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Art class


 

My column this week wades into the Harper vs. subsidized artists fracas, arguing that it takes two sides to make a wedge issue:

Harper may have been tapping into the resentment his people feel for their people, but rest assured Stéphane Dion was doing exactly the same. Each, in his own way, was offering to protect his’n from their’n. In a word, it was about class…

The media see Harper talking about subsidized whiners or ivory towers and scream “culture war.” But it isn’t culture war. It’s class war…

It is the culturati, not their Harperite antagonists, who have made this a wedge issue over the years, as a test of class loyalty. The perspiring middlebrows they have herded into the subsidy tent are anxious not to be thought uncultured, but more anxious still not to be thought lower class. It isn’t love of the arts that unites them. It’s horror of “the market” — of them.

As for the underlying “should we subsidize the arts?” chestnut, see my magnum opus from the Fall 1996 issue of the gloriously unsubsidized (and now sadly defunct) Next City magazine. Short answer: No.


 

Art class

  1. No one wants to comment lest we get labeled uncultured, or worse, middlebrows.

  2. It’s pandering, of course, but of a particular kind. The Liberals have historically sliced up the electorate, as it were, vertically: along the traditional lines of region and race. They pandered vertically. The Tories pander horizontally: by class.

    And it’s all an immoral theft, coerced from the productive, and distributed to the voting.

    Without tearing at the fabric of democracy, how does one undo it?

  3. The arts – the perfect wedge issue. No one can define it, only the self-identified cultured (recipients) can appreciate it. How stupid to ask the government to decide who gets arts funding, and then complain endlessly when they do decide.
    I think we need to fund arts projects, but not in the political theatre. Provide a pot of funding determined by some independent economic measure (gdp?), and get the artists to decide who gets what (not a government appointed arts council – maybe a cooperative type deal?). Heck, even add a line on the tax return for people who want to donate extra. Don’t let politicians use it as another way to buy votes. (from an unfunded dance teacher)

  4. Or, another thought – fund facilities rather than artists. For performance arts that is often one of the greatest difficulties – finding rehearsal and performance space and trying to stay in the black.

  5. I don’t think Harper / the Conservatives ever intended or wanted this to be a wedge election issue.

    The media is so convinced Harper is this master political strategist that they never considered he was as surprised as everyone else these minuscule culture cuts that may or may not have even happened (depending on your definition of ‘cut’ and ‘culture’) would become a cause célèbre.

  6. Maggie:
    I’m sure people will appreciate paying taxes into the arts while watching their retirement savings go up in smoke.
    Frankly, I fail to see how government should have anything to do with the arts. I think that 100 years people would have laughed at the idea of the government taxing people to pay artists.

  7. I mean to say “100 years ago”

  8. They also would have laughed at women, ‘nig***s’ and ‘injuns’ voting.

  9. sf: You’re wrong. Centuries years ago taxes (i.e. government and church patronage) would have been the only significant source of funding for the arts. Ordinary citizens spending sizable private dollars on cultural products is a modern phenomenon.

  10. sf:
    I appreciate what you’re saying, and my first instinct says no public funding. I admit I’m still not sure. There are some worthwhile projects I think though – movies, albums, performances that would be very difficult to complete without some support or access to facilities and that I would be willing to contribute to. Maybe just that voluntary donation on the tax form?

  11. Too right it’s a class war. Margaret Atwood is now supporting the BQ, and claiming they are better for the ‘economy’, and has joined the ABC campaign. She would rather support the party that wants to break up Canada than allow the will of the people to decide who they want governing.

    It is a disgrace that she’s seen as an ‘intellectual’, someone to listen to. Her Globe article was pathetic, artists on the dole are the only ones stopping the country turning into an authoritarian state, and now she thinks it’s clever to support the BQ. I hope the Cons make a big deal out of this, would love to see Atwood’s feet held to the fire for her deranged and out of touch opinions.

    The only thing Atwood should be talking about in public are her novels, and I would say even that is arguable.

    Stewacide

    You are wrong. Church did support some artists but wealthy families were mostly responsible for funding artists, they were known as patrons. Medici clan are a good example.

  12. I’m not an expert on midevil Europe, but wouldn’t a privately wealthy family like the Medici’s be an exception? Wouldn’t most wealthy people be extracting ‘taxes’ of one sort or another? (as land-owning nobility or government officials or clergy?)

  13. Andrew Coyne,

    I tend to agree with your general approach to arts funding by the state. Let me play devil’s advocate and ask if your same concerns translate to magazines?

    Take the Canadian Magazine Fund, and the Support for Editorial Content subsidy program. From the Heritage Canada site:

    “The Support for Editorial Content (SEC) component will help nurture and develop editorial content, ensuring Canadian readers have high-quality choices in the domestic magazine market by assisting eligible Canadian publishing firms offset the cost of producing Canadian content in paid circulation Canadian magazines. The objective of this component is to maintain high levels of Canadian editorial content in paid circulation magazines produced by Canadian publishing firms.”

    for the 2006-07 year, Macleans is listed as receiving $421,420 from the fund.

    How are magazines any different from ‘art’, on the basis of the various ojections you raise to funding the latter?

