Czartoryski’s Sale

This is interesting:

The Polish government has bought a world-famous art collection, including a rare Leonardo da Vinci painting, for a fraction of its market value.

The Czartoryski collection was sold for €100m ($105m; £85m) despite being estimated at about €2bn.

The head of the Czartoryski family, which owned the collection, said it was a “donation”, but the board of its foundation resigned in protest.

The Czartoryski Foundation’s management board said it was not consulted about the sale, which was negotiated between Poland’s culture ministry and Adam Karol Czartoryski, a descendent of Princess Izabela Czartoryska, who founded the collection in 1802.

Mr Czartoryski, the foundation’s head, said he was following his ancestors who “always worked for the Polish nation”.

“I felt like making a donation and that’s my choice,” he said.

I have no idea how foundations work, let alone how this one worked, but I suspect Mr Czartoryski (or his forebears) ceded partial control of the Czartoryski Foundation to a board but retained certain rights, one of which was the right to flog the collection.

The Czartoryski Foundation’s board of management said it did not oppose selling the collection to the government, but that it was concerned that selling without due diligence – including estimating a fair price – may be against its bylaws, Reuters reported.

It may be?  You’d have thought a board of management would know this, wouldn’t you? I suspect they are just pissed off they’ve been utterly bypassed by Czartoryski and/or stood to gain something should the collection have been sold at full price.

Either way, it’s hard to see what Czartoryski has done wrong.

Chairman Marian Wolkowski-Wolski told the news agency there was a risk of the collection’s eventual dispersal out of public control.

Erm, it wasn’t in public control when it was part of the Czartoryski Foundation.  What angle are you pushing here, madam?

Ship of Fools

I’m late to this, but I see there has been a deadly fire in an “artists’ collective” in Oakland, California:

Dozens of people are feared dead after a fire broke out during a rave at a converted warehouse in Oakland, California.

Authorities have confirmed nine deaths but say they are preparing for the death toll to rise as high as 40.

Oakland fire chief Teresa Deloche-Reed said between 50 and 100 people were thought to have been inside the venue.

The venue was hosting a concert by electronic group Golden Donna, along with six other acts. The venue had been announced on Facebook earlier in the day.

The building did not have a sprinkler system and firefighters did not hear any alarms when they arrived, Ms Deloche-Reed said.

The warehouse, which houses artists in improvised studios, was packed with furniture, mannequins and other objects, obstructing firefighters’ efforts to put out the blaze, she added.

“It was filled end to end with furniture, whatnot, collections. It was like a maze almost.”

The only exit from the second floor was a staircase made from wooden pallets, Ms Deloche-Reed said.

I occasionally encounter people who wax lyrical about “artists'” squats and other instances of “artists” taking over a building, thinking that doing so is exceptionally cool and edgy.  Not one of them has ever mentioned the potential consequences of occupying a premises which falls foul of any number of building codes and is uninsured.

Unsurprisingly:

Officials have opened a criminal inquiry into a fire that killed at least 36 people at a warehouse party in Oakland, California.

The premises had already been under investigation prior to the fire over possible building code violations.

The warehouse had no sprinklers and one ex-resident called it a “death trap”.

Officials described the interior as like a maze, with the warehouse packed with furniture, mannequins and other objects, the only exit from the second floor a makeshift stairwell.

The building, known as the Ghost Ship, was used to house artists in improvised studios but several reports say people were illegally living there too.

Neighbours had complained to the city about rubbish piling up on the street outside, and about the illegal tenants.

I don’t give a fuck how edgy or cool the people responsible for this place thought they were, if they have broken the law and people have died as a result then they ought to get the book thrown at them, same as the rest of us would.  Tim Blair has more:

Consider the number of people who might be implicated in potential wrongful death lawsuits, right down to every Oakland hipster café that allowed promotional flyers for this venue to every website that invited people on Friday night. Interestingly, with 36 confirmed dead in the deadliest US fire since 2003, artistic Oakland types are worried about other sketchy venues being shut down.

This is no different from driving an uninsured vehicle down the street with no license.  Much as though I dislike a lot of government regulation, some of it is sensible and stops innocent people getting hurt or killed.  People ignoring regulations because they self-identify as “artists” is something that should never have been tolerated in the first place.

