Save the Arts

A new campaign,  supported by artists and art institutions, seeks to “save the arts”:

It also features in the Guardian :

Here is my comment:

1) Why does the video insist that cuts (in one area or another) are necessary? There’s no sense in which they are necessary, and adding “our” voice to the “cuts consensus” is hardly a positive move.

2) The argument that art allows us to “see ourselves differently” and offers an alternative to “reality-TV culture” is both implicitly elitist and completely out of touch with modern art.

3) The arts are defended in terms of their economic value; they are also touted as one of the “greatest success stories”. The fact that economic value is today the only criteria for a defence of the arts demonstrates the plain fact that the recent history of the arts in Britain is a story of failure, and the general trajectory of the arts in Britain is toward commercialisation and away from any relevance to the everyday lives of people.

4) A “rally around the flag” united front is not the answer, nor could it be, whilst these genuine difficulties (namely, the total exclusion of “the public” from art, and of art from everyday life) continue to exist. (Moreover, the “tactical” methods of “playing off the prejudices of the public” which this video demonstrates are transparently condescending and, in fact, insulting.)

5) Nor will continued collusion with the State and with State institutions provide a solution to these problems. Nor will continued collusion with the cultural establishment: magazines, journals, newspapers, galleries, universities. If these are the only places for “art”, and where “art” matters (which they currently are) then art cannot expect to engage anyone. The institutionalisation, bureaucratisation and commercialisation of art has alienated everyone from art; “art” has become alienating. (To be clear, I am not referring in some trite way to certain forms, or styles, or to a need for a return to the “moral” or to “commitment”. I am referring to the effective processes of its production, distribution and reception.)

6) A campaign that seeks to treat art as a separate realm, and which fails to address the link between ConDem funding threats to the Arts and ConDem (and broader neo-liberal) threats to other sectors, will fail. And so it should: if those involved in the arts cannot bring themselves to make this crucial linkage, they deserve the “philistine” observation of their complete irrelevance.

7) A genuine wish to “save” the arts necessitates a far broader critique of society and of capitalism, as well as a critique of the arts themselves.

8) Art is in crisis.


Looking at the Guardian’s story,  just now, I should also note that the idea that there is “one area where Britain still leads the world: culture” is frankly ridiculous. I don’t think we’ve ever “lead” in the arts or culture (if we even credit the idea of art being something that can be lead). Moreover, this sort of nationalistic appeal is certainly a cynical strategy to “win over the plebs”, which reduces the British public to a stereotype: the rascist thug. There is certainly a fear of the masses underwriting this approach. In this connection, we note that this campaign is being managed by the art institutions, who (ever so nicely) want “to involve artists and the public.” That says it all, really.



~ by Wit on September 11, 2010.

6 Responses to “Save the Arts”

  1. It’s very interesting, this. It’s a very soft pitch they’re making: ‘Britain’s crap at everything except the arts, so please don’t cut our money (as much as feared)’. A mixture of declinism, defeatism, and populism in the name of defending the arts establishment. Not sure who’s buying this. Cumbrian farmers and their dubious offspring? (Where was Anthony touching the calf, I wondered?) Mmm. In fact, of course, tne funding given to the arts every year in Britain is absolute peanuts: cutting it is an overtly ideological, rather than an economic imperative. The acceptance of the ‘cuts consensus’ does seem a bit lily-livered, it’s true, but the autonomy of the British art scene and its incorporation (literally) into networks of commodification and consumption has been going on for decades. It’s been deliberately neutered as an effective counter-hegemonic force in terms of the arts establishment (which is where the funding goes via the Arts Council and other bodies). Such a response is all we could expect really. But it is all a bit ‘barbarians at the gate.’ There should be more to resistance than this.

    • Cheers Brian, couldn’t agree more =)

      What was all that “don’t touch him there, that’s dirty” business? An attempt at humour? Or…

      See you soon

  2. There is a ‘cuts consensus’ because it is broadly accepted by all those who do not have their judgement impinged by self-interest and personal bias, that the macroeconomic stability of the country is more important than a few tendentious people shouting that not everything should be judged by its economic worth.

