could possibly believe otherwise.

Nik White

On the related matter of the relative values of publically funded art versus commercial art, I can highly recommend the story of Brian Bolland – a well-known and hugely popular comic book artist – whose work was shamefully plagiarized by one Gudmundur Gudmundsson, who goes by the name of 'Erró.'

“I paint because painting is a private Utopia,” says Erró – and here he is brazenly furnishing his personal paradise with other people's work:

http://www.bleedingcool.com/2010/05/04/swipe-file-erro-and-brian-bolland-john-byrne-etc/

And here is Brian Bolland's open letter to the art thief, Erró – it's a joy to read, I swear.

http://www.bleedingcool.com/2010/05/20/brian-bolland-takes-on-erro-and-wins/

Nik White

It's rather indicative of the time and place I was born into but when a friend who now lives in Texas first told me of an art curator acquaintance of his who firmly believed that art should stand and fall on its own merits and should not be in receipt of government funding under any circumstances it fairly blew my mind … in fact, I'm still thinking about it now and so I was particularly fascinated by David's exchange on Artblog.net, above.

The case for cancelling funding of the arts was very cogently argued there and elsewhere, and although I have a great deal of sympathy for it, I cannot help feeling that I might be something of a hypocrite if I were to wholeheartedly endorse it – I was, after all, a recipient of state funding for four years: a one-year foundation course at the local art college followed by a three-year degree in 'Fine Art' at Goldsmith's college in London. And I am not a professional artist, so it could be argued the funding was wasted on me (I mean, I don't but I can well see how others might)

And not only that, but whenever I visit London I almost always find time to visit the National Gallery, sometimes to see just one specific painting. The National is free (or more accurately indirectly paid for in advance through taxation), but if its funding were to be withdrawn I do balk at the idea of never being able to see particular works in the flesh ever again – by the way, despite the use of the previous metaphor, paintings in the national such as Rembrandt's 'Woman Bathing' or Titian's 'Bacchus and Ariadne' are *not*, as I was told ad nauseam by my Critical Theory tutors at Goldsmiths, merely fetishized commodities which are no longer necessary (pace Walter Benjamin) in an 'age of mechanical reproduction'. Seeing a painting produced in one of the heydays of European art on a postcard on a screen online is much like reading the musical notation and lyrics to Elvis's 'You Were Always on My Mind' without once ever having the opportunity to actually hear it being sung.

I would not necessarily object to paying to see these works in the same way that I don't object to paying for a ticket to go into the Louvre or to one of the Royal Academy's exhibitions etc. but considering that prices *with subsidies* from the taxpayers *and* corporate sponsorship generally start at £15 (about $24 USD) I'm slightly horrified at what I might have to fork over if all subsidies were withdrawn.

Apologies for going on a bit but … an argument sometimes made in the UK is that it is unfair to subsidise a place such as the National Gallery as there are many tax payers out there who have never heard of Titian or Velazquez and wouldn't be interested in going to see their paintings even if they did.

For example, I have a good friend, Sam, who has absolutely no interest in visiting galleries but who is a die-hard fan of Arsenal football club, and who in any given week can spend between £35 and £70 (c. $56 and $112 USD respectively) and even upwards on a ticket for a single game.

Some people have questioned whether it's fair for part of Sam's taxes to go toward the support of a gallery he hasn't visited before now, has no interest in, and at 38 is pretty unlikely to ever do so. They question whether it's fair for me to have (for the sake of argument) 50% of the real price of a ticket to the Royal Academy's recent Australia show partly subsidized by grant money when he gets not such discount for taking part in his favoured cultural pursuit, football.

There is definitely something to be said for this argument, although as someone who has never been to see a Premier League football match, should I also be complaining that my taxes have to pay for the approximately £15,000 (c. $24,000) it costs to police *every single game* at every single ground, every week? Especially as 40 teams in the top two leagues playing at least 38 games per season each this would suggest a roughly estimated cost of £23,000,000 (c. $37,000,000) a year for England as a whole. As I never go to see the football, why should my taxes have to pay for those additional policing costs?