    Again, I do tend to agree with you largely, but if we’re really going to get the government out of everything but fixing roads and running the army…

  14. Ah, guys, there were no governments. Certainly not as we now think of them. The Renaissance was primarily funded by local warlords like the Medici, Sforza, Borgia clans. And the Vatican, which was often ruled by one of the clans. That fashion caught on in the German principalities as well. I think to a lesser extent in what came to be France and Spain, though the Moorish influence was obvious in arts and science.
    It occurs to me that the part of Europe from where we derive our political and economic traditions was the least involved patronage of the arts, other than maybe portraiture. I stand to be corrected in that.
    Our own economic warlords contribute to arts funding when it is to their tax benefit and/or “naming” status.
    Blatchford has her usual error-filled screed on the subject today.

  15. Sean S,

    The answer to your question is yes, I would shut down every last subsidy for magazines, including the Support for Editorial Content and the special postage rate.

    I’d also put the CBC on pay, if you’re wondering, so I’m biting both the hands that feed me.

    Meantime, I’m busy trying to put various family members out of work. I have a brother in the investment business — but any study of how stock markets work shows you’re better off just buying the index and forgetting about investment “advice.” My brother-in-law is a very fine tax lawyer — but with a proper tax code there would be very little for tax lawyer to do, since there would be no special exemptions and preferences to advise their clients on.

    And so on.

  16. Maggie, “Or, another thought – fund facilities rather than artists.”

    That’s a very good thought.

    because facilities are objective, not subjective. We need not interfere with content. The content is for the artist to figure out. No one should interfere with that, not the people and not the government.

    The only thing that might pose as difficulty is the operating costs. Facilities are within provincial juristictions and therefore the operating costs will fall within provincial or most often municipal governments.

  17. Both sides in this debate assume that “art” exists as some pre-defined entity and that it is inherently unintelligible. What a weird premise, historically speaking (as Mr. Coyne pointed out in his magnum opus piece). Of course most of contemporary art is exactly that – I’m speaking as someone who just came back from OCAD during Toronto’s “Nuit Bourgeoise Blanche” – willfully opaque, willfully stupid.

    Meanwhile, no one stops to ask what the attitude of the Unwashed Masses would be if the “priests</del artists” in question were a little less self-absorbed. My guess is there’d be much more enthusiasm if Art had some recognised practical function, as it did when they were building Chartres or the Parthenon. Contemporary art is completely idiosyncratic and thus completely diffuse. Why exactly are artists considered the best or only judges of good taste? Nietzsche said that the only people who can develop good taste are the rich and the idle – artists belonging to neither category.

    The real problem with our arts funding seems to me to be the “peer review” process together with the ideology (it’s no more than that) of artistic individuality. I’d much rather see the whole budget for the arts divided into 7 Schools, each headed by a Dictator who would hold office for 7 years, one new Dictator taking over one new School every year. The Dictator would then have carte blanche to hire whatever artists he pleased to do whatever he wanted. This would recreate the patron dynamic of earlier, creative centuries while still acting in the name the Senatus Populusque Canadiensis.

  18. Oh man, I just – did I just post a whole deleted piece? Here goes again:

    Both sides in this debate assume that “art” exists as some pre-defined entity and that it is inherently unintelligible. What a weird premise, historically speaking (as Mr. Coyne pointed out in his magnum opus piece). Of course most of contemporary art is exactly that – I’m speaking as someone who just came back from OCAD during Toronto’s “Nuit Bourgeoise Blanche” – willfully opaque, willfully stupid.

    Meanwhile, no one stops to ask what the attitude of the Unwashed Masses would be if the “priests artists” in question were a little less self-absorbed. My guess is there’d be much more enthusiasm if Art had some recognised practical function, as it did when they were building Chartres or the Parthenon. Contemporary art is completely idiosyncratic and thus completely diffuse. Why exactly are artists considered the best or only judges of good taste? Nietzsche said that the only people who can develop good taste are the rich and the idle – artists belonging to neither category.

    The real problem with our arts funding seems to me to be the “peer review” process together with the ideology (it’s no more than that) of artistic individuality. I’d much rather see the whole budget for the arts divided into 7 Schools, each headed by a Dictator who would hold office for 7 years, one new Dictator taking over one new School every year. The Dictator would then have carte blanche to hire whatever artists he pleased to do whatever he wanted. This would recreate the patron dynamic of earlier, creative centuries while still acting in the name the Senatus Populusque Canadiensis.

  19. What I’m wondering is if Our Leader is irritated with “subsidizing” artists who are irritated by his government, is he irritated with subsidizing artists/organizations who are irritated by all government ? One of life’s l’il puzzles.

  20. Andrew, it is indeed a shame, all those tax lawyers. If the tax code didn’t have a gazillion (as a low-ball estimate) pages to it, imagine the contributions to society these talented people could have offered instead. Ditto for thousands of accountants out there.

    The tax code is an involuntary propping up of an entire industry that would simply not exist if governments would smarten up. Sort of a marketing board for number crunchers. And it stinks.

  21. Jack, you want seven dictators to patronize the arts? Pay for it yerself, goddammit!

  22. No, you pay for it, MYL. It’s the only thing that will make anyone care that you were ever alive.

  23. I will show artists the respect they deserve: success following competition in an open marketplace. Entertain me, challenge me, inspire me: get my money. Kind of like dental service and oil changes and soap and beef stew and magazine subscriptions. Satisfied customers is good for business.

    Alas, the politically connected and those blessed with “granstsmanship” end up being successful, when it comes to the arts. Très dumb.

