David Thompson
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March 25, 2008

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John D

Hilarious -and disgusting.

steveaz

BBC 4's "intellectual" talk, on the average day:

"Blah, blah, blah, Global Warming...blah, blah, blah Abu Ghraib....blah blah blah Abortions...blah, blah, blah, American Financial Crisis...blah, blah, blah, C. difficile (but don't reform the NHS), blah, blah, blah, hate "Right Wingers"...blah, blah, blah, "Mess" in Iraq, blah, blah, blah, "No War...," blah, blah, blah, "Cowboy Unilateralism.."

...lotsa talk, little intellect, actually.

I'm gonna pass on the link, David, and I'll get my take of the show from your braver commenters' comments!

David

Steveaz,

I understand your reservations, though it’s not what you might expect and is actually quite funny. Letts does a decent job of highlighting the combination of ideological uptightness and general flummery. It is, after all, a gravy train for (among others) the terminally incompetent. And I was entertained by Christopher Frayling’s denial of, then evasion of, the question about sexual preference on an Arts Council funding form. Instead, Frayling tried to excuse the Council’s ideological loading and bureaucratic lunacy with this: “If the critics of the Arts Council spent two minutes working in the public sector, they would know this happens everywhere.” Which, I’m sure, makes it alright.

What struck me is how so few of the Great Carers About The Arts tried to defend the massive subsidy in practical and economic terms. Some of those interviewed made the usual vague noises about improving the proletariat, making art “accessible”, etc. (The Arts Council website says, again rather vaguely: “We believe that the arts have the power to change lives and communities, and to create opportunities for people throughout the country.” But that’s pretty much it.) And without some practical clarity as to what exactly the benefits of public subsidy are - in terms of, say, investment or regeneration - it seems to me there’s not much of moral argument either.

Andy

I've always wondered why some artistic activities (such as Opera) should be subsidised, while others such as rock music are not. Or to put it another way, why not pay Bono of U2 to perform as well as the three tenors (ok - the 2 that survive). I cannot think of a rational answer to the question. Abolish the arts council - lets have more organisations like the Menier Chocolate factory, who put their activies on a proper commercial and sustainable basis, provide interesting and thought provocing/enjoyable plays and serve yummy food as well. If people want to indulge in identify politics, then let them do it at their own expense - not at mine or anybody else who doesn't either.

David

Well, one opera-goer says, “without subsidy, there’d be no culture,” or something to that effect. It’s a bold claim and a tad self-serving, and there’s no attempt to support it. It seems to me that commercial culture ticks over quite nicely, thank you very much – but perhaps that isn’t deemed to count. I have to say subsidised art amounts to a very small morsel of my cultural stew. Heathen that I am.

Again, I think the argument for public subsidy has to be made in terms of clear economic benefit. If it can’t be made in those terms, then I’m not sure there’s much of a moral argument for it either. It’s one thing for the state to help people start arts-based businesses, which may go on to become self-supporting and employ others; I’ve no problem with that. But it’s something else entirely to extort money from the public so that someone deemed worthy by a committee can make art, or some approximation of art, regardless of whether anyone is actually willing to pay for what’s being produced.

AntiCitizenOne

I believe in no subsidy and a Citizens Dividend that would allow people to choose who to support.

I don't think the arts "culture" would last long, and that's no bad thing either.

David

AC1,

“I believe in no subsidy and a Citizens Dividend that would allow people to choose who to support.”

That the Arts Council rather than the public gets to decide who and what is supported is, of course, the issue. One might call it an injustice. Though the Guardian’s Lyn Gardner doesn’t seem to register that:

“It is the biggest cull in the arts council’s history: some 200 organisations have until tomorrow to tell it why they shouldn’t suffer massive funding cuts - and possible extinction.”

http://blogs.guardian.co.uk/theatre/2008/02/companies_fight_back_after_art.html

Note the words “cull” and “extinction.” Gardner’s piece, like many others, is peppered with colourful language – lots of stuff about “killing the patient”, “corpses”, and a system of subsidy “that often offers just enough money to survive but seldom enough to bloom.” Poor dears. Never enough of that lovely free money that all artists deserve by virtue of being artists, or calling themselves such.

Despite some limited criticism of the Arts Council’s ideological nature, the implication of injustice prevails in Gardner’s piece. It’s simply assumed that not being given someone else’s money on an indefinite basis is a terrible, terrible thing. At no point in the piece are readers invited to question the premise of public subsidy and its injustices to the taxpayer, or to ask why you and I should be obliged to fund theatrical productions in which we have no interest whatsoever. Arts Council subsidy seems to perpetuate an absurdly misplaced sense of worth and importance. But if the people of, say, Derby don’t care enough about a small theatre to make it viable, then why should you or I be expected to pick up the tab?