Then again, I should point out that the Arts Council receives £3 billion (c. $4.8 billion) annually, which the Arts Council website FAQ page helpfully points out is a mere 23p a week or £11.77 ($19) per year for every man, woman and child in the UK; which rather makes that £23 million look like a drop in the ocean.

Still, what I think neither one of us, myself nor Sam, should have to pay for is the parade of dross and sponsored displays of bipolarity that David has been unearthing for our edification on this site.

Of course, the problem with my argument there is the same problem that the Arts Council has – because I am actually saying that works by Titian, Rembrandt, Velazquez etc. are just better, (OK?) and have infinitely more value than this shit: http://www.shlur.com/salacious-perversities/ and therefore have a right to state funding – whereas actually, perhaps even these masterpieces of European art should be funded by the individuals who most want to see them and not by everyone in general - though I'd hate for them to disappear into some private collection forever.

(Really didn't intend to write this much … (!))

David

Nik,

Thanks for the Brian Bolland links. I wasn’t aware of those. His letter’s opening line is priceless: “Dear Mr Gudmundur, my name will mean very little to you unless you remember deleting it from your version of my Tank Girl Odyssey cover from 1995.” When “referencing” becomes theft is an issue Franklin and I have discussed before.

I was, after all, a recipient of state funding for four years: a one-year foundation course at the local art college followed by a three-year degree in ‘Fine Art’ at Goldsmith's college in London. And I am not a professional artist, so it could be argued the funding was wasted on me (I mean, I don’t but I can well see how others might)

It would be unusual if you did; recipients tend not to. But it’s worth considering the ideas discussed here and in the subsequent comments, not least regarding reciprocity and economic sustainability.

if its funding were to be withdrawn I do balk at the idea of never being able to see particular works in the flesh ever again

There are, I think, arguments for the publicly funded archiving and display of historically significant works. Though that wasn’t the thrust of our debate, which focussed on contemporary work and the misleading effects of coercive subsidy.

an argument sometimes made in the UK is that it is unfair to subsidise a place such as the National Gallery as there are many tax payers out there who have never heard of Titian or Velazquez and wouldn’t be interested in going to see their paintings even if they did.

And that’s one of the counterarguments to the above. Setting aside the weighing of one cultural thing against another and assigning privileges, and setting aside the issue of poorer people subsidising what tend to be the leisure habits of the better-off, there’s also the simple matter of geography and fixed locations. People in, say, Leeds are subsidising the Southbank Centre in London, some 200 miles away, a distance that makes visiting the place somewhat more difficult and costly. Needless to say, regular visitors to the Southbank Centre are likely to be wealthier than most of the people who are being taxed to fund it.

£11.77 ($19) per year for every man, woman and child in the UK; which rather makes that £23 million look like a drop in the ocean.

The Arts Council’s figures have been disputed, many times - for instance, there’s also quite a lot of unmentioned subsidy via local government and in areas of overlap with other departments. And subsidy of one thing has consequences for would-be competitors and in terms of how that confiscated money might have been spent by the people who had to earn it. And as noted by Brian Micklethwait above, the issue isn’t just or chiefly one of cost; it’s of bias and distortion, of cronyism and political uniformity. And of giving unearned cultural and market prominence to the “shit” you mention. And it’s hard to see how any vast socialised art bureaucracy can be made to avoid those pitfalls. Significant reform seems unlikely to be welcomed by the culprits and beneficiaries, whose fiefdom is ideological as much as it is aesthetic. See also this and this. It’s pretty much the nature of the beast.

Really didn’t intend to write this much…

On that, I’m in no position to judge.

[ Edited. ]

Franklin

I was, after all, a recipient of state funding for four years...

