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July 2012

I Demand You Demand My Art

The Observer’s Elizabeth Day asks a question of thunderous, nay, cosmic, importance:

Should artists have to work or should they be supported by the state?

Apparently public funding via the Arts Council, which currently spends around four hundred million pounds a year, simply isn’t enough.

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

Cease that weeping immediately.

We also learn, shockingly, that being an artist is not the most promising vocational pursuit:

The statistics make for uncomfortable reading. Almost a third of visual and applied artists earn less than £5,000 a year from their creative work, according to a survey conducted last year by Artists’ Interaction and Representation (AIR); 57% of the 1,457 respondents said that less than a quarter of their total income was generated by their art practices and only 16% of them paid into a private pension fund, raising questions about how professional artists will support themselves once they reach retirement age.

With the above in mind, would it be too outrageous to suggest that perhaps we have a surplus of would-be artists? If there are too many artists chasing too little demand, and if very few can hope to make even the most basic living as artists, then why use even more public money to entice more people into such an unpromising line of work? Or rather, non-work. 

In other countries, there are different approaches. In Denmark, selected artists are awarded life-long annual stipends.

Indeed. Those deemed sufficiently steeped in artistic wherewithal can receive up to £17,000 a year, every year, for the rest of their lives. Stipends allowed Bettina Camilla Vestergaard to travel to Los Angeles and spend six months sitting in her car at taxpayers’ expense while “exploring collective identity” in ways never quite made clear. Oh, and doing a spot of shopping. For art, of course. After sufficient time had been spent idling and, as she puts it, “slowly but surely reducing my mental activity to a purposeless series of meaningless events,” Ms Vestergaard struck upon a deep and fearsome idea. Specifically, to let strangers deface her car with inane marker pen graffiti. This radical feat allegedly “explored” how “identity and gender is constituted in public space.” Though, again, the details are somewhat sketchy. The freewheeling disposal of other people’s earnings also allowed Ms Vestergaard to film herself and her friends looking bored, tearing up grass and pondering the evils of capitalism. And, in an all too brief moment of awareness, wondering if what they do is actually any good and worth anyone’s attention. The resulting videos, all bankrolled by the Danish taxpayer and showing highlights of four days’ artistic inactivity, have been available online for over a year and have to date attracted zero comments and no discernible traffic except via this blog. 

There is, however, this from the Observer comments: 

It’s like complaining because you didn’t get paid for a job nobody asked you to do. 

When Scolding is the Payoff for All That Piety and Angst

Guardian reader SanityRestored

I’m prepared to judge you. Sorry if you don’t like it. But for the damage you are inflicting firstly on your own kids, and secondly on society in general, don’t I have the right to judge you?

Guardian reader NorthernLass81:

A decision that cannot really be justified.

Guardian reader ivanpope:

Every single comment you make is a Tory comment… I’m not sure that you really fit in at the Guardian… It’s commonplace for those of a leftist bent to move to the right as they get older (i.e. as they acquire income, assets and status). You are just following the norm, but I can still dislike you for that.

Guardian reader smallactsofdefiance:

Parents will perform the most extraordinary mental contortions in order to justify why their child is so special they must ditch their principles.

Guardian reader sammace:  

An utterly immoral act.

Guardian reader Jonathan Staples:  

What’s the article next week? Are you going to justify joining BUPA?

Heavens. And the Great Moral Horror that has these righteous souls so indignant and a-twitch? The Guardian’s education journalist Janet Murray has – oh my - sent her daughter to a fee-paying school:

I’ve been asked how I can reconcile writing about education for the Guardian with having a child at a private school… Deep down, I don’t think I ever really had a problem with private education. It just didn’t seem socially acceptable to say so. 

Of course the sound of a thousand hands being wrung and knuckles being cracked has had some effect: 

When I walk Katy to school in her straw boater and blazer, I sometimes sense people – particularly other parents – judging me.