Soviet Art

Once again via David Thompson, this article by Michael Totten on the ludicrous state of modern art is worth reading in full, and is fully consistent with what I wrote here.

The bit I want to discuss here, though, is this:

By obsessing over politics above all else, identitarian artists of the twenty-first century resemble the Socialist Realists from the Soviet Union in the early- to mid-twentieth century. One could charitably call Socialist Realism an artistic style, one that glorified peasants, factory workers, and Communist values, but it was nurtured by a totalitarian police state and was the only “style” allowed by the government lest hapless artists wished to live out the remaining days of their lives in a Siberian slave labor camp.

At least the Russian Socialist Realists were talented artists. They produced totalitarian propaganda, yes, but they did it competently. Their paintings are interesting and engaging, and not just because they’re curious historical artifacts.

I actually quite like the Soviet Realism art, not so much for aesthetic beauty but, as Totten says, for what they represent historically.  I particularly like those in this sort of style:

soviet-poster-2

www.genstab.ru

www.genstab.ru

soviet-poster-4

(Source)

Of course, one must understand that they represent bullshit propaganda of the highest order in support of an abominable regime, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they are not engaging and, in the context of what they represent, historically interesting.  And the artists who created them undoubtedly had considerable talent and skill.

I remember once searching the internet for a story related to the Waffen SS and stumbling across websites and forums devoted to this and other German units, full of people posting photos and pictures of various artifacts from WWII.  I wasn’t surprised, but was rather glad, that the sites weren’t centres of Nazi worship but were instead frequented by incredibly nerdy blokes who simply had a historical interest in the Waffen SS and its symbology.  As, I must confess, do I up to a point: I have a huge hardback book full of photos of the Waffen SS which I picked up at a jumble sale years ago, and it’s a good one.  What I don’t have, however, is a giant Nazi flag hanging up on my wall and an admiration for their policies or methods.

I had to make a similar distinction when I found myself interested in the Soviet Union (my obsession with Russia was always more an obsession of the Soviet and immediate post-Soviet eras; modern-day Russia doesn’t interest me much any more, having now lived in it).  I used to buy items with the Soviet symbols on them, and sometimes even wear them:

Which, I hope, didn’t make me the same as the middle class twats who display the hammer and sickle when screaming “Smash the State” in central London.  I’d not wear the hammer and sickle any more, or really anything Soviet, because my obsession has declined and I’ve grown up a bit and now wear different clothes.  But I still find myself admiring Soviet symbols and artwork, such as this which is on the wall of an old Pioneer camp just south of Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk (I wrote about it here back in 2007, I don’t know if the camp and its murals still exist).

And also this wonderfully optimistic mural which I found in the Sakhalin town of Nevel’sk:

What I still find fascinating about Soviet art and other aspects of Soviet culture is that they belong to a country which simply no longer exists.  People say the past is another country, but in the case of the Soviet Union this is literally true.  Culture changes with time and you can visit any country and see its cultural history, but I think the Soviet Union is the only country I can think of which ceased to exist – taking its artistic culture with it – almost overnight.  What emerged from the wreckage in the form of the independent states retained aspects of the Soviet culture to varying degrees, but in all cases they were fast moving in the other direction leaving vast swathes of cultural history abandoned, owned by nobody and claimed by nobody.

You can still see it, especially the well-made examples such as those on the Moscow metro system, but even they seem increasingly alien as modern Russians prefer to commemorate different eras of their history.  Eventually Lenin’s body will be carted away and buried somewhere, the murals will fall into disrepair or be replaced by something more modern, and the last remaining Soviet citizens will die out, taking with them the memories of films, plays, and music which nobody else would even understand.

Except this rather odd Brit, of course.

Philistines!

This amused:

Film director Ken Loach has criticised the current crop of TV period dramas for indulging in “fake nostalgia”.

In response to a question about Downton Abbey in a Radio Times interview, Loach said: “This rosy vision of the past, it’s a choice broadcasters make.

Loach said nostalgic dramas were “the opposite of what a good broadcaster should do, which is stimulate and invigorate”.

Allow me to translate that for you:

How dare those awful oiks watch things they enjoy rather than the artistic masterpieces I am paid handsomely to create with taxpayers’ money!

