The Necessity of The Arts
I Paid My Taxes For That!?
This was a sentiment given by an onlooker a few years ago on the unveiling of Kapoors Sky Mirror at the Nottingham Playhouse, as headlined in the Evening Post.
Nothing new there really – public art – anything public is going to have its detractors “and I pay my taxes” is a classic defence in the wake of something unpalatable (or unfathomable).
Sky Mirror with Crane
A few years ago too, I was having a holiday chat with a Londoner in a small village in Spain – he had just bought a house in the same village. Reluctantly he was trying to intimate that he wished he hadn’t – this was nothing to do with a fault with the house or moving somewhere he didn’t like. No being a London financial worker this was his way of saying he had made an iffy financial decision. And without saying anything concrete he took on the look of a sooth-sayer in a Greek tragedy, looked skyward at the metaphorical dark clouds looming and said “I don’t know what’s going down in the City but something is, something not good is about to happen”. This was September 2006, and I remember that weird conversation every time someone mentions bankers and financial crisis.
Of course many a different rhetoric has been bandied about since then. With the catastrophic and symbolic Lehman’s collapse, Iceland’s meteoric demise, Ireland’s potential double dip and Greek, Spanish and Portuguese tragedies unfurling like so many tales of Dante’s Inferno. The bottom line though blame aside, is we all have to pay (and it’s difficult not to appropriate blame even though in 1920’s Keynes urged to forgive, face up, get on with it economically at least in order to move forward in times like these). We all have to *equally* sign up to the best way of dealing with the mess. And that also includes how to dig heels in with the unsympathetic, unemotional banks demanding their pound of flesh, while societies wither in the process of this extraction.
An open letter appeared in the Guardian this week backed up by the Shrigley Film below and Cornelia Parker's vision of The Angel of The North with its wing clipped. The letter, addressed to Jeremy Hunt, Culture Secretary from a vast number of Turner Prize winners, leading artists and institutions, was exalting the fact that the arts need to be nurtured (in the UK).
David Shrigley sends out An Important Message
So too does health care, education, policing, transport, jobs and housing. In no particular order other than the ones which create the most positive effects on the Economy.
What struck me about this letter was the wording – very carefully thought through, precise and at pains to point out that services and jobs are just as important.
“ We appeal to the government not to slash funding to the arts and heritage. It risks destroying this remarkable and fertile landscape of culture and creativity, and the social and economic benefits it brings to all. We recognise that cuts and efficiencies are necessary, but the 25% or more funding cuts being considered will sabotage Britain's unparalleled achievements in this area.”
” It will have a particularly damaging impact on smaller-scale museums and galleries and those in the regions. Many of us had our first inspiring encounters with art in these places.”
And about the vibrant arts culture in Britain;
“It does all this at a cost that is no more than a tiny fraction of the national budget.”
The overall effect of the letter to me was a well articulated but an otherwise predictable *we need not to be forgotten* in what contests to be the most devastating cut in the UK’s democratic history, right across all of the above.
And because of that this letter drew me again to the question of how do you articulate the value of art? The person who didn’t get Anish Kapoor’s Sky Mirror and had his sentiments plastered all over the local rag, is typical. Art is seen by many as entertainment at best, and is therefore always up for scrutiny on a personal I like it or I don’t level. Mostly art is about change even if it is just creating things again differently. Many don’t like change, and a lot of art by its personal and *abstract* nature can miss the mark of public understanding so widely that *I don’t get it - so don’t like it* argument is reinforced by that fact.
But art more often than not, because of its emotional engagement is a vague and soft topic, even overtly contentious art which touches emotions that wouldn’t necessarily be addressed in the everyday. An enigma of intent which defies general description in societies terms other than *being there* and without it there would probably be *a lot less stuff on the walls*.
This is of course a wide and loose analogy – but important because it is in effect how art as a catch all term comes over: “What do you do? Oh an artist?” usually prompts the follow on question ”and what kind?” and, unless an appreciator or fellow artist, eyes probably begin to glaze over at this point. Art fascinates and yet the detail does not.
This could also be said about scientists in as much as the job description comes over as an undetermined area of work on the peripheries of understanding, so a convenient caricature takes shape of mad scientist or geek in the absence of any *proper job* box ticking. Maybe not, I don’t know, but one profession, springs to my mind as a very good antithesis of the artist’s social persona as warrant of worth.
That of Hedge Fund managers.
Yup those nasty conniving, money spinning gamblers who have had the tar and feathers of blame daubed all over them – the outcasts of a holier than thou banking system – The Hedgers, of course were the root cause of all the world’s financial and social ills of late. Nope I’m not sticking up for them someone is already doing that ; name Hugh Hendry.
And for a profession that has so many incognito or less than omnipresent representatives Mr Hendry is by far the best thing that has happened to them.
Hugh Hendry for those not familiar with his acerbic manner, whether right or wrong takes his own company’s situation (and it is a very profitable one) seriously. Hedge funds are not the stuff of everyday social topics. If it hadn’t been for the mess many wouldn’t even know one if it came up and slapped them in the face. Hedge funds and their artisans work a daily, driven and passionate vocation to do something that does nothing tangible other than make money out of stuff that makes money. Sometimes they get it wrong, but the aim is to *get it right* and of course to make money for themselves and their clients.
As a vociferous defender of hedge funds Hugh Hendry postures in that way that many people who want to make their voice heard have done before. By being at once articulate, gladly not suffering fools, while being antagonistic with a touch of arrogance. An attitude which in the playground could be described as being a verbal bully. People with sensitive and emotional dispositions take cover!, even the hardened, detached and unemotionally engaged have been known to say *Hendry is the Person I’d Most Like To Punch*. Such is the reaction he unnervingly creates. He may be wrong about certain issues and people may not agree with his ethics but the loyalty to his (company’s and profession’s) *cause* is just as unerring.
Interview with Joseph Stiglitz, Hugh Hendry and the Spanish Ambassador earlier this year
In an article in The Independent also this year he described emotion as being a luxury that he can rarely afford but that his business is like a Social Service, drawing on the analogy that if he were to buy into an insurance policy that paid out on the event of your house catching fire, then you would be wise to think that there was something wrong with your house – maybe get your wiring sorted?.
Poul Rasmussen one of Hendry’s detractors in a typically cut-the-air-with-a-knife media head to head accused him of making money out of others misfortune (the Greeks); a vulture picking the bones of the financial crisis, to which he replied – “we didn’t kill the carcass”. He sees the *Service* as more of a canary in a mine scenario.
Yes quite. I still have bristles on the back of my neck when I hear him speak and very, very probably if ever on his radar verbally would be well advised not to engage at all, say nothing, not raise to the bait.
But Hendry’s tell it like it is attitude (as opposed to his antagonistic one), in which he so vehemently and unceremoniously expresses the necessity of his business: The one that buys his Louis Vuitton glasses and private school for his kids, his trendy second hand old-school Land Rover Discovery. The Business That Buys The Stuff That Matters To Him – this is why he is so doggedly focused and forceful in overcoming his and Hedge Fund detractors and mud slingers. And it has to be said that being on the edge of that vagary of *proper job* categories and one that also Makes Lots Of Money to boot; jealousy can’t be far away as a back-up entity – for those who would like to put paid to his business as he knows it.
Why do the arts then, with such a similarly undiagnosed and unfathomable caricature; with its catch all phrases like creative muses, arty farty’s, bleeding hearts, and assumptions like “Oh is film part of the arts? I thought film was Big Business in Hollywood”. To that of the undiagnosed and unfathomable work, world and public persona of Hedge Fund managers with its catch all descriptions like creative-rich-pickings, money-making-money, business as usual for out of control financiers, (and) the-people-that-the-banks-don’t-want-to-talk-about-but-can’t-do-without. So totally dissimilar in concepts yet both fall into this similar oblique public consciousness?.
Maybe it’s the telling line when Hugh Hendry tells it like it is to Rasmussen, former prime minister of Denmark, and pro EU regulation (on people like Hendry). In reply to Rasmussen suggesting that he should be concerned at what he is doing, dismissing him as a vulture and to stop feeding off peoples misfortunes. Hendry replied “He should be worried...These champagne socialists here.... when I travel Business Class I meet these guys – I meet these socialists here who travel Business and First Class through the prosperity created by entrepreneurs and risk takers like me and the people I represent. Now our society today is confronted by a bleak future, from poor policy decisions. The truth today has become so unpalatable and these jokers (points at Rasmussen) don’t want to hear it, they are now afraid because the magnitude of the problem confronting Greece is now greater than these guys and their ability to respond to it. So now they have to apportion blame elsewhere – and I am a convenient scapegoat for Greece breaking all the rules”.
Rasmussen and Hendry on Newsnight
Now, the situation faced by Greece may not be so described as Hendry did here but.....
Hugh’s voice speaks voluminously and singularly for many of his ilk, whether anyone likes it or not. He is good at Sticking to His Corner and making his point.
Art has its Steppen Wolves, its fair share of lonely or diverse groupings, and it has to be said, plenty of its own champagne socialists riding on its back.
The letter and the Shrigley Film (go see it here in The Guardian and support with a signature) are excellent, but art needs more nuts-and-bolts-tell-it-like-it-is. The bullish nature of Hendry’s rhetoric makes good copy, but it’s his practical reasoning, whether you agree or not, that blows away any mystification, it is in that glaring clarity the engagement always takes place.
As much as I want to see this letter making a difference and I hope the impressive commitment by all the artists and art work that follows on will speak louder in terms of support with the whole Save the Arts Campaign.
I can’t see the letter alone having any real engagement following its publication other than maybe the usual politicians reply or a red top splurge “I pay my taxes for That?”.
Art has its myths and lies that are perpetuated as facts.
Public perception of three broad categories of say, Science, Money (the art of dealing with it; Socially through Public Spending, through Banking, Accounting, to Hedge Funds) and The Arts. Are seen through a simplified public lens and ranked accordingly.
Science has made itself universally tangible. It is needed and the majority of people get that. Even if it isn't clear what science does exactly. The *mad professor* image still exists but we know he does exciting things and we get to use them. Stuff doesn't get made without it - even rockets.
Money is universally tangible as either a necessity or a necessary evil, a thing that we need in order to do stuff. We are hooked, if not totally sold. The banker until recently was stereotypically envisaged as a suited, trustworthy methodical man (if not nickel and dime, penny pinching with it). Now they are propped up by the taxpayer their image is slightly different.
Art is seemingly still dispensable, except by those who *get it*. Art is not wholly accepted as a necessity whether evil or not. The typical image of an artist is probably paint spattered, disorganised, otherwise-occupied, even with an air of self indulgent narcissism and getting paid extortionate amounts for putting cows in tanks (is always a good one). Never mind the extortionate amounts coming from tax-payers money.
Mr Hendry, if the hedge fund betting gets a bit slow would you consider another vocational errrm... cause? ‘cos somebody bloody well needs to do it and do it well.
Art not only needs to be heard it needs teeth, the kind of dogged, focused and committed sentiment that Hendry gives out despite the antagonistic flourishes. Not a sense of entitlement, but for the good of all the arts a sense of belief in its necessity by Sticking To Its Corner.
I am really, really encouraged by the Save The Arts Campaign and the commitment of all the artists toward the real prospect of art being seen, being allowed to happen and the livelihood of artists all being stopped by the choking of institutions and galleries by this 25% cut in public funding.
Art is not part of the make it and sell it economy proper, it is not driven by immediate demand, Public funding is one of the bi-partisan ways of enabling art to happen.
But the image that artists are either paid too much by an elite few or as a *victim* starving in a garret (stacking shelves in ASDA actual image) has existed for too long.
Pre-*democratic* times Art had its roots in wealthy patronage, elitism and snobbery (Greece was one of the few civilisations that encouraged art as creative paid for work). Rank-pulling mechanisms within the art world backed up with mystification and snobbery, begins to eat its own meaning as to it's appropriateness.
And a typical Hendry reasoning in The Independent interview earlier this year "Can you imagine having a screen on your wall saying, every minute, 'you're a great journalist, you're a shit journalist, you're a shit journalist, you're a good journalist? I have that. I risk my money and my clients' money every day."
"If I get things wrong, don't worry about me – I'm not going to get bailed out. I'll lose everything and you'll never hear from me again."
You might well not agree with the sentiments of Hedge Fund managers or their ethics but the reality for a lot of artists and would be artists is a similar *out there* connection with what they are doing: The belief that what you are doing is a necessary risk, the risk is not other people's money per-se but the risk of creating something new, either under scrutiny and/or with wildly differing responses. Traditionally without remuneration why!? and certainly without money being the only reason for doing it. But with so much hour by hour personal criticality.
*Just Saying* but maybe a leaf out of a no-nonsense attitude book here. The words Pushed From Pillar To Post and NOT springs to mind.
Long overdue and possibly too late in the light of swingeing cuts but Art needs to define itself into the public consciousness once and for all as a tangible necessity. Not the precocious child of affluent patronage. Nor indeed the bleeding heart, bleeding public funds.
Back with more next Thursday 14th
And also more on the horizon for Lives of Artists which will address less ranty prescriptives! but equally with discussion based issues and solutions found by creatives today.