None of us is pure. I have been the recipient of grants that ultimately had some basis in public funding, and I have shown in venues that were either tax-supported, tax-exempt, or both. Since this is my cultural reality, it would be rather prissy of me to refuse such opportunities, and I would be disadvantaging myself against artists without such objections if I did. Also, art is art and politics are politics, and as someone who makes art for its own sake, I don't test people for political agreement when they offer to show or support my work. If my art was overtly political (which would be an interesting exercise as a free-market libertarian) I might finally be obliged to decline some grants or exhibitions for political reasons, but it doesn't come up.

That said, I don't endorse any reform that wouldn't apply to me directly. If funding stops, it would stop for me too, as it should.

As David said, the case for funding cultural patrimony is a separate discussion. The private sector is capable of doing so, I believe, but the state has been involved in the preservation and display of objects of both artistic and historical import, according to long-held, widely-shared standards, for millennia. To contradict that is to contradict a long history, so my remarks about this topic are aimed that the present.

David

Nik,

I am not a professional artist, so it could be argued the funding was wasted on me (I mean, I don’t but I can well see how others might)

This may be relevant. There’s an activist group called Arts Emergency, the purpose of which is apparently to bring “arts and critical thought” to working class people, to “extol the virtues of an arts degree” and to “keep the doors of the university open to all.” “The arts and humanities,” they say, “should remain a viable path for anyone, from any background.” Studying the arts and humanities will, we learn, “teach students to think rigorously.” Some of their activities seem admirable – mentoring, networking, etc - but, as so often with activism of this kind, there’s a very basic problem. One that doesn’t seem to have been thought about, rigorously or otherwise.

On their website arts and humanities students tell us how vital and rewarding their studies are, or have been. One chap, fairly typical of his peers, says, “Going to university to study an arts degree was the best thing I ever did… to me a potential career in academia is pretty much the dream.” This is a common pattern – people whose tuition fees have generally been covered by taxpayers and who hope to be employed in academia or some public sector organisation, where their salaries, should they get one, will also be paid for by taxpayers. The point of the website is to convince the general public that we need more of such people, lots more, and that the arts and humanities must not be subject to normal market proprieties and economic reality. Apparently arts degrees should be available “to all” – especially to people who don’t think an arts degree is worth paying for, even with decades of generous credit.

Well, the last time I checked, here in the UK we have about 20,000 students of ‘fine’ art alone. Supply exceeds demand, and then some. As even the Observer has acknowledged, very few of those 20,000 people will ever be able to support themselves as artists. On the whole, their chosen career path is implausible and crushing disappointment and/or state dependency is quite likely. Those who do eke out a living may well be dependent on Arts Council support – i.e., once again bankrolled by taxpayers. Having scanned the Arts Emergency website, there doesn’t seem to be any reflection at all regarding how many such people can feasibly be supported by taxpayers, indefinitely, if even their student loans are never to be repaid from employment in the private sector. Instead, students and would-be students are being encouraged to believe they can “study whatever they like,” irrespective of whether that investment of time and other people’s money will ever lead to employment and repayment of their debts.

And so these radical titans are arguing for a system that is essentially parasitic and economically unsustainable. In my experience arts students aren’t always the most practically minded people, but someone else will have to worry about all that boring stuff, like whether the numbers add up and who has to pay the bill.

Anna

Instead, students and would-be students are being encouraged to believe they can “study whatever they like,” irrespective of whether that investment of time and other people’s money will ever lead to employment and repayment of their debts.

Socialists give bad career advice. Who knew?

AC1

It seems that getting a arts degree credential actually LOWERS wages compared to those who did not go to university!

Forcing others to subsidise a choice that lowers your ability to repay them doesn't sound like something that benefits wider society. It sounds like a horrible mal-investment.

David

AC1,

Forcing others to subsidise a choice that lowers your ability to repay them doesn’t sound like something that benefits wider society.

Quite. As noted here, the average lifetime financial return on an arts degree is estimated at around £30,000. Set against the cost of courses, accommodation and lost earnings during the period of study, the net result is most likely a reduction in lifetime earnings. In short, there’s no longer a return for the taxpayer and little economic incentive for inter-generational subsidy. Of course studying art may well have intangible benefits and be personally gratifying. But we shouldn’t pretend that it’s a plausible path to prosperity, or that prosperity is an issue many of us can afford to ignore.