And so, 

I plan to send Katy to a state secondary if I can, 

Whew. Her soul may yet be saved. 

but if I find myself dissatisfied with what is on offer, I will go private again. 

Unrepentant! Fetch the stones. 

Continue reading "When Scolding is the Payoff for All That Piety and Angst" »

Onwards to the Future

A vision of tomorrow, and at least one classic sentence, courtesy of the Guardian’s Jackie Ashley

Prospect magazine carries a thoughtful, slightly wistful piece by the former Labour MP Chris Mullin in which he calls for the abolition of the private car.

Yes, Mr Mullin would have us inhabit a world denuded of the automobile - a mode of transport he regards as “a disastrous invention” - and with it some rather obvious but unmentioned freedoms. Instead, he thinks we should want to live in a more bipedal and egalitarian world. A world not unlike

Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam, before the coming of market forces.

And naturally, Ms Ashley is very much intrigued: 

That might be going too far for today’s politicians, but the effect of hard times and the oil price on budgets, and the sheer misery of modern car commuting, suggests that a more radical agenda could be popular. That means much bolder support for cycling, with cars banned from many more roads and parks. It’s one of the few radical shifts in lifestyle that is easily deliverable and for which there is no real drawback.

Banning cars from roads is easily delivered and has no drawback, see? At least, not for Ms Ashley, who cares so very much and thinks so very deeply.

As do other cerebral and compassionate Guardianistas:

Cars should be banned - they are unhealthy, dangerous, a lazy and destructive option. The only people who should be allowed them are: (a) people who work far from their home where public transport is not sufficient (they would have to provide evidence upon trying to buy a car); (b) people with 3 children or more (for transporting kids + big weekly shops); (c) disabled people who would find it difficult to use public transport. All would have to provide proof when buying their car. Everybody else will have to use trains, buses, trams, their feet, bikes.


It is also vastly selfish to drive around with empty seats.

Though not, perhaps, as selfish as wishing to impose on others a “radical shift in lifestyle” and limited mobility. Unless shrinking a person’s world and robbing them of autonomy is now considered a virtue. Curiously, the Guardian comments are largely fixated with the respective hazards posed by cyclists and motorists, and which party smells more. Ms Ashley and Mr Mullin’s wild fits of authoritarianism, and those of their admirers, don’t cause much fuss.

Friday Ephemera

Photos from the World Tobacco Sniffing Championship. // Airport security encounters man with suspicious penis. // “On July 19, 1957, five men stood below a 2 kiloton atomic test. A tape recorder was present to record their experience.” // Titan’s vortex. // A vending machine for every need. Including mashed potatoes and gravy. // Biology up close. // Handsome ‘bergs. // Painting Batman big. // When pensioners have guns. // Orang-utans master iPads. // The problems of relativistic baseball. // People and things rotating. // Comics out of context. // Cleavage hands. // Assorted title sequences. // The complete Black Narcissus (1947). 

They Exist on a Higher Plane, You See

Ralph Rugoff, director of the Hayward Gallery, explains visual art

Art is really about ideas. It’s not about looking at things.

According to the Guardian, Mr Rugoff is “one of the most highly respected curators on the global contemporary art scene” and has “shaken up art audiences on both sides of the Atlantic, inspiring them to engage with the kind of puzzling, cerebral work that tends to put off all but the most dedicated of contemporary art aficionados.” Prior to his moving to the Hayward, we learn that Mr Rugoff “curated a survey of invisible art that included paintings rendered in evaporated water, a movie shot with a film-less camera, and a pedestal once occupied by Andy Warhol.” Such was the unspeakable daring of this invisible art venture, Mr Rugoff has seen fit to repeat it, daringly, at the Hayward. Now Londoners can gasp in wonder at Gianni Motti’s empty frames and Tom Friedman’s blank piece of paper, at which the artist supposedly stared for a very long time. If the colossal cleverness of it all is too much to endure, art lovers may wish to extend the premise by not being visible either.