Paul

One good reason I can think of for subsidising the arts is that it's sort of nice (wishy washy, I know) to live in a country where art in general is considered - by both the state and its citizens - to be a *good thing*. That this niceness often results in funding for all manner of misguided fuckwits should be regarded as an unfortunate side-effect - albeit one that we could do much more about. Funding for opera is definitely galling, however, because a) it's watched and listened to mostly by people who could easily afford to fund it themselves and b) it's dreadful old shit.

In short: I'm pleased to live in a country that, for all the problems associated with it, has the arts on its lips. If you see what I mean.

steveaz

Thanks for the prod, David. I loved it! Honest and witty, it reminded of what I used to love about Great Britain.

So much was said that was memorable and thought-provoking, but I noted a couple of lines that I just can't let go of (I couldn't note the speakers' names. Pardon.)

Early on a commenter suggested the common-sense notion that the public money is being used to "mold" public taste. Another offered that the subsidy has become "bossy." While that's a term that any Brit living outside London's belt-way can wrap his mind around, it is also the adjective one'd apply to the "Chastity Police" in Tehran, or Al Khobar, a parallel that should come quickly to any traveled mind.

Another priceless line: summing up the elite opera-go'ers' support (or dare I say "need") for the subsidy, one lady was caught saying, "High Culture makes life worth living." If she really feels this way, then she'll surely equate any "culling" of her "culture-subsidy" with homicide, or genocide even. And if she doesn't really feel this way, then she's just another Comp/Lit Major with another emotional, incontinent metaphor.

Last, I thought it refreshing to hear the word "judgement" associated with an elitist undertaking of this sort...but there it was never-the-less when a subsidy critic decried the lack of "expert" judgement in the subsidy awards-process. The idea of "judging" art seemed so antithetical to today's post-modern acceptance of anything as "art", that I nearly suffered whiplash when she said it. I thought that the concepts of "judgment" and its concomitant, "discrimination" were taboo among this crowd. Too bad she didn't expound on this: I was earnestly hoping to find out what criteria, other than being "peers", might qualify a person as an "expert" in such an organization...

So, just how do we judge an Art piece's worthiness in the competition for state-subsidy? What do the deciders look for? Why, accessibility, we learn! Or, put simply, ticking-off the boxes next to the ethnic audiences purposefully targeted by the applying artist, all in the name of "availability." Since the council's list of appropriate target ethnicities is pretty short, it's easy to cheat...kinda like taking a multiple-choice test with the correct answers broadcast in advance, in search of free money.

And this lesson prompts the most eloquent critique of the subsidy yet. Some fella lets go, "Making the audience the end in itself is 'unproductive'." I mean, like, duh!

Leaving aside the fact that this bureaucracy needs to go on a diet (nation wide the offices employ 170 administrative staff), and that even the artists complain about the paper-load, the Arts Council has fallen to the thrall of Political Correctness. And this multi-complaint pile-up led an AC administrator to get defensive on tape: "Enterprise and initiative are rewarded at the Arts Council," he yelped.

He's wrong just a bit.

It's the enterprise of form filling and the initiative of applying for grants that the AC is rewarding, leading me to agree with the Thatcherite critic of the council. She was asked if the AC was to be repealed, would anyone notice? Her confidence was evident in her terse reply: "It's up for Grabs!"

Bully for her, and for Qhentin Letts for asking the right questions! Thanks again for the link, David. I'll never doubt you again, Mate.

Cheers!

steveaz

Sorry...Typo alert:

Quentin, sir, you deserve an attempt at proper spelling.

Keep smiling!

David

Paul,

Well, I consider *some* pieces of art to be very good things indeed and sources of immense pleasure, though I’m not sure that means that I, or anyone else, “should” feel a particular way about public subsidy, at least in its current, loaded and bloated, form. The art I respond to most is very often commercial in nature, and thus not dependent on the tastes and politics of Arts Council committees. In fact I struggle to recall a recent piece of publically subsidised art that had any significant positive impact. I suppose we might also wonder if the ideological leanings of the Arts Council and the enormous amount of crap it supports actually *deters* artists who find the politics disagreeable, along with a large part of the public. Either way, if the Arts Council were to be shut down or drastically downsized, I seriously doubt the artistic urge would vanish or that mass heathenism would ensue.

Steveaz,

“I’ll never doubt you again, Mate.”

I’ll need that kind of attitude for Operation Overlord.

Tim the Squid

David,

Your reference to "Operation Overlord"? Are you preparing to fit on Ike's shoes? Or is there some other reference I'm too dim to notice?

David

I’m not at liberty to divulge the details… yet.

Tim the Squid

Hmm. Well, having been to the sandbox and seen the elephant in the mirror, let me know if you need a Bill Millin.

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