  24. I want my money back from my English teachers: satisfied customers are good for business. Sorry.

  25. MYL: “Kind of like dental service and oil changes and soap and beef stew and magazine subscriptions. Satisfied customers is good for business.”

    Good news, MYL: “Dark Knight” is still in theatres.

    While I’m as opposed as you are (rather more so, actually, if you only knew) to art for art’s sake, it’s just a fact that excellent art is not always popular. (Sometimes, of course, it is.) In fact, until the 18th and 19th centuries, art as we remember it was never popular, except in semi-barbarian societies like ancient Athens and Elizabethan England. It was always patronised by the highly civilised rich. Since the contemporary rich are not, with some notable exceptions, highly civilised, they are not interested in patronising art (and certainly not artists in their early careers). Government subsidy exists in order to pick up that slack.

    Of course, if you don’t objectively see any difference between “Dark Knight” and, oh, “Beowulf” I’m preaching to the deaf. But if the class war is to be fought on the question of whether the value of art can be objectively assessed at all, as opposed to on the question of funding strategies, call me David.

  26. what I think is so sad coming out of this ‘Arts and Culture’ debate is that nothing has come out of it.

    But the upheaval could have formed the beginning of a good national discussion regarding the arts. Often I think the public has no clear understanding of what separates the arts from entertainment, for instance.

    That’s why I am so disappointed in Ms.Atwood’s attitude. If she has such easy access to public soap boxing than why not use it for the benefit of starting a discussion regarding the arts within our country, rather than using the controversy to further create division between artist and laymen.

  27. Jack Mitchell, there is nothing stopping you or anybody else from starting up your own foundations for the arts, managed by seven dictators, and overflowing with the funds contributed VOLUNTARILY by Canadians.

    But no, you would rather extort the money from my pocket, the pocket of MYL and many others, because you think you know better than me what is good for me. And I know what you are thinking at this moment – “yes, I know better”, to which I have no reply, other than to remind myself I am grateful to live in a democracy.

  28. Gee, sf, you took the words out of my mouth.

    We do live in a democracy, and lo & behold our glorious democracy has decreed that your wretched philistine party is going to be deprived of its majority precisely because Quebeckers have a hell of a lot more respect for the arts than you Western populists. Pardon me while I cackle at that beautiful irony.

  29. Cackle away.

  30. Jack: By the way, I’m not Western, I’m from Quebec. Wrong again.

  31. Well, sf, how can I tell, when you can’t even bring yourself to hide behind a pseudonym?

    People like you don’t deserve to be Canadian.

  32. Thank you A. Coyne!

    I wasn’t trying to be catty there, by the way. While Macleans was an easy target, I should add that there’s a lot of magazines on that list that are tough to defend as essential to our national identity (Candian Yachting Magazine? Really?).

    Pierre Bourdieu is a French anthropologist/sociologist who has written extensively on the interesection between aesthetics and class. His data show how “taste”, in everything from music to literature, correlates strongly with class. “Cultural capital”, in the form of language and knowledge associated with things like classical music, high art, etc., is not just how classes are self-defined, but a means of entrenching one’s class position (and passing it on to one’s children). It’s not the content (opera, Picasso, Atwood novels) that matters, so much as the boundaries that are maintained. What we like has a lot more to do with our class affiliation than any universal sense of beauty and quality. (It takes him hundreds of dense pages to make this point, so you’re welcome.)

    Harper may have been overly populist in the way he put it, but he was essentially making Bourdieu’s point: what we think is “high” art, is actually a cultural means for the upper classes to perpetuate their status through an aesthetic barrier.

    Combine all of this with your convincing deconstruction of the relationship between the nation and its art (or its need to subsidize art), and it’s pretty hard to defend state involvement in these sorts of things.

    Last Friday, one of the “headlines” on the CBC National had to do with the new Hockey Night in Canada anthem. This sort of crap drives me nuts, and underscores your point. Here’s our nationally subsidized news agency, talking about the ditty for it’s own broadcast sporting events, instead of using that time to report on real news.

    As much as I agree with you, I’m not certain this country would survive the removal of frivolous subsidies (one would have to go beyond arts, magazines and the CBC). Which is rather a sad thing to say. I keep noting that the conservatives tend toward a cynicism in their approach to governing, but maybe it’s the country itself that is really the cynic here – if loyalty to our nation is only contingent on the myriad of goodie baskets parocial regional and cultural groups can extort. If govering amounts the act of managing bribes.

    Anyway, thanks for answering. If you and your family end up out of work, come on over to my house. As a part-time university teacher and a part-time musician, I can share lots of tips for living cheaply!

    (full disclosure – my band gets $250 from our city each summer to perform an outdoor concert. After sound equipment rental, we each walk away with about $35.)

  33. Bourdieu’s argument boils down to a career-long ad hominem attack on art itself. The exact same argument – it’s all about class! – could be made about literally any issue. You post at the Maclean’s blogs? Only because you’re a lonely soul with far too much time on your hands! Sociologically! You write columns commenting on politics for a living? Only because you’re a wannabe politician who doesn’t want to get his hands dirty! Sociologically!

    This is just nihilism, relativism, the democratic disease. It stems from seeing no value whatsoever in any intellectual or artistic activity – unlike, say, economic activity, which of course is very serious. MYL’s pocketbook is just objectively more grown-up than his soul, right? Souls, how passé! How juvenile!