As an additional point, Downton Abbey must seriously grate with the BBC chiefs.  The BBC was always considered the global leader in “costume dramas” and in theory it is they who ought to have spotted the opportunity for Downton Abbey and reaped the millions its extraordinary success has generated.  But that fell to ITV, their bitter rivals in the ratings wars, who are dependent on getting eyes on the screen rather than simply lifting billions from British owners of television sets on threat of imprisonment.

Not Funny

This is a never ending problem, isn’t it?

Around 200 people walked out of Amy Schumer‘s show in Tampa, Florida, on Sunday when she called Donald Trump a “orange, sexual-assaulting, fake-college-starting monster,” according to the Tampa Bay Times.

The paper claimed Schumer was met with loud booing about halfway through the show when her jokes switched from raunchy topics to more topical matters, including gun control and the upcoming presidential election.

Artists, actors, writers, comedians – and I use those terms charitably – of a left-wing bent cannot resist the temptation to use their popularity as a platform to sound off on politics.  The result is usually tedious in the extreme.  Take this by way of example:

During her show, she asked a Trump supporter to join her up on stage so he could explain why he was voting for the GOP candidate. The audience member responded that he was voting for Trump mainly because he didn’t trust his opponent, Hillary Clinton.

People paid money to go to a comedy show and found themselves in a political Q&A session.  No wonder there was booing.

This comes from living in a bubble.  I am sure Schumer’s hilarious jokes about Trump go down a storm among some audiences, i.e. those who share her politics to the letter.  They then take their show to the wider world and find nobody is laughing.  I remember when Chris Rock first burst onto the scene with Bring the Pain, which was fresh, pithy, and hilariously funny mainly because he was providing an insight into black American culture that had never been described in such terms before.  Fast forward a few years and he’s on stage saying “Barack Obama!  Barack Obama!” and his audience is going wild.  This isn’t comedy it’s politics, and it only works if your audience shares your political view.

Not that you can’t make money out of it.  John Oliver seems to do extremely well out of telling sophisticated, educated Europeans and Democrat-voting Americans how thick Americans are.  But he’s preaching to the converted: they’re not laughing because he’s funny, they’re laughing because he is telling them what they want to hear and allows them to feel smugly superior.  A decent joke shouldn’t depend on who you want to win an election.

I don’t know if right-wing comedians do the same.  I expect they do, but they don’t get allotted the same airtime on the likes of the BBC and regular columns in newspapers.  I also expect right-wing comedians would be hounded out of the studio by a baying mob of the Permanently Outraged if they broached any subject which was even remotely controversial, i.e. immigration.  I suspect a lot of this has to do with state funding, with any budding artist or comedian needing to pass a strict political test before being commissioned.

If this keeps up, the arts in the west is going to look like that of Enver Hoxha’s Albania after a decade or two.

The Cruel Sea

Shift over, survivors of the North Atlantic convoys! Here’s a real story of nautical hardship:

When British artist Rebecca Moss was told over a ship’s breakfast one morning to sit down and brace herself for bad news, she wasn’t expecting to hear she was now stranded at sea.

She was told by the captain of the Hanjin Geneva that its South Korean owners had gone bankrupt, so the ship was barred from international ports.

The 25-year-old is taking part in an artist in residency programme, which was meant to be “23 Days at Sea”.

I don’t know what “art” she was supposed to be creating on this vessel had things gone according to plan, but it’s hard to imagine that the world will be denied a cultural treasure by this turn of events.

Rebecca figured it would just be a hiccup when she first heard the news.

She thought their ship would be redirected to a different port, or that a boat would be sent to fetch the passengers.

That was 13 days ago.

Aren’t artists supposed to draw inspiration from something new, something different, something unexpected, something challenging?  Any artist worth their salt would see this as an opportunity.  Alas, our intrepid artist-in-residence aboard the Hanjin Geneva sees only an opportunity to whinge:

“I have found the indefinite duration the most difficult aspect to deal with as an artist,” she said. “Formulating a strategy to make work becomes impossible when things could change at any minute”.

You’ve been stuck on a ship for 13 days.  You mean to say you’ve not been able to work because things could have “changed”?  This woman makes Frank Gallagher from Shameless look like a regular Stakhanovite.