As Anna says, socialist careers advice isn’t all that one might wish.

Franklin

… to me a potential career in academia is pretty much the dream.

Nice work if you can get it. Here in the US it's typical that hundreds upon hundreds of people apply for the relative handful of positions that become available every year in arts-academia. Three, four, and five decades ago, people used to get teaching jobs to support their artistic practice. Now you have to have an art career to get the teaching job. I just picked the top post off of the job listings at the College Art Association, for a tenure-track drawing position at Radford College in Radford, Virginia (pop. 16,408), which says that "The successful candidate will be expected to have and to maintain a national exhibition record in drawing."

In my experience arts students aren’t always the most practically minded people...

I sure wasn't. Impracticality is how you end up at art school in the first place. It's endearing if a little comical. After you graduate it becomes less and less endearing. Inflicting that impracticality on others seems downright sinister.

sk60

Studying the arts and humanities will, we learn, “teach students to think rigorously.”

They've managed to disprove their own claim.

David

Franklin,

Impracticality is how you end up at art school in the first place. It’s endearing if a little comical. After you graduate it becomes less and less endearing.

I don’t mean to sound entirely dismissive. There’s something to be said, sometimes, for attempting the implausible. I can think of several things I’ve done that were by most measures impractical and not exactly lucrative, but great fun to do. That said, the political exploitation of naïveté – twisting it into a doomed sense of entitlement and unearned anger - is harder to forgive.


sk60,

They’ve managed to disprove their own claim.

It would seem so, yes. But the term “critical thinking” now tends to be used by people who mean “regurgitated leftist boilerplate.” Which, evidently, isn’t the same thing.

Nik White

Hi David,

Thanks for your response to my other posts, to which I've added a couple more.

"There are, I think, arguments for the publicly funded archiving and display of historically significant works. Though that wasn’t the thrust of our debate, which focussed on contemporary work and the misleading effects of coercive subsidy … the issue isn’t just or chiefly one of cost; it’s of bias and distortion, of cronyism and political uniformity."

I wholeheartedly agree that the problem with bodies such as the Arts Council – and in fact any controlling body for 'Art' – is that it can never *not* have a deleterious and corrosive effect on the very thing that it was set up to maintain. The raison d'être of the Paris Salon made decisions such as the rejection of Manet's Le déjeuner sur l'herbe from the 1863 selection a foregone conclusion even before the jury had seen it.

It's ironic then that a body such as the Arts Council more than likely perceives itself as the solution to the 'problem' of an example such as Manet's official rejection. It's ironic, firstly, because if I remember rightly Manet was actively seeking rejection from the Salon as it validated his move away from them (in fact, are there any examples out there of an artist actively seeking out rejection for funding?). It's ironic, also, because their perception of the problem is apparently not that there is anything wrong with a ruling, governing body who has the right to officially declare what is and not is allowable in terms of taste but that the issue is simply matter of whether you have the *right* or the *the wrong* sort of people in charge of it. The wrong sort of people in this context no doubt is taken to mean: the bourgeoisie / kulaks / grubby industrialists / drowsy traditionalists etc.

Contemporary governing bodies of the arts seem very keen to not fall into the obscurity that the 1863 jury did. In fact at times, it seems like the bodies that fund art nowadays are so actively activist and radical that at times they seem to be preempting and even outdoing the attempt at radicalism of the artists themselves. In any event, the new Salon juries seem terribly keen to point out that they have learned the lessons that (art) history had to teach their predecessors.

I think such attitudes go some way to explaining how works such as Tracy Emin's 'My Bed' find themselves being celebrated as 'masterpieces'. What an artwork such as this really sets out to demonstrate is the enlightened tastes of the panel who selected it for exhibition. By inference, it also suggests that the government who appoints such a body of enlightened individuals must in turn be as equally progressive as those they have appointed to the jury – hence the cries of barbarians at the gates whenever Government Funded Art is threatened with cuts or closure. So yes, you're quite right to point out that the real issue is ideological, not aesthetic.