    But this attitude happens to be based on incredible ignorance, on all those wasted hours spent watching “Friends” instead of wondering about the purpose of life and having to make a grown-up decision that, in the end, values matter. Look at the above post. “Opera, Picasso, Atwood novels” are all in the same category. That’s like saying (in no particular order) “Balance of trade, cat food expenditure, jet propulsion” in a discussion on economics – and everybody (economists included! Especially those who have taken Macroeconomics 101!) nods sagaciously and doesn’t interrupt.

    Meanwhile, the fact that ancient Athens, sundry medieval West African tribes, the 1820’s, etc. etc. etc. are remembered for their art to this day, when everything else about them would be forgotten – no, when the art manages to make us interested in what the Athenians wore, or what tools the African sculptors used, what the 1820’s ate – is completely lost sight of. I blame this perfidious modern notion that art is supposed to “uplift,” to “redeem,” etc., as a substitute for our failed religion. There is nothing more nauseating than a debate on the merits of art carried on in those terms.

    Bourdieu. What a ratf@cker. You want to bring up Bourdieu, we’ll see who can take it ad hominem, Sean S. “Part-time” university teacher is right.

  34. Sean s. aren’t you a smug cunt. How about doing away with arts education in schools and with public libraries while you’re at it.

  35. I wish to rewrite my immediately preceding comment and edit for civility.

    Sean S. aren’t you a smug bugger. How about doing away with arts education in schools and with public libraries while you’re at it.

  36. Kudos, Jack Mitchell. Kudos.

  37. Comments made by Sean S and Jack Mitchell both hold merit.

    History tells us about art but does not define art: the present always does.

    Yet, it is the understanding of present which makes the arts undeniable.

  38. Kudos for what? For establishing he’s so much smarter than the rest of us about how we should spend our own money? So much so that it should be forcibly removed from us low-brows by authority of THE STATE because he’s decided that art is just too bloody important to leave to the whims of the market?

    Hell, why not food? Lawyer’s services? Plumbers? I guess you’re right: I might have the gall to presume, if I’m hungry, or if I’m brought up on charges, or if my toilet’s backing up, that somehow The Voice of Fire paint stripe at the National Gallery, or a Wakefield Grannie schlepping to South Africa, isn’t as important to me. Thank heavens we’ve got Jack to justify the confiscation of the sweat of my labours.

    The saddest thing is the general agreement with the socialism inherent in that philosophy. Pathetic.

  39. Yeah, the socialism that gave us Versailles, St. Peter’s, and various Aztec step-pyramids. Those guys were all hard-core leftists, let me tell you.

    MYL, it’s such a stupid way to argue, that “don’t touch my money” line. It can be applied to any government policy you happen to disagree with. Don’t like Afghanistan? “No wars with my money.” Don’t like law & order? “Stop using my money to police the streets.” Sewage treatment? “Not with my money you don’t.”

    It’s not a philosophy, it’s an emotion. Argue against a particular policy on its merits, why dontcha, instead of the parrot act. Oh, you can’t, because you know jack-shite about art? Gee, too bad.

  40. Versailles: the dictator-by-birth MONARCH decided how best to allocate stolen treasure from the economic activity of the masses. Not socialism.

    St. Peter’s: the CULT LEADERS of the day extorted from the “faithful” by twisting the tenets of their “faith” in order to skim off substantial proceeds from their labours to build this shrine to their particular version of mythology. Not socialism.

    Aztec step-pyramids: no clue, I’m not a student of Aztec civilization. Maybe our taxes could produce a 30-second historical-info commercial during the next televised NASCAR race, eh Jack? Maybe socialism, maybe slavery, maybe something else. Probably not socialism.

    Oh-fer-three, mister Mitchell.

    The “don’t touch my money” line applies to those things that, please pay attention here before telling us plebes how we should be arguing, should not be government activity. Wars? Law & order? Sewage treatment, as in public health? All government responsibilities. Propping up artists or any other business too lame to succeed on its own merits, by taxing those who are indeed successful? Foolish.

    Since we’re on the subject of stupid ways to argue, howzabout defending crappy government decisions by bringing up unrelated essential government responsibilities…

  41. PS: I was arguing against a policy based on its lack of merits, pal.

  42. I can take it just fine, Jack M.

    I was going to address your points in detail, and drag in some Foucault power stuff to really make your head explode, but I don’t really see the point. If you’re going to dismiss Bourdieu’s decades of research as some hate-on for high art, then there’s not much point bringing nuance into this (because there are some weaknesses to his argument I gladly acknowledge).

    The history of art, literarture and music in our society is inextricable from class and power. Those “African” carvers you referred to were called anonymous primitive artists for years. Their individual identities and personhoods were deemed unimportant, since their art was seen as the visceral product of instinct and culture (call it a form of orientalism, or even racism). And the elite collecters of such pieces didn’t give a damn about the history of the Dogon, for example (a lot of their famous masks were actually stolen, since they were buried after ritual use to properly never be seen again). The collectors were too busy basking in the authenticity and the savage appeal of them to care.

    The funny thing is, I appreciate art, music and literature of many varieties (including Atwood – it was just too easy a shot to take this week). For me, aesthetics are all about the way people weave artistic expression into their lives. It’s a process, not something to be codified and fossilized in museums. For some, that’s Mozart. For others, it may be Hank Williams. Who the hell am I to say one ranks as aesthetically purer than the other?

