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February 2010

Is That Your Hand In My Pocket?

The playwright Jonathan Holmes indulges in some special pleading for the arts, and for people much like himself.

All three parties find themselves scrambling for a coherent arts policy, with the Tories currently making the running by suggesting a combination of a revamped lottery contribution plus a peculiar beast they are calling “philanthrocapitalism.” What they seem to mean by this is that businesses and wealthy individuals will make up the shortfall left behind when Jeremy Hunt and co have finished taking the Arts Council to pieces – in other words, a spectacular piece of wishful thinking.

Now might be a good time to ask whose thinking is most wishful here. If the art world’s theoretical customers don’t regard what’s on offer as of sufficient value to hand over their cash directly, voluntarily, then isn’t that telling us something? Isn’t it a tad grandiose to expect one’s commercially unviable art to be subsidised by the taxpayer - irrespective of whether those taxpayers would choose to fork over their cash, which they most likely had to earn by doing something of more obvious market value? What Holmes and his colleagues are advocating is a confiscation of other people’s money and therefore other people’s freedom, though of course he takes great care to avoid such unambiguous phrasing. Sadly, Mr Holmes doesn’t quite get to grips with such basics or their moral implications. He teases us, though, with this:

Lurking underneath all this there is, of course, a much bigger issue. Why should the arts receive any subsidy at all? The first argument is that almost everyone else is subsidised too, so why not the arts?

Despite the regularity with which it’s aired, this is a not the strongest argument to advance. The fact that six people already have their hands in my back pocket isn’t the most persuasive reason for inviting in a seventh, eighth and ninth. There is, after all, only so much pocket.

Mr Holmes then changes tack.

The arts in this country are a major financial success story. The income from creative industries generates revenues of around £112.5bn, and they employ more than 1.3 million people, which is 5% of the total employed workforce in the UK.

Note the sly use of the term “creative industries,” which includes 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.

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Friday Ephemera

Live holographic heads. // Car horns of yore. // The teenager tone. // The $1,000,000 comic book. // A game about robots. // At last, a cocktail robot. // Robot solves Rubik’s cube in under 12 seconds. (h/t, Evan) // Wi-fi drone controlled by your phone. // A war of paper toys is bound to escalate. // Atomic orbitals, or where electrons are likely to be. // Aerial photography by Kacper Kowalski. // The Clavilux 2000 visualises music. // Underground water network in Kasukabe City. (h/t, MeFi) // Noteworthy vases. // Eye-catching trousers. // Wooden clocks. // How to order beer in 50 languages. // “Don’t worry, dad.”

Projection Indeed

Readers may recall the Guardian’s Laura Barnett and her insights on the subject of arts funding, not least her belief  that “the government makes no specific social provision for artists.” Except insofar it does exactly that via publicly funded regional arts councils to the tune of almost half a billion a year. Ms Barnett’s latest piece involves an exhibition titled Star City: The Future Under Communism, which gathers together artists inspired by the space race and Soviet visions of the future. The self-declared communist Daoud Hamdani is invited to share his responses to the artworks on display:

I’m no art critic, but I was fortunate enough to be able to look at this exhibition from an informed, leftwing perspective – and I was very impressed... In one room, Jane and Louise Wilson’s film Star City, shot on location, is shown on all four walls using four projectors. It’s an all-encompassing, smothering experience, symbolising the capitalist state’s suppression of the individual for the sake of profit.

Mr Hamdani’s grasp of reality is such that it is not in fact his beloved communism that was “all-encompassing,” “smothering” and intent on “suppression of the individual.” Instead, these characteristics are assigned – one might say projected – to the freewheeling West, to which so many reluctant communists tried to flee.

The exhibition’s main theme is escapism – both through the space race and science-fiction. I took this to be symbolic of the escape from capitalist barbarism that the Soviet system as a whole achieved.

Readers may be surprised to discover that barbarism was unknown in the Soviet Union and other communist nations, where altogether more civilised standards were adhered to and 100 million souls died of entirely natural causes.