Her daily life on board she says, is structured around meals.

Presumably if Hanjin had stayed in the black she’d have been working double shifts on engine maintenance.

There is enough food and drink on board to last them a few weeks.

Pity.  Live tweeting acts of cannibalism sounds like something worth following.  Especially if the tweeter is the one being eaten.

The programme, which started last year, sends artists across the Pacific Ocean each year between Vancouver and Shanghai and is meant to spark their creativity.

Yet God forbid anything happens which might potentially cause dreaded change.  Or mild inconvenience.

“I was, and am, excited about the trip as it chimed with a lot of my interests as an artist,” she said.

Getting free publicity for doing fuck all?

Her proposal for the trip was to explore how comedy arises in the tension between a mechanical system imposed into nature.

Leaving aside the issue of tension between a single system, this sounds about as funny as the cargo manifest.

“The situation is completely ironic,” she said. “It is bizarre how much it suits my interests.”

Hang on, weren’t you telling us a few minutes ago that you weren’t able to work?  Or is that what she means?

“I want to be informed of a definite plan for how the passengers are going to be able to disembark. I can work with a plan,” Rebecca said.

Funny how often these carefree, spontaneous, maverick “artists” need everything to be safely arranged in advance.  Usually by someone else.

The first thing she wants to do when she gets on land, she says, is meet up with other artists “in whatever place that ends up being”.

Which, I suspect, means meeting up with like-minded layabouts who are as much artists as I am a beekeeper.

“Every day I hope will bring news that we will get into a port,” says Rebecca. “(But) nothing has changed.”

Yeah.  So you could have done some work after all.

Unfortunately, she is now back on dry land and “due to start the final year of a postgraduate degree in fine art.”  Lucky us.

More on the Figment Project

Somebody commenting on my previous post under the handle “Time I’ll Never Get Back” has done some sterling research into the Figment Project, and provided a photo from one of their events:

For those who can’t be arsed to squint, it is a kids’ mini-golf game where they hit the balls under a panel that reads:

“80% of leaks are missed by oil companies.  Leaks can be as big as 6 football fields.”

As they say in Wikipedia: citation needed.  Leaks are traditionally measured in barrels, not football fields.  But I guess these leaks are among the 20% that we catch; even us dumbass engineers at Big Oil would struggle to miss 6 football fields worth of oil pissing all over the place.

But isn’t it strange how these non-partisan, non-political, not-for-profit ventures always end up being run by the same narrow demographic parroting left-wing political mantra?

I wonder where the Governance Council was when this was being submitted for approval (assuming it was)?  The Figment Project Annual Report for 2014 gives us a clue (the 2015 one is available online, but my antivirus programme won’t let me download it).

ALPHA, began in 2013 as a new model to invest and develop our FIGMENT teams and artists, continued its creative vision in 2014 from April 25-27 at Camp Ramblewood in Darlington, MA.

Let me translate that for you:

ALPHA is a weekend jolly for those of us who run the Figment Project and which (according to the Annual Report) cost $12,000.

Activities included:

Form and Firepit: Inaugural Master Class and Atelier in Composition for Conflagrative Material Abatement Creators: Timothy Corbett & John Bargiel Fellowship for Applied Combustion Aesthetics

A class in fire building focused on the aesthetic and creative potential of the activity. The structure will mimic a freshman drawing class. The workshop will culminate in a simultaneous burn tantamount to a group exhibition.

Strip away the guff and this does sound an awful lot like a Sakhalin camping trip.  Here’s a photo:

I don’t mean to lay the boot in too hard here, but that is not a firepit.  These idiots couldn’t even get that right.

An entry on the Figment FAQ page is telling:

FIGMENT is NOT officially connected to Burning Man. That said, many of our founders and organizers are participants in the annual Burning Man event, and FIGMENT was in part inspired by the participatory art and volunteer-driven spirit of Burning Man.

A large chunk of this Figment Project seems to be a bunch of mates/partners who are all into Burning Man getting together to continue their lifestyle in a similar vein back in New York at somebody’s else’s expense, under the guise of an organisation promoting genuine art.  Here’s another photo from the Figment Alpha jolly:

Uh-huh.  How long before we see the Governance Council of the Figment Project having their annual jamborees to Burning Man paid for out of donations and taxpayer cash under the heading “Fact Finding” or other such excuse?