    But you sure can, apparently. Going so far as to connect the consumption of high art with a heightened moral and philosophical sense takes a lot of balls. And it underscores Bourdieu’s argument, I should add. Cuz if saying the TV watchers of this world aren’t growing up and realizing that “values matter” isn’t an elitist look down the ladder of class, I don’t know what is. (I realize you think most rich folks are Philistines, I’m not using economics as the pure determinant of class).

    My simple point, which seems to have been dragged into something more than I meant it to be, is that there is a correlation between class and taste. Aesthetics have a power and class dimension to them – they are social facts, not some potential vein to be mined for the purest forms.

    And since governments have a pretty shaky record with regard to the art they support (did classical music really need CBC Radio 2? Did Canada need subsidized airplay of classical music?), I don’t have a problem seeing that support cut loose.

    People make, consume and appreciate art. It’s part of being human. Some folks are willfully ignorant of some beatiful and moving expressions in all media. That’s stupid. But I wonder how often it’s a natural response to the elites telling them either a)they’re not educated enought to “get it”, or b)somehow lack the genetic makeup to appreciate the finer things in life.

    Anyway, there’s a worthwhile debate to be had here, but not so much if you’re going to come at it so viscerally.

    Gustav – somehow calling someone a smug bugger makes you sound like, well…

    Recognizing that certain forms of art correlate with class, and thus suggesting that we ought to rethink government involvement in the whole business is not the same thing as being anti-intellectual. Nor does it reflect a desire to elimnate art education. In fact, I’m a raging populist when it comes to all forms of art – the more the merrier.

  43. Sean, please tell the class, how did those ancient African carvers do on the grants-for-arts from the government of the day?

    What, there was no Horn-of-Africa Council for the Development of the Arts that will One Day Make our Civilization Renowned? Why, then, did anybody make any art?

  44. “somehow calling someone a smug bugger makes you sound like, well…”

    well,. . . . like a smug bugger, right? Do I get that right?

    Interesting seeing men going at it!

    I was wrong: women couldn’t do this any better!

  45. Man, I wish I could write like Sean S. Nice flow!

  46. Looks like I’m gonna have to rack ’em up before I knock ’em down. MYL gets to go first since he’s easier.

    Well, it’s quick because he says I’m 0 for 3 on the socialism of Louis XIV, Julius II, and various Aztec king-gods. Either that or he’s 0 for 3 on irony appreciation. I report, you decide. The point, lost in the fog, was that these governments engaged in propping up useless art, so it’s not a socialist agenda, it just involves spending money. For most societies around the world, propping up art is up there with waging war – soldiers being notoriously unable to get it together without guns and tanks and rations – but MYL & ilk exist, let us say, apart from the world.

    Enough with the philistines, time for their apologist.

    Thank you, Sean S., for not getting all heavy with the Foucault. That would have been very 90’s and I’ve started to forget the arguments against that stuff. I don’t know if it would have made my head explode, though: I’ve sat through a few group therapy sessions about Foucault in my time.

    “The history of art, literarture and music in our society is inextricable from class and power.”

    This was apparently a great revelation to M. Bourdieu and to those who first learned about culture through impenetrable French theory. Elsewhere, it’s been taken for granted for centuries. In fact, elsewhere, it was taken for granted that everything, except sometimes God, was inextricable from class and power. You, my dear Sean S., are inextricable from class and power. To observe that obvious fact does not absolve you of your involvement. In fact, it will immediately occur to you that Bourdieu’s own arguments are themselves the ultimate act of power-grabbing and class-vaulting, since they appear – until the circularity becomes apparent, which in some cases takes decades – to give him power over power and put him in a class beyond class. It really is nothing but the milking of bourgeois guilt and the affirmation of the naive faith that historical truth can replace spiritual experience. Because, what are you left with? Nothing but an endless series of illustrations of the original theory. Meanwhile, you’ve wasted years (not you personally, I intuit) obsessed with everything about a work of art except its beauty.

    “if saying the TV watchers of this world aren’t growing up and realizing that “values matter” isn’t an elitist look down the ladder of class, I don’t know what is.”

    Gee, you got me. Remind me what’s wrong with that, again, apart from rubbing against your sore bourgeois conscience?

    “People make, consume and appreciate art. It’s part of being human. Some folks are willfully ignorant of some beatiful and moving expressions in all media. That’s stupid. But I wonder how often it’s a natural response to the elites telling them either a)they’re not educated enought to “get it”, or b)somehow lack the genetic makeup to appreciate the finer things in life.”

    May I suggest that if you honestly don’t see a difference between Mozart and Hank Williams you have not seriously tried listening to the former? Would that be a stretch?

    Some people don’t appreciate certain forms of art because they aren’t educated enough, obviously. I never understood the first thing about jazz until a couple of years ago. Not the first blessed thing. It wasn’t at all obvious to me what it was about. It’s complex music. It takes a lot of learning about it to understand it – by “learning” I mean principally “listening,” though it also helps to know a few facts.

    So, yes, education is the main thing. I don’t think it’s genetic at all. If it were, our taste today in the West would be as good as it was among our various Stone Age forebears, which it manifestly isn’t.