Mr Hamdani continues,

I walked away from this exhibition with a sense of the artists’ overwhelming conviction that socialism and communism are still the future. We’ve had the Soviet experiment. We’ll get it right next time.

Whether for reasons of space or sheer critical acumen, Ms Barnett leaves these assertions unchallenged. Ms Barnett is a commissioning editor on the G2 arts desk and “writes across the arts, with a particular interest in theatre, dance and world music.” Though not, one might suppose, with an interest in history. Mr Hamdani is a member of the Midlands Young Communists League. 

The Star City exhibition is at the Nottingham Contemporary until April 17. Related: An Unsustainable Evil and Mutterings in Bedlam.

Dancing for Gaia

Via Zombie comes news of a tremendous intellectual breakthrough at U.C. Berkeley. At midday on Friday, students will be graced by visiting lecturer Maximilian Mayer, a Research Fellow at Bonn University’s Centre for Global Studies. The lecture in question, Mitigating Global Warming Through Art - Exploring the Importance of Music for the Change of Lifestyles, offers no less than a blueprint for saving the world. The university’s events calendar provides a glimpse of things to come:

Whatever the new law carbon life may look like, simplification is a central issue. From the vantage point of the actor-network theory, simplification means to reduce the complexity of collectives. In order to simplify our life has to decrease the number of “things” one is entangled with in his/her daily life.

The language, she is beautiful.

Yet, one cannot substitute something with nothing.

This must be where the global salvation comes in.

What is the relevance of music for revolutions and societal cohesion? On a personal level, we are looking for an utterly new way of happiness and a quotidian practice that provides postmodern urban dwellers with sense and orientation.

An utterly new way of happiness. I told you it was big.

Music in general and art in particular seems to be a promising Archimedean point for multiple new life styles. Performing music and dancing... may be powerful enough to substitute the culture of consumerism since they enable a creativity-based self-autonomy as well as cultural self-sufficiency. “Back to art” could even open up the path to self-induced simplification in order to overcome the hegemonic consumerist environment... Humanity should not be primarily treated according to the logic of homo economicus. Rather it might be best envisioned as communities of artists.

It’s a revolution, people. Humanity will be reconceived as one big drum circle and the hegemon will be crushed beneath our happy, happy feet. Readers are welcome to speculate as to what form this momentous dancing endeavour might take. Doubtless it will be both elegant and awe-inspiring, perhaps a little like this.

Friday Ephemera

For when you crave a forbidden tingle. // “This is good shit.” // Nobuhiko Obayashi’s Hausu, 1977. // Nuit Blanche. // New York, circa 1905. // Snow in Washington. (h/t, Coudal) // Mosquito versus laser. // Bats with adhesive sweat. // Bees and nicotine. // The bumps you see are moons. // One Button Bob, a game with no instructions. // Onion calendar. // Quote. // Circulatory tights. // Handcrafted yoyos. // Mighty pipe organs. // Robot vibraphone. // Visualising Twitter. // Erecting the Eiffel Tower. // And, via Anna, Russia’s wooden churches

Elsewhere (19)

Thomas Sowell on the idea of fairness.

If by “fair” you mean everyone having the same odds for achieving success, then life has never been anywhere close to being fair, anywhere or at any time. If you stop and think about it (however old-fashioned that may seem), it is hard even to conceive of how life could possibly be fair in that sense. Even within the same family, among children born to the same parents and raised under the same roof, the first-borns on average have higher IQs than their brothers and sisters, and usually achieve more in life.

Unfairness is often blamed on somebody, even if only on “society.” But whose fault is it if you were not the first born? Since some groups have more children than others, a higher percentage of the next generation will be first-borns in groups that have smaller families, so such groups have an advantage over other groups. Despite all the sound and fury generated in controversies over whether different groups have different genetic potential, even if they all have identical genetic potential the outcomes can still differ if they have different birth rates. Twins have average IQs several points lower than children born singly. Whether that is due to having to share resources in the womb or having to share parents’ attention after birth, the fact is what it is - and it certainly is not fair.