From the Figment FAQ page:

At FIGMENT, you don’t need currency to be rich: FIGMENT invites people to discover what’s really important. Indeed, at a time when so many people are struggling to get by, we are proud to celebrate an abundance of inspiration.

You don’t need currency, but we need $12,000 – a portion of which has been taken forcibly from single mothers working minimum wage who are “struggling to get by” – to have ourselves a jolly in Maryland.

Money well spent, indeed.

When an Engineer meets an Artsy Type

One of the reasons that this blog has been quiet recently is that I have spent a portion of my spare time dipping my toe into what I was told was the “art” worlds of Paris and, by proxy, New York.  I have posted some comments about my experiences in the comments section on others’ blogs, but felt it deserves a post of its own.

In February I met a 32 year old American woman here in Paris who I will call Angela.  She works here as a freelance translator/interpreter, and from what I saw she was pretty damned good at it and had obviously worked hard on her technique and vocabulary.  However – and the importance of this will become apparent later on – the three languages she knows stem from a childhood spent in a country with two official languages whilst her parents spoke a third to her at home.  In other words, they were not learned in adulthood or even late teens.  She had spent the last 18 months in Paris after 10 years in New York.

Angela called herself an artist, both on her websites and when asked by people what she did.  She definitely fit the description of an “artsy” type: facial piercings, unconventional clothing, a history of coloured hair, but unsurprisingly no tattoos.  Her identity revolved around “art”, and most aspects of her social life both past and present were somehow connected with the “art” scenes of Paris and New York.  I’ll confess she was a lot of fun to be around, especially because she enthusiastically took it upon herself to introduce me to the art world and show me stuff I had likely never seen before.  For my part, I am conscious that I work in a rather close-minded corporate environment (despite the campaigns, there is about as much diversity among oil and gas expatriates as there is in a Glasgow Celtic convention) and so took the opportunity to let somebody show me a world I might not know existed.  And boy, did she ever.

From the beginning, Angela talked incessantly about the Burning Man festival which takes place annually in Nevada’s Black Rock desert.  I had heard of it before and seen some photos, and concluded it was some sort of alternative/hippy festival involving lots of sex, drugs, and alcohol.  But the way Angela spoke of it, one would be forgiven thinking it was primarily an arts festival which just happens to have several acres of tenting devoted to orgies and other acts of sexual depravity.  Insofar as Angela was an artist, her claim was based partly on her attendance at Burning Man and other festivals and events, which I will describe later.

Shortly after I met Angela she told me she practiced taxidermy.  She said she’d stumbled across this hobby when a friend of hers had pulled out of a taxidermy course and she’d gone in her stead, and showed me a picture of a rat she’d stuffed.  She also said she’d given a workshop to her friends on rat taxidermy.  Beyond that, she’d not done any taxidermy.  But her greatest claim to being an artist was her being a photographer.  She had numerous photography websites – both personal and professional – plus Instagram and Flickr accounts containing hundreds and hundreds of photographs she’d taken over the years (I’ll not link to them because I don’t wish to reveal her identity).  She had done some part-time freelance photography work, mainly for friends but also occasionally for literary and other events.  But most of her photographs were of arts festivals (including Burning Man) and other rather odd conventions and festivals, and a good half of them were pictures of her mates.  She’d also worked for a few years as a graphic designer/art director for a restaurant magazine which went bankrupt, and later doing communications, administrative, and graphic design work at a non-profit organisation.

Now to be fair, she was a pretty good technical photographer: she had good equipment and knew how to use it, so she got some pretty neat shots which would have been a challenge to capture in the light conditions.  The sort of skill that comes from taking a photography course and practicing a bit, in other words.  She had a reasonable photographic eye but her photos were no better in terms of artistic composition and technical quality than those being posted by tens of thousands of hobbyist photographers on a daily basis.  I enjoy taking photographs myself, and although I’d concede her photos were overall better than mine, the gap wasn’t substantial.