    I’m not at all an elitist. I think anybody can improve their knowledge and their taste about art. I’ve done that myself in a few areas; many more to go. What’s incredibly condescending is the view that people with bad taste are just naturally like that, can never improve, and we have to respect that about them. That’s elitist.

    Well, well, I don’t think I’ve done justice to the folly of my antagonists, but who could? Typologically, folks, we’ve got two types of philistine here: the type that thinks art is about financial success and the type that affirms a complete relativism re: art (though hopefully not when he’s playing the guitar). In Bourdieuian terms, the former is reacting to his perceived powerlessness in the face of absurd snobbery (which, who can deny, is extremely widespread in Western “artistic” circles) and mistakenly blames art itself instead of the social hierarchy; the latter cleans his conscience with the wet towel of nihilism and is thus able to feel superior not to any particular subset of artists but to the whole of humanity. You will notice that both approaches are principally attractive because they involve doing no work and thinking no thought. Class dismissed.

  47. Gotta love Jack’s “irony.” He likes, we must think, to look at palaces and cathedrals and pyramids, so he is happy to forgive the theft that took place to lead to their production. To the victims of the theft he says, um, well, not much.

    For the modern-day art that Jack likes to look at and listen to, but not pay fair price for, he is also happy to forgive the theft inherent in its production. To the current victims of the modern-day theft, he says you’re too stupid to understand, bud, just fork it over and be quiet.

    Nice.

  48. Oh, MYL, you have stopped addressing me in the 2nd person. Does that mean we’re not sweethearts anymore?

    I don’t condone the social system of Bourbon France! But that’s not the same thing as saying that Louis didn’t build a hell of a palace. It’s hard to keep those two ideas in your head at the same time, I know, but maybe if you use cue cards?

    I’m somewhat lost about my not paying fair price for art. You’ll have to elaborate on that one.

    MYL, it may have escaped your notice – we’re into the whole two ideas at the same time thing again here – that I’m against the current system of art funding, just for different reasons than you. I don’t think anybody should be happy about “the modern-day theft,” I think they should be outraged. But not because the government doesn’t have a role in supporting Canadian art. I object because the current system – for reasons Mr. Coyne very nicely explained in his magnum opus – produces bad art. The difference between us is that you would be against government funding if it produced Picassos and Rembrandts (at least as far as I understand your bile argument).

    Nor do I think you should be quiet. You’re providing us all with teachable moments.

  49. The diff, Jack, is that you are pleased he got the helluva palace built. I, rather, mourn the oppression of the human beings that led to that creation. Copy-and-paste for the other examples. I would gladly give up that palace, or that pyramid, if the associated suffering of the masses never took place.

    And now for having trouble with a single idea in one’s head at once: your failure to pay fair price for your consumption of art. Your being cool with taxpayer treasure propping up artists means you didn’t have to fully pay the price to consume the art they produced, since the public subsidy, am I going slowly enough for you, subsidized it. I am surprised, erudite Jack, it’s not that complicated a concept; surely smarty-pants Mitchell who has figured out the deserving art from the popular crap could figure that one out.

    As for the outrage. You are outraged because the theft failed to produce (what you call) good art. I’m outraged because it’s theft, period.

    And you do get that I don’t want Picassos or Rembrandts from tax dollars. Congratulations.

    You like art so much? Fine, join a club, pool your pocket change, have fun. Someone else likes to have a beer at the ball game? Great, just leave the taxpayers out of building the damned stadium, etc. If I happen to aspire to be the rock-paper-scissors* world champion, please explain why your taxes should pay my flight to the regional playoffs while my taxes should pay for you to grumble that they didn’t spend it well enough to create art for your champagne tastes? Why don’t they just stop stealing from us and we can pursue our passions as we see fit?

    *the R-P-S example is not to be misconstrued as an endorsement or a mockery of this particular pastime; it is for illustrative purposes only.

  50. MYL, why would I join a club & pool pocket change when it’s so much easier to appeal to the better judgment of my fellow citizens that people like you should be ground into the mud beneath the carriage wheels, whimpering something about a guillotine? It will astonish you that people are perfectly prepared to do that, if we strip away the metaphor. They don’t seem to care about your being robbed of 23 cents a year on that score. They are mysteriously deaf, and the more exposed to (good) art they are the deafer they seem to get. I like to think it’s not the pure pleasure of watching the serfs suffer, but who am I to say? We would have to consult Bourdieu on that one. Meanwhile, alas, the tithes are fixed!

    My apologies for not getting your point earlier, I just didn’t get – wait, I still don’t get – what you mean by “fair price.” The government of Canada supports artists because it feels it gets, or could get, value for its money. The fact that you see no value at all in art does not, I fear, make it so.

    You realise you just equated Rembrandt with a rock/paper/scissors champion. It would really help if you would moderate your rhetoric a bit, at this rate my powers are wasted.

    I decline to refute my “champagne tastes,” lest I grow as weepy & self-pitying as, oh, a libertarian with an Atwood novel.

  51. My apologies for not getting your point earlier, I just didn’t get – wait, I still don’t get – what you mean by “fair price.” The government of Canada supports artists because it feels it gets, or could get, value for its money. The fact that you see no value at all in art does not, I fear, make it so.

    OK, now you’re just making sh*t up. If you call “bohemian votes” fair value for “its” money, you are mocking public support for the arts. And if you equate my wanting to pay fair price for art as seeing no value, you are exactly backwards. It is those who expect it on the public’s dime who see no value in something. See Commons, Tragedy of.