Shrinkwrapped ponders “diversity,” culture and social constructs.

It is not politic to ask, but here goes: Who constructs inner city culture, anyway? Is it cooked up in some hidden smoke filled room somewhere by evil WASP social engineers and then imposed on unsuspecting black gang bangers? Are rappers the unwitting agents of such nefarious plots aimed at destroying the work ethic and academic accomplishments of young black children? The idea that the black community has suffered egregious social damage from the liberal enabled destruction of the black family is rarely mentioned in polite society.

John Hawkins interviews Thomas Sowell.

This notion in academia of publish or perish - well, there is a certain merit to that. But like everything else, you can carry it to point of absurdity, which is where we are in a lot of fields. If you’ve mastered the writings of William Shakespeare and convey that to the next generation, who have obviously not mastered it, you’re performing a valuable service. But, that’s not going to advance your academic career. You’ve got to come out with some new theory of Shakespeare. You’ve got to go through and show how there is gender bias or the secret gay message somewhere coded in Shakespeare. You’ve just got to come up with something.

And Julia M notes some arts funding disasters.

As usual, feel free to add your own.

Comedy Economics

Courtesy of the New Economics Foundation, allegedly “the UK’s leading independent think tank.” The NEF was founded in 1986 and its members have spent the intervening years carefully blueprinting their socialist utopia. Here’s what they’ve come up with.

“Our consumption habits are squandering the earth’s natural resources,” says Anna Coote, Head of Social Policy at the NEF. “Spending less time in paid work could help us to break this pattern.”

We – that’s thee and me, apparently – would then become warmer, kinder, more compassionate people, more in tune with Gaia and sensitive to her needs. Much like the mighty thinkers at the NEF.

We’d have more time to be better parents, better citizens, better carers and better neighbours.

I’m feeling warm and a little fuzzy. It’s almost too good to be true.

If we are to seize these opportunities, the inevitable consequence is a much shorter standard working week, with 21 hours as the goal.

Ah. So by “better parents” and “better neighbours,” Ms Coote actually means poorer parents and poorer neighbours. Parents and neighbours with little if any disposable income. Parents and neighbours who default on their mortgages and rent payments. Parents and neighbours who find themselves evicted and their homes repossessed. These will be the warmer, kinder, more compassionate beings of whom the legends foretold.

Andrew Simms, Policy Director at NEF, said, “A cultural shift will throw up real challenges, but there could also be massive benefits for our economy, our quality of life and our planet. After all, hands up who wouldn’t like a four-day weekend?”

A four-day weekend entails... oh yes, a three-day week. Hm. I’m pretty sure something along those lines occurred here during the Seventies. And it isn’t generally regarded as a high point in British history, whether viewed in terms of quality of life, prosperity or indeed social cohesion. Despite the ominous precedent, the brains trust at the NEF are convinced that, once implemented, their recommendations would “heal the rifts in a divided Britain” and leave the population “satisfied.” That’s satisfied with less of course, and the authors make clear their disdain for the “dispensable accoutrements of middle-class life,” including “cars, holidays, electronic equipment and multiple items of clothing.” 

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Friday Ephemera

Another Shatner triumph. // Pen spinning. // Sculpting with a chainsaw. // Hand-drawn sounds. (h/t, Coudal) // Visualising music. // You’ve got something in your ear. // Soporific loops. // London, 1927. // An Armenian tale of talking fish. (h/t, MeFi) // The People vs. George Lucas. // B-movie nightmares. // Time machine blueprints. // Knitted meat. // Glass microbes. // When you’re in a horror film, don’t look in the mirror. // Details of the dollar bill. // The steeps of San Francisco. // Little frozen brains. // Raccoon. // Husky. // Hippo. // Moths