Friday, 28 June 2013

We'll never win the argument like this

 I once saw a cartoon of a guy standing in front of a white board writing out a long very complex equation…he’s pauses around the middle puts in some dots and says “ah! At this point there’s a kind of leap of faith.” And here’s another….

I see that a leap of faith, or worse an assumption that everyone else should know what comes next, in the continuingly abortive argument in defence of the arts.

I heard a leading member of the arts – I knew he was from the arts by the way because he was lean and spare like a triathlete (I’ll explain that shortly) -  who said he’d fight tooth and nail to avoid having to prove the arts was an economic generator. That’s a bit like a Bishop saying he’d fight tooth and nail to avoid having to prove Christ rose from the dead it being so obvious to him that it was beneath him to revert to anything as tawdry as proving it – proof?  Pah! Beneath him.

So the economic case for the arts has not been heard (albeit it may have been made.) In Birmingham recently a Councillor said “Yes. I know you’re right but I need more evidence to sell it to others.”  Whilst in the Nesta paper of April 2013 “A manifesto for the creative economy”, it was said:- ”the economic argument for public funding of the arts and culture have had little traction with the UK’s cultural leaders… and there’s been a corresponding unwillingness of economists to engage with the arts and culture.…..they do not necessarily provide justification for why public funding is needed to support it.”

Already, as I read this I’m fighting tooth and nail not to go to sleep.

William Tayleur at the Business of Culture 10th birthday celebration at the Africa Centre on May 16th 2013 quoted Churchill who defended spending on the arts as being dedicated to creating the sort of society in which we wish to live.

Music, art, sculpture, drama, opera, TV, advertising, novels, talks on culture are all the stuff of two things that make us human (or better humans)

The capacity to learn and surprise ourselves
The ability to suspend our disbelief and dream

And here’s one for Maria Miller and the Czar of Health, the one time Culture guru, Jeremy Hunt, the arts also make you fit – hence my comment about the uber-fit grumpy Arts Chief I referred to earlier.
To be an art critic you need to be very fit indeed. Look at their shoes and you’ll see if they’re serious – I bet Brian Sewell and Rachel Campbell-Johnson wear heavy duty walking shoes and drink gallons of water. Because walking a gallery tires your feet, your brain, your soul and uses up loads of calories.

More seriously the argument for civilisation shouldn’t be too hard to make or take should it?
I’ve decided to redesign my own life by cutting down on what I spend on food and diverse charities and increasing what I spend on the arts.

As with most things in life this isn’t much to do with government which is generally hopeless at determining priorities in the lives of ordinary, hard-working people (hard-working? George Osborne is using these words the whole time – have you noticed?).  Well me? I’m going to work less hard and enjoy, explore and discuss more art. And singlehandedly I’m starting a movement to change the way we look and think about the arts.

And I’m fighting tooth and nail for it.

Written for and first published on


Anonymous said...

from the west wing (all hail aaron sorkin's 'liberal fantasy')

Toby is still in his meeting.

Now, the President's proposing in his speech that the budget by the N.E.A. (National Endowment for the Arts) be
by fifty percent?

The National Endowment amounts to less than 1/100th of one percent of the
total budget
for the federal government. It costs taxpayers 39 cents a year. The arts
budget for the
U.S. is equivalent to the arts budget of Sweden.

That is such a big deal being made out of the performance arts of the

You gay bashing, Raymond?

Well, once again, all we'd like is for you to not mention the N.E.A.

Personally, I don't know what to say to people who argue that the N.E.A. is
there to
support art that nobody wants to pay for in the first place. I don't know
what to tell
people when they say Rogers and Hart didn't need the N.E.A. to write Oklahoma,
and Arthur
Murray didn't need the N.E.A. to write Death of a Salesman.

I'd start by telling them that Rodgers and Hammerstein wrote Oklahoma,
and Arthur Murray
taught ballroom dance, and Arthur Miller did need the N.E.A. to write Death
of a Salesman,
but it wasn't called the N.E.A. back then. It was called W.P.A. and it was


"Tawny Cryer, Appropriations Committee: Sam, have you heard of Andrew Hawkins?

Sam Seaborn: No.

Tawny Cryer, Appropriations Committee: You funded his performance piece recently, which involved him destroying all his belongings outside a Starbucks in Haight-Ashbury.

Sam Seaborn: I've done that a couple of times... I didn't know there was funding available."

watch the west wing folks!

Anonymous said...

i've been thinking about this since our conversation and i think you have three options (given your role on the board for arts)

a) become the judge of what constitutes art
b) give to all with little discrimination
c) give to none

personally i would go for a bit that is just me. it is a difficult situation for if a young english guy came to me and said 'i have written a pastiche of pyramus and thisbe called romeo and juliet' i would kick him out of the office, but then i would never know that this guy would go on to write a wonderful tale about a slightly depressed member of a royal family.

yes funding can sometimes stick in the throat with all of the crap that constitutes 'art' filling once proud galleries (out with the old, in with the waste) but if one looks through history then one can see that it is due to personal funding or patronage that many of the greats came to be. wagner went cap in hand (by cap in mean ego and by hand in mean fist) to princes and dukes to get his operas performed. mozart, beethoven, korngold etc were court musicians and those who never had the patronage- kafka, blake, van gogh etc never were able to enjoy the success that there work really deserved and great men like dostoyevsky had to be serialised in magazines just to make a living and then live in constant money concerns, fleeing from place to place.

yes 99.9% of art is crap but can you risk missing out on the .1%?