    And yes, arts and leisure all fit together, and none of them belong in a government budget. So please recover from the horrific recoil. Some dude who chooses to pursue a passion in R-P-S deserves the same taxpayer support (nil) as some dude who has a passion for Rembrandt, as some dude who wants to plop his fat ass in the bleachers, as some dude who wants to spend all night kvetching online with a sanctimonious…

  52. MYL, please do not compare me to a R-P-S aficcianado.

    There are bohemian votes?

    Could it be that our basic difference is that you hate all collective activity? I can’t believe that, since we see eye to eye on things like the Canadian Forces. There’s an analogy: I’m sure we’d both agree that the CF do more than just project Canadian power. They’re an important part of our national tradition; they give us national prestige. It makes (or should make) every Canadian feel that much better about themselves, as a Canadian, to think of the glorious history of the Van Doos, the professionalism of the artillery, etc. etc. It’s hard to put a price on that but I’d bet that most people who supported a return to non-starvation of the CF did so because they felt humiliated that our government was letting our military prestige slide. I know I did. It wasn’t really about being able to overrun the Peruvians if need be. It was about us, as a nation.

    If you object to the analogy because you like the CF & our military heritage but you don’t like art, all I can say is: objectively art can do a lot for a nation. Look at France, for example, or Russia, or Florence. Objectively they get a lot out of their heritage of art, and not just in tourism. A Florentine wakes up every day knowing he’s just the best when it comes to living cultural heritage. Maybe an extreme example, but it completely refutes the idea that art does nothing for a society.

    Well, that’s what Canadian Art is supposed to give us: prestige, renown, a good feeling about ourselves and a sense of continuity with the past. Now, very possibly that is not the case right now, right? I mean, in all honesty. But if that’s the case, do we reform the system or do we chuck the whole deal? I say reform; you say chuck it.

    There are certainly people out there who think we don’t need an Army – because they have no idea what the army is. You or I, who do know what the Army has been and still is and God willing will continue to be forever, know that person’s ignorance has led them astray. They honestly don’t see how our excellent Army makes a difference to our national prestige. Nevertheless they are quite mistaken. It’s the same with your absurd idea that art contributes nothing to Canadian society as a whole that the Canadian government would pay for.

  53. “May I suggest that if you honestly don’t see a difference between Mozart and Hank Williams you have not seriously tried listening to the former? Would that be a stretch?”

    Jack,

    Your case would be a heck of a lot more credible if you backed away from these kinds of assumptions.

    Why is it so difficult for you to accept that one can know and appreciate a variety of artistic forms, while nevertheless questioning the need for state sponsorship, which brings a lot of baggage with it?

    I happen to love the music of Mozart and Hank Williams at the same time. And I’m going to go out on a limb and bet that my knowledge of Mozart outstrips yours of Williams.

    I “get it” that you think some art is qualitatively superior to others. I think it’s a waste of time to fixate on aesthetics like some sort of competition. It’s rather like trying to compare the merits of two loves, or debating if Tuscan cuisine is better than Cantonese.

    I also understand that some art requires education and exposure to fully appreciate. Inuit throat singing didn’t immediately strike me as beautiful, the first time I heard it. It adds a layer of appreciation to know just why Glenn Gould was considered a radical in his interpretation of Bach. One virtually needs a degree in literature and history to fully untangle Milton.

    I get it. Really I do. What I don’t get, or accept, is your bigotry that dismisses “lesser” or popular forms of art so readily. It’s funny – I can argue that too much of art is tied to power structures, while acknowledging the worth of its “high” forms. Yet you seem hell-bent on carving society into two camps: the enlightened and the Philistines. Or maybe three camps – since someone like myself becomes a relativstic poser in your eyes.

    It doesn’t bother me that you see the world that way. But where it does start to concern me is when we start talking about state involvement. I’m generally considered a lefty in my political leanings, but when you start arguing that the government needs to ensure the survival of particular forms of art (thank goodness we have folks like you to tell us what they should be), even if a majority of the population don’t value those forms, then response becomes positively conservative libertarian, I suppose.

    In this case of this nation, in this era, the argument that arts funding is about creating some lasting legacy or contributing to the canon of Western aesthetic beauty just doesn’t wash. Nor do the claims of national identity enhancement hold water.

    I’m sorry, I’ve grown up with a lifetime of programs trying to make me proud to be Canadian. From Bobby Gimby, to can-con rules ensuring I heard way more Anne Murray than I needed to as a kid, to a museum in Banff celebrating velcro and other sundry Canadian innovations, to a lot of very cute NFB cartoons (do you really think “The Sweater” will matter much in 500 years?), I’ve grown weary of this national exercise in defining ourselves.

    Were that the only problem, I might agree with you that reform is needed, not scrapping. But we have to add to the mix the reality that a lot of these programs have to do with securing votes, or managing bribes (to put it more crudely). Arts funding often has a lot more to do with buying the allegiance of various self-interested sectors of our society than any grand attempt to further our identity or to make the world a more beautiful place.

    Just as one example, think about the relationship between arts funding and the dynamics of Quebec separatism over the last 50 years. For some of us, the ends (often good and worthwhile art) do not justify the means (a cynical and obfuscated use of money to acheive political and ideological goals). Maybe they do for you.

