State-Sponsored Art

While I’m on the subject of the entitled middle classes, consider this from Times columnist Oliver Kamm today:

There are three points to make here.

Firstly, the prime beneficiaries of state-sponsored art are the metropolitan middle classes. They are the ones who receive the cash, produce the art, work in the galleries, and go and look at it. Nepotism and cronyism is rife in the arts grant world, and the recipients often have close, personal relationships with those awarding the monies and commissioning the projects. And the poor folk being taxed to pay for it don’t watch plays and visit art galleries anyway: the middle classes like to pretend they do to justify raiding their wallets, but they don’t. In other words, when you hear a member of the middle classes – particularly if they are one of the metropolitan elite and a journalist – calling for state-sponsorship of the arts it should be interpreted as a request for the taxpayer to subsidise their own leisure pursuits.

Secondly, the idea that state funding ensures controversial projects get made is laughable. Of course this might not be apparent to somebody who lives in a liberal left bubble in London, but state-sponsored art is subject to similar ideological purity tests in Britain as it was in the Soviet Union: if it offends the sensibilities of the decision makers (who are invariably left wing), or doesn’t align with their politics, it won’t ever get any backing. What we do see, however, is absolute dross which nobody in their right mind would ever look at, let alone pay for; and political protest pieces against capitalism, the Iraq War, Donald Trump, etc. which looks as though they were done by a special needs kid. (If you want examples, spend a day over at David Thompson’s place: he’s built quite the career documenting this crap.)  When left-leaning folk talk about “controversial art” what they mean is “mind-numbingly conformist art”: the subject of Kamm’s comment is a production of Julius Caesar in which the Roman leader is dressed up as Donald Trump – and then stabbed to death, of course. Why, how edgy!

Thirdly, even if we assume controversial art doesn’t get made without state funding (which is demonstrably false: see this, for example, or this) why is that a bad thing? Does humanity need “controversial” art that nobody wants to pay for, akin to deciphering hieroglyphics (say) for the sake of advancing mankind’s knowledge? I doubt it.

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18 thoughts on “State-Sponsored Art

  1. “Controversial stuff doesn’t get made without state funding”?

    How about one of you “edgy” types paint a mural showing Muhammed chasing pre-teen girls? See how long your grants last.

    Or perhaps write a play with the theme “Global warming is bullshit”?
    Or make a sculpture of a woman in a Burka being whipped by a bearded towel-head?

    Yeah.

  2. Add to that a lot of the weird stuff that Andy Warhol did and some of Captain Beefheart’s music. Scorsese’s never shied away from controversy, but he’s always been funded by the private sector. The South Park movie? Team America? Same.

    I always despite this sort of supposedly edge, but actually incredibly lazy work. Generally it exists in the two dying forms of art: theatre and art galleries, both of which have lost all talent to cinema, leaving them empty for a bunch of hooligans to come in and break windows and spray graffiti.

    I don’t have a problem with making allegorical connections between art and events. Arthur Miller’s Crucible is a masterpiece. The last two Nolan Batman movies are to some extent, commentary on the War on Terror and the Occupy movement. Julius Caesar itself is somewhat about the succession to the ageing Queen Elizabeth. It’s how lazy they are, and how obnoxiously and dutifully they earn praise. There’s nothing that connects Trump with Caesar. It’s a bad allegory. The Trump situation is not at all like Caesar. There is no tragic Brutus out there in the Republican party. If anything, a closer reading might be Comey as Brutus, Hillary as Caesar and Trump as Mark Anthony.

    I don’t even care much that this garbage exists and that urban middle class people line up to so stupidly praise it. I just object that people expect poor people and desperate lottery players to fund it.

  3. Isn’t State Sponsored art more often referred to as propaganda?

    He who pays the piper and all that?

  4. Bang on the money as ever.

    It has been said before that great art used to be hard to produce and easy to understand. Nowadays it is more often than not, the opposite.

    Maybe if genuinely talented artists tried to produce stuff that ordinary people could like admire and understand then they wouldn’t need state funding.

  5. At a Gallery yesterday I had the thought that some artists should be allowed to starve for the betterment of Mankind.

  6. Maybe if genuinely talented artists tried to produce stuff that ordinary people could like admire and understand then they wouldn’t need state funding.

    I was in the Loire valley the other weekend and I went to a chateau in which Leonardo da Vinci lived. I saw a picture of this painting, a replica of which used to hang in my childhood home in Wales. The caption under the picture explained that he’d been commissioned to paint it by the subject’s father, a wealthy Florentine merchant. In other words, old Leo was a grubby contractor plying his trade for money, and not somebody loafing about on somebody else’s dime because he was “an artist”.