Perhaps through my naivety and a willingness to appear open-minded, I took Angela’s artistic claims at face value and listened to the stories of her artistic pursuits with her friends in New York with a non-critical ear.  Hell, I liked the girl, she was a lot of fun to hang out with, and I thought I might learn something.  Yet something bothered me when I was at the birthday party of a Paris-based artist a month or so after we’d met.  A Frenchman, who might have worked in film production, asked us both what we did.  Before I could say that I was an engineer, Angela had said “Je suis une artiste” and expanded on that by saying she was a photographer.  I asked her later why she said that, when she was (more accurately) a translator/interpreter.  She said she considers herself an artist, on the basis of her photography and (from what I could gather) her interest in art.

A few weeks after that she began to reveal things about her past which caused me to raise an eyebrow or two.  That’s putting it mildly.  I have gotten involved in some weird shit in my time and for a middle-class British professional I’m about as open-minded as they come, but these revelations were shocking even to me.  I’ll not go into details because they are irrelevant to the point I’m making in this post (I’d normally say they’re a subject for another post, but a dedicated blog would probably be more accurate) but they were highly sexual in nature, pretty fucked up, and were intertwined inextricably with what, according to her, is the New York “arts” scene and the lifestyle that appears to accompany it.  I also think it worth saying, lest I come across as too judgmental, that a lot of what she told me was obviously complete bullshit, and had all the hallmarks of a carefully constructed narrative generated to avoid her having to admit responsibility for any of her unwise past choices.  It was the obvious lying, and her ultra-aggressive defence of the lies, that offended me more than the content of the stories.

So having learned some quite unsavoury things about my new-found artsy friend, I started to look a bit more critically at the stuff she’d told me.  And when the friendship faltered and then ended completely – solely because of what she’d revealed to me – I started looking at it a lot more critically.  And what I discovered was pretty depressing.

I realised that for all Angela’s self-promotion as an artist, she was nothing of the sort.  She had studied Political Science at university before going to work in various graphic design/admin. positions within what could plausibly called the New York arts world.  Now it could be argued that graphic design for promotional material and magazines is a form of art, but does doing this sort of work allow one to self-describe as an artist?  Perhaps.  But it feels a bit like me calling myself a writer on the basis that I spend half my working life writing engineering reports (anyone who doesn’t think this involves creative writing and a vivid imagination has obviously not worked in the oil industry).  Certainly, when Angela introduced herself as an artist she did not elaborate on her full-time jobs, which she’d quit in any case to become a translator/interpreter.  As I said, the basis of her claim to be an artist appeared to be her reasonable but not spectacular photography, her having stuffed a rat once, and her participation in various artsy events.

What she never showed me was something she had produced or achieved which was the result of hours and months and years of practice and effort representing skill, dedication, patience, and vision.  She couldn’t – or at least, didn’t – draw, paint, sculpt, or craft.  The best I got was this photo of a tattoo on a piece of broccoli she had done one night at her friend’s place.

I’ll admit that I hadn’t met all of her friends in Paris, and none of them from New York, but from what she describes they didn’t seem much different: working middle-of-the-road jobs vaguely connected to the arts world while claiming to be artists, but producing nothing which was the result of years of effort spent honing skills to create something truly unique, aesthetically pleasing, or of value.  Now I might be selling some of her friends and acquaintances short here, perhaps some of them were genuine artists.  But if they were, I never saw their output.

Now as I’ve said, she spoke at length of various “artistic” events she attended and was involved in, which formed the basis of her social life.  I have mentioned Burning Man, where she said she assisted people in the construction of large plywood artifacts which later got set on fire.  Now I have no doubt that there are things on display at Burning Man which are created by genuine artists who possess skill and vision, but her participation seemed to be more for the social element.  And the more I read about that, and spoke to other people who knew about Burning Man, and considered the revelations she had told me about some of her “lifestyle” habits…well, I never asked.  I really, really didn’t want to know.  But I could guess.

She told me that she was involved with an outfit in New York called Figment Project which is:

[A] forum for the creation and display of participatory and interactive art by emerging artists across disciplines. FIGMENT began in July 2007 as a free, one-day participatory arts event on Governors Island in New York Harbor with over 2,600 participants.