Setting aside the gallery’s standard blather about “diverse aesthetic practices and concerns” and “using invisibility as a metaphor that relates to the… marginalisation of social groups,” one can’t help but feel that conceptual artists are in fact tragic figures, or tragicomic at least. By and large they’re the leftovers, the dregs. They’re the people who weren’t good enough to get a job in advertising. Having abandoned craft, aesthetics and mere looking at things – and with them, any sense of wonderment or joy – what’s left is typically hackneyed, desperate and gratingly self-conscious. And so, for instance, arch conceptualist Stefan Brüggemann - whose work allegedly “re-presents something which is absent” and “comments on the absence of conceptual art, because conceptual art no longer exists” - attempts to explode our brains with this: 


And of course this mighty conundrum: 

Continue reading "They Exist on a Higher Plane, You See" »

Reheated (27)

For newcomers, more items from the archives.

New, Leftwing Physics Discovered.

“Passive overeating” is a global pandemic, so Guardianistas want the state to stop us eating.

Setting aside the surreal wording and overt authoritarianism, there’s something vaguely unpleasant about a group of richer people – say, left-leaning doctors, columnists and academics - demanding constraints and punitive taxes on proletarian food. Taxes and constraints that would leave themselves largely unaffected.

Terrorising Coffee Drinkers for the Greater Good

Guardian hearts Occupier. Said Occupier hearts smashing other people’s stuff. 

Prior to smashing windows and hitting police officers with 8 foot long steel pipes, the Occupiers had gathered at an anarchist book fair, where leaflets and workshops promised a softer, fairer, fluffier world. (“Indigenous solidarity event with Native Resistance Network.” “Equal rights for all species.” “Children welcome!”) In this temple of warrior poets and ostentatious empathy, the “activist and educator” Cindy Milstein cooed over Occupy’s “direct democracy and cooperation”: “This compelling and quirky, beautiful and at times messy experimentation has cracked open a window on history, affording us a rare chance to grow these uprisings into the new landscape of a caring, ecological, and egalitarian society.” Occupy, says Milstein, is all about “facilitating a conversation in hopes of better strategizing toward increasingly expansive forms of freedom.” Its participants, we learn, are “non-hierarchical and anti-oppression.” See, it’s all fluff and twinkles. It’s just that some of the twinklers like to wear masks and balaclavas – the universal symbol of friendliness and caring - while trying to shatter glass onto Starbucks customers.

Because Artists Are So Dangerous

Bettina Camilla Vestergaard creates “an uninhibited space for creative thought and action.” Radical grass-tearing ensues.

Decenter was, we’re told, a place for artists who longed to escape “the choking effects of the market,” and who wished to air their “radical and uncompromising thoughts,” thereby creating “a more humanely oriented society.” You see, these precious flowers are choked by the market, implying as it does a reciprocal arrangement with the rube footing the bill. A parasitic relationship, in which the taxpayer has no say and is essentially irrelevant, is much more liberating.

And remember,

Cows Dig Jazz

Now waste your afternoon in the greatest hits

There’s Something On Your Back

Noting the approach of Cost of Government Day in the States, Jeff Goldstein offers the following:  

Come sundown on Sunday, you all are free of your 2012 obligations to the government. Which now takes 197 days out of your year. My advice: you begin telling every “progressive” and Democrat you know who tries to engage you or approach you or talk to you or ask something of you, that you’re now closed for business, and would they kindly piss off.

Our own Tax Freedom Day, when Britons start working for themselves rather than for the state, fell on May 29th. Which is to say, for 149 days of the year, every penny earned by the average UK resident will be taken by the government in tax. And,  

Tax Freedom Day only measures the money actually raised by the government in taxes, not the full amount it spends. The government borrows one pound for every four it raises in taxes, so if the full cost of government is considered the Cost of Government Day, this would fall on 23rd June.

So don’t start feeling all superior.