It's more than a slight paradox in the UK, therefore, to find that the collection of Charles Saatchi – an individual collector, a multimillionaire who made his fortune in commercial art, including famously running the Conservative party's
election campaigns – has had such a huge influence on the shape of contemporary British arts and what gets to count as an enlightened decision.

You would have thought that someone with Saatchi's background would have represented precisely the kind of plutocratic dominance over radical freedom of expression in the arts that having a well-funded Arts Council was set up to oppose. On the contrary, they seem to have embraced every one of the artists that Saatchi has nurtured and promoted and actively followed his lead rather than vilified it – and his artists – as latter-day kulak lapdogs.

That their taste seems to owe so much to Saatchi's would also rather undermine the claim that government sponsorship of the arts is essential; that leaving matters of art in the hands of individuals would reduce Fine Art to the status of a 'cosy' non-radical hobby such as stamp collecting or jam making and so result in a collapse of culture. Or as you put it, their suggestion that without subsidies all art and culture will somehow inevitably descend into 'a world devoid of any cultural activity more elevated than Rude Tube'.

"it’s worth considering the ideas discussed here and in the subsequent comments, not least regarding reciprocity and economic sustainability."

As someone who has spent what is now coming up for 20 years working in education (as a teacher, publisher and materials writer) I cannot help but consider the issues of 'reciprocity and economic sustainability' as you call them. In fact, it's precisely because I feel that the only practical way forward now is for universities to start charging the full value of the degrees (i.e. basically what the non-EU overseas students currently pay) that makes me something of a hypocrite.

I think it was Zygmunt Bauman who pointed out that there is something insidious about someone like myself who is arguing to do away with exactly the kind of policy from which I have quite clearly been a direct beneficiary. In other words, while it is true that I have paid for all of my postgraduate studies out of my own pocket, it's highly unlikely that I would have been in a position to have undertaken those same studies had I not previously been fully funded by the state for my undergraduate studies.

I don't feel bad about this, by the way. At the beginning of the 90s, there was nothing more natural than applying for a grant for funding in higher education. There was noone among my contemporaries doing 'A' levels at my high school that would ever have thought twice about it as a drain on the state much less immoral – it just was.

But what it does mean now is that my position – that the only way for universities to gain the autonomy I think they so desperately need is to become independent – is obviously weakened by the very fact that I can be accused by others of pulling up the ladder behind me and to be actively denying the same benefits to the generation finishing high school in the next couple of years.

Nevertheless, I can't see any way out of the current quagmire that UK HE has sunken into other than allowing the universities to take control of themselves which is only going to be possible as far as I can see by charging enough fees to become financially independent, despite the inevitable consequences that will come as part and parcel of the benefits – one of those consequences would be that the idea of a 'British' university would become a quaint anachronism – the students would be likely to become international (even more so than they are already) and would just happen to be in the UK, by an accident of nature. (Actually, having spent around 8 years working overseas I personally have no problems with that degree of globalisation but I know that other people are unhappy about it.).

A far more damaging consequence would be the possibility of universities becoming prey to a hostile takeover bid from a large consortium. To me, that would be a very serious issue because if a greater degree of autonomy is the benefit of going independent then a takeover would simply represent replacing a national taxpayer-funded government with one which was transnational and shareholder-funded. The outcome of either of those cases is clear – a less discriminating entrance policy, an unreasonable increase in demands on staff, a lowering of standards and grade inflation. In short, a devaluation of academia. However, as devaluation seems to be the road that many universities (in the UK at least) are already heading down it might be worth at least *the risk* of going it alone. Certainly, an institution which charged high fees would not necessarily be one that did not recognize the importance of awarding scholarships.