    The idea that art would not exist without state subsidy is so stupid that nobody could actually believe it, meaning those who suggest it are being insincere. As I wrote here, in what is in hindsight a rather childish but nevertheless heartfelt post, I note that most people who call themselves “artists” are anything but, and are usually talentless wasters who are too dim, lazy, or unpleasant to get a real job.

  7. Scorsese’s never shied away from controversy, but he’s always been funded by the private sector. The South Park movie? Team America? Same.

    Yup. But the metropolitan elites can’t discuss South Park in lofty terms at dinner parties, so it doesn’t count.

  8. I particularly object to state-subsidised art, such as opera, that’s subsidised far enough for people rather better off than me to go and enjoy, but not so far that I can go. And don’t give me baloney about queuing for a handful of cheap seats with rotten sightlines. Fat lot of use that is to someone with a job, or who lives outside London.

    Personally, I wouldn’t tear down art galleries and museums, though I might like to see them get some sponsors. The Pepsi National Portrait Gallery sounds fine to me.

    But as for the Krapart: yup, bollocks to it all. And I speak as a deeply cultivated chap.

  9. I particularly object to state-subsidised art, such as opera, that’s subsidised far enough for people rather better off than me to go and enjoy, but not so far that I can go.

    That’s the whole idea as far as I can make out.

    The Pepsi National Portrait Gallery sounds fine to me.

    When BP sponsored an art exhibition, lefties went mental.

  10. Maybe tweet a question to him;

    “Why should minimum wages ASDA shelf stackers in Barnsley have to pay for art in London?”

  11. Art critic Giles Auty, a long suffering opponent of the malaise that is modern art, once wrote a piece wondering if these so-called artists were not getting sponsored for producing their ‘art’ would they even bother making it.

    Tim, you are writing a novel because you are compelled to do so. You feel the need to create something, and to improve your abilities along the way, for its own sake. You are not seeking taxpayer funded sponsorship but you would continue to write whether you received such funds or not.

    I feel quite certain when I view these morbid, insipid, and talentless works of no value masquerading as art that the artists in question would immediately cease their labors if the taxpayer funds or the promise of taxpayer funds dried up.

    The true artist produces because he is compelled. All he seeks is the improvement of his art. He knows that history will judge him by comparing him to his contemporaries.

    None of these people are artists, and they know it. The only possible redemption is to stop all taxpayer funding for the arts. Shut it down, fire them all.

  12. There was an episode of “Yes Minister” from 1982 called “The Middle-Class Rip-Off” which made the same point that “the prime beneficiaries of state-sponsored art are the metropolitan middle classes”. It’s a reminder of just how insightful that show was about the realities of British politics, and also about how many things haven’t actually changed since then.

    However, the title of the episode has some meme potential. It might be worth making a point of describing the subsidised arts as “the middle-class rip-off” every time the topic is raised, to try and spread that phrase (and the associated idea) as widely as possible.

  13. Tim, you are writing a novel because you are compelled to do so. You feel the need to create something, and to improve your abilities along the way, for its own sake.

    Indeed. A once read a blog comment by a genuine artist who said he paints because he thought that life would not be worth living if he didn’t.

    None of these people are artists, and they know it.

    Exactly. They know it.

  14. It’s a reminder of just how insightful that show was about the realities of British politics, and also about how many things haven’t actually changed since then.

    You know, I never watched it, but I see it referenced a lot and it appears to have been – and still is – bang on the money.

  15. “Why should minimum wages ASDA shelf stackers in Barnsley have to pay for art in London?”

    My guess would be you’d first have to explain ASDA to him.

  16. “Maybe if genuinely talented artists tried to produce stuff that ordinary people could like admire and understand then they wouldn’t need state funding.”

    They do. They just do it at the cinema. Whether you have a desire to express to a large number of people, or just make lots of money, that’s where you do it. Putting on a play rather than hiring actors and capturing something on film makes no economic sense. You’re having to keep on spending money for every 2000 people. And nor does gallery art make sense when there’s cheap printing out there. How long would it take to show a photograph in a gallery to the same number of people who see a photograph in Vogue. Have you ever been in a modern art gallery and seen anything as good as that Guinness advert with the surfers?

  17. Hayek wrote, allegedly, that the state should exist for three purposes: national defense, law and order, and the state opera.

    Trump’s potential ascent to the presidency was tentatively compared to Caesarism by one of the few Trumpist intellectuals (search jacksongazette.org for “Caesarism”) during the 2016 presidential race. However, the author took care to explain, following Leo Strauss, that accepting a Caesar (not a tyrant) can be the only path to self-preservation for a decadent republic. “Caesar is not truly a usurper… But the deeper point is that Caesar is a necessity whereas the tyrant is not.”

    On a lighter note, check out the “God Emperor” meme.

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