Elsewhere (67)

John Ellis and Charles Geshekter on academia’s growing political lockstep:

The slant is even now rapidly increasing. At Berkeley the 2004-5 imbalance in political affiliation for the most senior faculty (full professors) was 8.3-1, but for the next rank (associate professors) it was an overwhelming 30-1. And for the most junior level (assistant professors) the figure was almost exclusionary at 64-1. Assistant professors are the most recent hires, and associate professors the ones immediately preceding. These strongly suggest that the university of tomorrow will virtually exclude political or social perspectives that are not left of centre. Attempts to stop this trend, or even to draw attention to it, are dismissed as partisan. Campus liberals are too comfortable with the status quo to worry about a problem that seems to trouble only people unlike themselves. What will happen when the world of academia has finally taken an ideological shape completely unlike that of the world beyond the campus gates?

Readers who wish to see that lockstep in action – and how the lock-steppers respond to criticism - should revisit this nugget from the archives. And remember, these are caring, enlightened people building “friendly, progressive communities.” Just don’t dare to disagree with them.

Howie Carr on when racial exoticism misfires:  

But [Elizabeth] Warren’s real downfall was the total unravelling of her alleged Native American heritage. No one still believes she’s even 1/32 Cherokee, and her refusal to release her Ivy League employment records only seems to confirm that the blue-eyed, blonde-haired white woman “checked the box” to jump-start her sputtering academic career in the mid-1980s. In the spring, when Warren was still clinging to her flimsy stories of “family lore,” she said she identified herself as Indian only because she “wanted to meet people like myself.” She also cited her Aunt Bee as pointing out that her father, Warren’s grandfather, had high cheekbones, “like all the Indians do.”

A couple of weeks ago, several Cherokee who had been most critical of Warren’s scam arrived in Massachusetts to confront her. A perfect opportunity for Liz to meet people like her. But she snubbed the real Indians, claiming they were part of a vast right-wing Cherokee conspiracy. The Native Americans couldn’t even arrange a powwow with one of Warren’s whitebread campaign staffers. Finally they returned home, and Twila Barnes, an indefatigable Cherokee genealogist, went back to her digging - and came up with the 1999 death certificate of Aunt Bee Veneck, who imparted the “family lore” to young Lizzy about her proud high-cheekbone heritage. The form offered as choices for race: Native American, white and black - and the family member who supplied that information listed Aunt Bee as white. That family member was Elizabeth Warren.

Oh, and this is the kind of comment that the Guardian deletes as objectionable. Because, you know, “facts are sacred.”


And speaking of the Guardian, yesterday the paper saw fit to romanticise tube train vandals. Apparently the culprits are being artistic and individual, and freeing us from fear. With sledgehammers, spray cans and a repair bill of £10m. The author of the piece, Tom Oswald, tells us, 

I was 12, indestructible and wondering who I was when I first awoke to the adventure of graffiti train writing. It represented a chance to define myself. 

Because, obviously, that’s what trains and tube stations are for. Letting adolescents define themselves by making the place ugly, degraded and vaguely threatening. Even when those adolescents are well into their thirties and looking rather sad. But hey, don’t be so square. It’s a subculture, man. Though, as noted previously, I can’t help wondering how the Kings Place Massive would feel if similar graffiti were applied to the offices of the Guardian or the homes of its writers.

Feel free to add your own.

Friday Ephemera

The flatulence deodoriser is worn “taped inside the underwear next to the buttocks.” And for bedtime, there’s the gas sack. // Every woman wants a chainsaw handbag. // Crab and dachshund meet on a beach. // Kiev in infrared. // Fireworks filmed from above, via balloon. // Papercraft heads. // Full-size Hot Wheels. // Laughing rats. // Landscapes made of wool. // Whale chair, obviously. // What causes a hangover? // Octopus hatchlings. // Russian army, circa 1892. (h/t, Coudal) // Photographs of unusual humans, circa 1870-1880. // The films of Harold “Doc” Edgerton. // Einstein in mandals. // Do not grip fireworks with your buttocks