My other fear regarding the takeover of a financially independent university by a large multinational would be that awards and scholarships would be discontinued (I don’t have a great deal of faith in Corporate Social Responsibility). Although I think establishing the criteria for who should get a scholarship is always going to be fraught with difficulty, I also think it's a fundamentally important principle that should be maintained, especially where it concerns students with potential who might otherwise never get the opportunity to study – though I acknowledge the possible objection that any kind of scholarship at some point involves someone who is not the recipient having to pay for someone else who is.

John Link

rjmadden: I said art is for the people. That is what I meant, period.

Steve: I never said collectors paying large prices for art makes it any better.

sk60: Aristocracy meets the facts, not "communism". The average taxpayer does not have the eye of the average artist. Seems obvious to me.

David: Dogma is the real foundation of license. Imprimaturs are certifications by designated authorities that dogma has not been violated. I suppose they help with licensure but dogma comes first in the chain of causes. The state of things you and your colleagues don't appear to like was enabled long ago by those who set the dogma. The johnny come latelys who confrim what the leaders established long ago are behind the curve. (I suppose my contempt for them is showing through here.)

For all of you, it is oh so easy to attack the blatantly bad stuff. You simply cannot go wrong. But nothing ventured nothing gained. There is nothing at risk when I say Paul McCarthy stinks. Except maybe the hordes from the art system that love him will consider me a philistine. But that is already a given. I manage to upset just about everyone - no problem for me. What counts in the long run is finding something of stunning value in a scene that ranges from the easily recognized "tat" as you call it to the treacherously mediocre "OK" that sometimes crops up here and there, but does not send me to where I can go when the art is good enough. The real deal is rare and all the rest can be a distraction that blots it out - if it is there at all.

In the end pissing and moaning is fun, but can get to be a bore.

David

Nik,

There was no-one among my contemporaries doing ‘A’ levels… that would ever have thought twice about it as a drain on the state much less immoral… I can be accused by others of pulling up the ladder behind me and to be actively denying the same benefits to the generation finishing high school in the next couple of years.

I’m sure some people will make that accusation. We have a generation of students who’ve been led to believe, by the left, that they have an unchallengeable “right” to spend years studying X at someone else’s expense, regardless of whether a degree in X will lead to employment, to the repayment of that debt, and to fairness for those actually footing the bill. Intergenerational subsidy depends on repayment, ideally via lucrative employment in the private sector. If that doesn’t happen, or doesn’t happen enough, it’s unsustainable.

For how many years can we go on bankrolling, say, 20,000 students of fine art or 27,000 enthusiasts of media studies if their qualifications have little value in the job market and don’t lead to employment? As we’ve seen, very few of those art students will make even the most basic living as artists. A majority of those surveyed earned less than a quarter of their income from art, the rest often coming from low-paid temp work and/or state benefits. The supply of artists exceeds demand by quite some margin. A few may find a niche in academia, where their debt to the taxpayer may eventually be ‘repaid’ with taxpayers’ money. Shouldn’t students be advised of these practicalities and bear some responsibility for their subsequent choices? And shouldn’t that inform any argument about fairness?

You may want to point those doing the accusing to some recent political history. Subsidised tuition for a gifted minority from modest backgrounds – say, 2% or 5% of the student population – is admirable, something I’d endorse. But doing the same for 20% or 50% of the country’s teenagers, regardless of their abilities, simply isn’t viable, and never was. Yet this was New Labour policy and so we arrived at some arbitrary target of 50% of young people in higher education, supposedly in the name of fairness. And so joke courses multiplied and standards fell.

It seems to me that the “devaluation of academia” has already happened - in the name of egalitarian progress. And this policy of fairness, so conceived, makes grants and intergenerational subsidy unworkable, and thus the need for loans. It’s no coincidence that the far-left academics who’ve championed student rioting and disruption are those whose areas of study are disreputable, dogmatic and economically frivolous, and which will be very hard to sell in the harsh light of day. As I’ve said before, those students who feel entitled to protest, even riot, might at least direct their feelings towards the egalitarian architects of the situation now at hand. People whose worldview isn’t far removed from that of Zygmunt Bauman.