    To get back to the Mozart/Williams thing one last time, I just want to playfully note that you’re doing more in the context of this blog thread to expose the class dimensions of art than I ever could. Thanks!

  54. I almost forgot…

    Thank you Francien. I also enjoy your writing, though I must say it’s far too reasoned and balanced for this arena. I’m not convinced that Jack and I are doing much beyond making asses of ourselves at this point, to be honest.

    Gustav, your original post appeared this morning. Glad you saw fit to correct it. That it even occurred to you as a good idea to call me a cunt in the first place, even for a second, confirms my suspicion that your input is meaningless.

  55. Jack’s back in his “if you don’t support public funding of something, it’s because you foolishly don’t like that something.” Kind of like “if you support that bigot’s freedom of speech, you’re supporting bigotry,” of a few months back.

    Since he cannot handle rational concepts when he gets like this, I will stop trying. Godd luck, Sean, if you persist.

  56. Well, thanks, I’m calling it game set & match for yours truly! Thank you, thank you.

  57. Fascinating scrap you two! But madeyoulook, honestly, the free market e/affects plumbers prices? Last time I required a plumber it was take it or leave it, $280 no matter who I asked. Maybe you can help guide me to this wonderful “market place” where I can intelligently consume an affordable plumber, and pick up a deal on a poet on the side.

  58. “comment by Francien Verhoeven on Sunday, October 5, 2008 at 11:27 pm:
    Man, I wish I could write like Sean S. Nice flow!”

    FW, Did you know that in the antipodes, Sean’s self-same argument would flow clockwise? Fact!

  59. Well Gustav, if you think we have a free market you are wrong.

    Clearly if you needed someone to paint a mural on your toilet it would be government-subsidized, but since it’s just plumbing you’re looking for, you must accept the fact that:

    1- if plumbers were really paid so well, there would be more plumbers. Compare plumber salaries to lawyers, doctors, subsidized artists, and auto workers.

    2- maybe if we were not subsidizing artists, high technology and almost eveything EXCEPT plumbing, there would be more plumbers

    But perhaps if plumbing were declared a universal right like free health care and university education, then things would be different, and we would have 6 month waiting lists for free plumbing.

    Jack “you don’t deserve to be Canadian” Mitchell, who clearly believes in democracy and the fundamental human rights of all, except those that do not deserve those things, would surely agree with you however, had he not departed so victoriously.

  60. “obsious’ is an OE spelling of “tr00”.

  61. Plumbers actually do make bank. It’s a skilled trade, and its something not a lot of people want to do. Hence, high hourly rate. Maybe not average lawyer, but still quite respectable.

    And probably magnitudes above the salary of a journeyman aritist.

  62. At the risk of speaking to no one, this far out of the elapsed shelf life of a comment thread:

    Dear Gustav, indeed in a rational world the market affects plumbers’ prices. Repeat after me: Supply, demand, price.

    Relatively fixed demand + restricted supply = high price to maintain equilibrium. That’s plumbers and, actually, most trades. That’s the market at work.

    “Free” price + inevitably insatiable demand = busted supply. That’s the tragedy of the commons. That’s medicare, especially when the beast that actually pays for that “free” health care can exert the powers necessary to restrict its cost by limit–, uh, I mean diligently managing, supply. That is NOT the market at work, that’s government screwing it up.

    Very little demand should eventually either reduce price or reduce supply in a rational market. That SHOULD be art nobody wants to consume.

    Still with art: Reduced true price from government subsidy would be expected to perhaps increase demand marginally because the price is now more attractive. When that does not happen, you have oversupply. When the government subsidy becomes insanely generous, you could have near-zero demand and STILL have enormous oversupply. That is the Canadian subsidized “art” industry in a nutshell, except for the part that these idle people who have chosen a life of subsidized idleness in near-poverty choose to whine about their condition rather than get a real job. See next paragraph.

    It is very curious that we do not have more people entering the trades. It seems that the work and physical risk and inappropriate social stigma are not yet sufficiently compensated relative to other careers (including but not limited to subsidized “artists,” subsidized five-year-Bachelor’s programs, or subsidized poverty aka welfare).

  63. Just in case I can tempt anybody away from Paul Wells’ ESL course at Blog Central, I will distract the class with a toss-in from at least *some* policy discussion, however lame: arts funding, trickle a bit more, or trickle a bit less?

    Lessee if anyone bites.

  64. Well, I won’t bite, as I think I can quite accurately predict your libertarian position on this issue.

    But, to be honest, I did quite enjoy reading the earlier banter/debate/whatever between Jack Mitchell and Sean S. It was enlightening to me on both sides of the issue, so I appreciated both perspectives.

  65. While Macleans was an easy target..

    Not just Macleans. You should see the proportion of the Publications Assistance Program Rogers publications gobble up. Almost 10 million a year, if I recall correctly (I’m tired of digging up the link.

    Suffice it to say, Coyne doesn’t know what he’s talking about. He should read up on how Cirque du Soleil was saved with public funding.

  66. “It is very curious that we do not have more people entering the trades. It seems that the work and physical risk and inappropriate social stigma are not yet sufficiently compensated relative to other careers ”

    I agree with that statement, and yes, to a certain degree that topic relates to the arts as well, as it does to life in general, really.

    I mean, what is life all about? Is it about attaining some ‘pictured’ goals? Where are these ