I Demand You Demand My Art
July 29, 2012
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.