FIGMENT’s vision for art looks past the white-walled galleries and into the realm of participation. Art is not just something that you stand still and quietly look at–it is something you participate in. You touch it, smell it, write on it, talk to it, dance with it, play with it, learn from it. Interactive art creates a dynamic collaboration between the artist, the audience and their environment.

FIGMENT’s goal is to advance social and personal transformation through creativity, in the form of free participatory arts events and exhibitions.

So, it’s a “free” arts event, described with woolly guff that doesn’t tell you very much.  But they take great pains to tell us that:

FIGMENT is uninterrupted by commercial sponsorships, transactions, or advertising. Selling or advertising goods or services is not permitted. Neither our artists nor our planners and staff are paid: everything that you see at FIGMENT is born from a simple desire to share imagination with each other and the public.

FIGMENT accepts no corporate sponsorship of any kind.

FIGMENT is an alternative to many of the shortcomings of the commercial art world: exclusive, expensive, impersonal, untouchable and often simply boring.

How very principled!  So, where do they take funding from?

FIGMENT is supported by public funds from the National Endowment for the Arts. FIGMENT NYC is supported by theNew York City Department of Cultural Affairs, in partnership with the City Council, as well as by the Fund for Creative Communities, supported by the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Legislature and administered by the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council.

Ah, the taxpayer.  Of course.  Which includes single mothers working minimum wage.

Angela – along with her ex-husband – were founder members of this Figment outfit, and as such both sit on its “Governance Council”, a position she attained when she was 24.  If she or her ex-husband have any formal artistic qualifications or significant experience to warrant their position on a board of governance spending taxpayers’ money, it is something she kept from me.  A quick cross-reference of her social life on Facebook and the names of people involved in this Figment Project suggests this is run by a group of mates/partners, much of it seemingly  for their own personal benefit and entertainment.  Here is a picture from one of their events:

Which is basically Angela (who is taking the photo) and her mates standing around a camp fire.  It looks an awful lot like the camping trips I used to take part in on Sakhalin, only we weren’t funded by the taxpayer.  And I wasn’t on a Governance Council.  I’ve seen other photos of other Figment events, and I don’t think I’m being unkind when I say they look a bit like a school fete that has been organised by the kids from the remedial class.  Little wonder Angela mounted a robust defence of state funding of the arts when I questioned whether it could be justified in times of austerity.

Bear in mind that when Angela told me she was an artist, it was in part based on her participation in events like these.  So what other events were there?  One called Santacon which is:

SANTACON IS A CHARITABLE, NON-COMMERCIAL, NON-POLITICAL, NONSENSICAL SANTA CLAUS CONVENTION THAT HAPPENS ONCE A YEAR FOR ABSOLUTELY NO REASON.

Here’s what it really is: a bunch of people, an awful lot of whom appear to be middle-aged, dress up as Santa Claus and take to the streets of New York getting pissed and (probably) smoking a lot of weed.  Here’s a photo Angela took at one of them:

How very artistic!  Another was an event was called the PEX Summer Festival and whose mission is:

[To] inspire and connect a growing, willing and participatory community of passionate, tolerant and motivated individuals by actively creating, supporting and providing engaging experiences. To this end we continually strive to foster an environment that nurtures and protects the family evolved by this culture.

From the gallery, it looks to me to be a cross between a rave, a hippy festival, and a general piss-up.  I have a couple of photos that Angela took at one of these events, but I will not post them here because those who have seen them begged me not to and several have told me, weeks later, that they still cannot get the images out of their heads.  But I will describe them thusly:

1. Two of Angela’s mates – a man and a woman who look to be in their mid-30s – wearing strap-on dildos which they are pushing together to make the ends touch, drinking from tins of lager.

2. Another of Angela’s mates in a swimming pool with the end of a strap-on dildo sticking up out of the water.

Angela actually told me about her attendance at this event before, and her own wearing of a strap-on dildo, as if this was something worthy of mentioning.  A mixture of tact and naivety made me keep my silence.  Another year at the same event involved Angela and her mates dressing up as grandmas and grandpas and sitting around drinking from tins of lager:

There was also Zombicon, an event similar to Santacon, only taking place in Florida and people dress up as zombies.  This event might not happen any more after somebody was shot at the last event in October 2015.