    I suppose the government should cut everything that doesn’t matter to you then.

    • Erm… no.

      See… the “cuts consensus” is the idea that there need to be cuts at all.

      A lot of people are going around saying,

      “Well, we have to be realistic: something has to be cut.”
      “We all have to tighten our belts”
      “Don’t cut me, cut them.”

      But, why do there need to be cuts? Well, we’re told that it’s to reduce the deficit. Two questions: 1) are cuts the best way to decrease the deficit? 2) why should we decrease the deficit at all?

      This then leads on to a whole other series of questions, including a) what “we”? b) whose deficit? c) why are we listening to bankers? d) why are we taking advice from incompetent politicians? e) why do we have no say in this? f) what does democracy mean, and what should it mean? e) why capitalism? f) what might we do instead?

      These are some of the questions we should be asking, but they’re currently inaudible due to the resounding din of the cuts consensus. Which is, in fact, only one particular manifestation of the neo-liberal consensus.

      Another question, for you: who are “those who do not have their judgment impinged by self-interest and personal bias”? Do you live in this world, or in a broom closet? Where is the centre of power: finance. Do you think they’re neutral and philathropic? When they have several billion riding on this or that political decision? No, more – when they have their whole way of life, their wealth, their power riding on the continuance of this system, which so evidently does not work except. of course, for them? To be confirmed in this last point, we need only to note the nice hefty bailout package from the tax payer that bankers were rewarded for their incompetence, so that they can retire on immense bonuses – whilst we, as a result, must retire into poverty at 67. Or, am I wrong: do you think that these angels of neutrality are MPs? The very same who have so little regard for us that they are happy to charge us for moat maintainence? Do you really trust them to determine our wages and our pensions when, nevermind being crooks and liars to a man, they are best buddies with big business, and always have their friends’ interests (and their own) at heart? Do you think it is any coincidence that David Cameron is from a family of financiers? (His father Ian was senior partner of the stockbrokers Panmure Gordon). Beyond these… details, though, do you trust any minority class of self-appointed bureaucrats to make the decisions which will dictate the terms of your life, your health, your wealth, your education and your leisure time (without allowing you so much as a word on the matter)?

      So, do I think the government should only cut everything that doesn’t matter to me? No: I think the government (and all the rest of these politicians) should fuck straight off to hell, so we can actually begin to operate a fair, equitable and truly democratic society.

      Thanks for your comment

  3. I don’t really understand Bob’s comment above. He argues that there exists a cuts consensus, and that exists because people want to see the British economy improved. But who are these few tendentious people arguing for what sounds like art for art’s sake? Not those who made the video, whose argument is an economic one – art makes money – nor brian nor wit, both of whom acknowledge more complicated imbrications of art and commerce which goes way beyond judging on terms other than economic worth. I think a straw man has been constructed somewhere along the line.

  4. Cheers for the comment Sam :)

    Don’t worry about Bob! He’s just doing his bit for macroeconomic stability ;)

    What do you think of the vid? It’s funny you ask who these few tendentious people arguing for what sounds like art for art’s sake are, because there’s a strange argument in the vid about art making us “see ourselves differently, elevating us, transporting us” (or something alike). And then there’s the whole dissing of “teen-vampire bollocks” and big brother.

    I mean, dissing Twilight and BB is not necessarily elitist; I doubt either truly represent “the spirit of the masses”. But, there’s definitely some very …”old fashioned” evaluations of art informing the campaign (apart from the nationalism and the economic arguments).

    On the economic arguments, I do think they’re logically right: the figures seem to show arts are proving an investment. It’s a good tactical argument that shows the Tory cuts to be utterly nonsensical. But… this situation is all part of the “neoliberalization” (if such a term makes any sense) of the arts since… Thatcher? And I think crude homologies may be drawn between this process and the defanging and incorporation of the trade unions, the universities, and… well, the Labour party! To my (albeit, very sketchy) understanding, it’s this very tendency that needs to be addressed, and whilst the arts fail to address this, let them be at the mercy of the devil they sold their collective soul to.


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