[ Edited. ]

John Link

Franklin: That Radford job and the "national reputation" needs to be qualified somewhat for those who are not familiar with the US postsecondary system. No one with a genuine *professional* reputation, that is, some one who really sells art nationally, would bother teaching there. It is a nice school (I worked at Virginia Tech up the road from it for a while), but it is a third tier place. This means most of the faculty time is spent on campus, teaching, going to meetings, doing community work, stuff like that. Radford, Virginia is not a good place from which to manage a true national presence in the USA art system. As you note, population 16k or so. Nor would the school allow such a person the time necessary to conduct such an endeavor. (It is a good place to paint landscapes, though, and they will allow time for that.)

What "national rep" means in academia is a "national academic reputation". It means speaking at national art educational conferences once in a while. It means being juried into academicly oriented exibitions that correlate well with the refereed journal that is popular in other departments on campus when they think "publish or perish". It hopefully means having a show or two in a commercial gallery in a large city somewhere, hopefully in another state. They are likely to get someone like this. But they won't get anyone with a truly successful career at the national level of exposure who makes a living selling their art. Nor, in their secret heart of hearts, do they expect such a result.

John Link

present & correct: You are absolutely right. Nothing is forever.

David

John,

Welcome aboard. Help yourself to drinks and nibbles.

Franklin

What "national rep" means in academia is a "national academic reputation".

When (say) Yale asks for a national or international reputation, they mean an art career. What a school asks for and what it can reasonably hope for are two different discussions. Radford would likely settle for what you describe - no disrespect to Radford, town or college; I'm sure they're lovely - but the request is aimed at the art career. And in fact, competition is so fierce that someone who's exhibiting around the country if not exactly selling all over the place is likely to take the position.

John Link

Yale, of course, is at the very top of the first tier and yes they will get what they want - the national or international art career. But they will also allow the successful applicant free reign to continue to pursue his or her art career. By definition, not many schools are at the very top. Yale's School of Art is so satisfied with itself, for instance, that it does not bother with specialized accreditation - and I wouldn't either if I were them. When you are that far up, why let anyone underneath tell you what to do, much less pass judgment on you? But you were quoting a Radford ad. They ask for a national exhibiton record, which leaves a lot of wiggle room, definition wise.

For a third tier school (of which there must be at least a thousand), "national" can be satisfied by exibitions at other third tier universities as long as they are in other states. I dare say that exibiting in such a place would "count" more at Radford than exibiting at the first tier university (Virginia Tech) up the road. It is a very complicated system that tallies up "prestige" in terms that suit the academic value system. I think that your point remains valid, however. A Radford U can get quite persnickety with its academic point system as it applies it to a hundreds of candidates for an entry level position in a rather obscure institution. Notice they are considering drawing exhibitions specifically; that detail is not insignificant. Where there is significant wiggle on "national", there may be very little on "drawing". I can imagine the search committee diligently searching for and counting up the exact number of exhibitions in each resume with the word "drawing" in their title. Candidates accept this as their lot in life. This says a lot about the economic prospects of those who seek advanced degrees in art for the purpose of teaching. It says a lot about those who have the degree in hand and think of it as a ticket for entry into the teaching profession.

Nik White

David,

"For how many years can we go on bankrolling, say, 20,000 students of fine art or 27,000 enthusiasts of media studies if their qualifications have little value in the job market and don’t lead to employment? … we arrived at some arbitrary target of 50% of young people in higher education, supposedly in the name of fairness … It seems to me that the “devaluation of academia” has already happened - in the name of egalitarian progress."

There is nothing that you've saying here that I can find any real disagreement with – in fact if anything, the situation is even worse than you describe it.

The New Labour policy wasn't simply about making things fairer, it was about bringing society together. Blair, as we know, was someone who was quite invested in that vague wishy-washy spirituality that obsesses about everyone 'becoming one', so it should be no surprise that universities under New Labour became far more than simply places where higher education was conducted.