Now I’m not against people dressing up like idiots and getting drunk per se.  Indeed, I did an awful lot of that myself and I have plenty of photos to prove it.  But there are two crucial differences:

1. I quit all that in my mid 20s, when I grew up a bit.  Angela and her group of artsy mates seem content, indeed proud, to be doing this into their 30s, 40s, and sometimes 50s.

2. I never presented my dressing up like an idiot and drinking as being the basis of an artistic lifestyle, nor as proof of anything other than my being a twenty-something year old bloke with more energy than common sense.

I once asked Angela whether any of her artistic, creative friends played a musical instrument – something that requires dedication, discipline, and practice. Not a single one of them did.  By the time I asked her the question, I already knew the answer.  It probably goes without saying that they all voted Democrat, with Angela herself vociferously supporting policies such as the Living Wage, subsidised arts programmes, feminist causes (such as addressing the supposed gender pay gap) and draconian laws protecting women from “online threats”.

The truth – and this is the crux of this post – is that there is a section of society out there which is not completely stupid (but not particularly bright either) who lack the talent, work ethic, and self-discipline to enter into professional or corporate environments and so attach themselves like parasites to the genuine arts world in order to give themselves some sort of identity.  The problem with the arts world – as opposed to say, law, engineering or music – is there is no quality control: anyone can tag along, dress up in costumes, get drunk, take some photographs, and claim they’re an “artist”.

As one commenter said elsewhere:

Inventing a career and being an artist fits the bill perfectly as it’s one which can be thought to confer a certain degree of social status – it implies someone creative, passionate, sensitive, driven yet without the burden of requiring evidence of any particular professional or financial success.

Another put it thusly:

The “arts” scene you mentioned is a reminder that for many people “being an artist” is more of a lifestyle choice than an activity.  For every genuine artist who is serious about creating something of value there are at least ten phonies who just want to be seen as cool and creative without doing any actual work.

What worries me is the degree of control and influence these people have over the overall arts world (including taxpayer dollars), and how they distort the image the public have of genuine, talented artists.

I know some genuine artists, and have heard from others who do as well, and those who pursue the arts as a career have had to put in thousands of hours learning and perfecting techniques, honing their skills, and converting their visions and ideas into a tangible output.  I heard one say that he paints because if he didn’t, he might as well die.  Even those who don’t practice their craft full-time and have to take a normal job to pay the bills dedicate huge swathes of their lives doing what they love and – crucially – having something to show for their endeavours of which they can be proud.  Tastes vary of course, but one has to show something in terms of output.  Being an artist, like being anything worthwhile, is a lifetime of seriously hard work.

This just didn’t apply to Angela, and nor (from what I could tell) to her whole social circle.  Having come from a background of engineering, I must confess I was barely aware such a section of society existed.  Almost everybody I associate with has worked their backsides off, put in years of effort, and committed endless sacrifice to achieve something tangible, be it learn a language, perfect a skill, or even raise a family (Angela was long-term single and childless, having gotten divorced after 2 years of marriage to a fellow hanger-on in the arts world; few of her friends appeared to have children).

Putting aside my professional achievements and the efforts I put in to survive in places like Kuwait, Nigeria, and Sakhalin, since I graduated from university I have learned two foreign languages to conversational level, mostly self-taught; I taught myself to play the guitar to a high enough standard to enable me to take part in music festivals; I practiced long and hard enough to be able to ski down red runs if not every black run in the Alps; and kept myself pretty physically fit and strong through regular gym work for the past 6 years.  Each of these on their own represents hours and hours and hours of patience, effort, dedication, and commitment to achieving a goal.  Most of it was painful, repetitive, drudgery.  I did it because I liked the results.  Aside from those, I am pretty well versed in 20th century Russian and Soviet history and culture, and general military history, but those took no effort at all because I enjoyed learning these subjects.  Among my peers – both professional and social – I am nothing special, everybody has a similar list of achievements to their name.  Until I poked my nose into Angela’s “arts” world, I assumed that most middle-class educated sections of society were the same.

Apparently not.  Much was made by Angela of the fact that I, as an engineer without much by way of formal cultural education, would benefit from having my mind exposed to the arts world.  And maybe it would, but the side of the arts worlds that Angela inhabits is one I really hope never to encounter again.  I should probably have chosen a better guide.