Literally hundreds of millions of pounds have been spent by universities up and down the country on swanky new buildings, huge purpose-built halls of residence, student 'villages' and so on. It's unlikely the universities could have received the investment for such projects if they weren't able to project income based on a vast increase in student numbers. In cities like Hull, Leicester or Stoke-on-Trent, I suspect that the universities are probably really quite significant to the local economies of the area and I don't just mean late night kebab shops or 24-7 grocery stores.
So yes, sending 50% of high school leavers to *is* an absurd and unsustainable plan for many reasons but if (when) subsidies are withdrawn, it won't simply be the universities that will go down but in many places, half the small businesses in the community will probably go along with it.

If Blair's policies did communities closer, it has done so by tying them great numbers of them into the same fate, all of which is predicated on massive amounts of debt and borrowing.

Not only that, but if the plan really were to make society more egalitarian it has done nothing but lead to precisely the opposite result. Once the fact of having a degree itself becomes no longer remarkable or noteworthy, it starts to matter greatly where that degree was awarded.

There may have been a time from the 60s onward that having a degree from the University of Hull probably was as valuable as one from Oxford or Cambridge, even if it lacked the same cultural prestige.

Now, though, it hardly seems worth trying to get a degree unless you're going to get it from one of the top 20 universities and colleges in the country. In other words, Blair's policy has arguably reintroduced a spirit of elitism probably not seen in the UK since before the First World War.

In the not too distant future, I suspect the legacy of this policy will make another useful warning of the perils of overt government interference on society.

David

Literally hundreds of millions of pounds have been spent by universities up and down the country on swanky new buildings, huge purpose-built halls of residence, student ‘villages’ and so on

I live not far from the university and two of those new ‘villages’. The money being thrown at the expansion is extraordinary. It feels like the university is keeping the local construction industry going.

In the not too distant future, I suspect the legacy of this policy will make another useful warning of the perils of overt government interference on society.

And you have to wonder exactly how many times the same lesson has to be taught.

Nik White

Well, quite - it's a situation that we can't afford to continue and yet seemingly can't afford to discontinue either, not without a precipitous descent into wrack and ruin.

There's a huge difference between using borrowing/lending as a necessary resource to get things done and move things forward and making a near bottomless ocean of debt the foundation of your entire culture.

As for the lesson, well, it'd be nice if it could learned at least once by somebody, somewhere.

On a less depressing note and just in case you haven't already seen it, you may well also enjoy this exchange between Dave Gibbons (of Watchmen etc. fame) and a typically effulgent TV presenter-type on the question of Roy Lichtenstein and plagiarism (the relevant part of the documentary starts at 34:54 here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I0gyP17bs8I

David

you may well also enjoy this exchange between Dave Gibbons (of Watchmen etc. fame) and a typically effulgent TV presenter-type on the question of Roy Lichtenstein and plagiarism

Enjoy would be too strong a word. I generally find art criticism a life-sapping experience. I’d much rather read comics. Or clean a neglected roasting tin.

present & correct

Alistair Sooke, the BBC critic/broadcaster in the Lichtenstein docu is such a pretentious nob, endlessly finding supreme value in all sorts of banal contemporary art-wankery.

Nik White

Fair enough.

I did enjoy Sooke's repeatedly failed attempts to persuade Gibbons that Lichtenstein was not a mere copyist but a transformer of base comics metal into art gold (as Bolland had it).

David

I did enjoy Sooke’s repeatedly failed attempts to persuade Gibbons

Maybe there’s a short documentary to be made there: Art critics and curators trying to persuade people from other walks of life of the merits of half a dozen recent works. Have them talk with graphic designers, comic book artists, games developers, etc. See if their views collide. Though as I said, a little art criticism goes an awfully long away.

present & correct

Sooke's got form..
I saw him try the same persuasion job on old master expert, Bendor Grosvenor (he of BBC's Fake or Fortune fame).
Can't remember the programme.. but supposedly, Bridget Riley's op-art patterns were pure genius.
Bendor was not convinced.

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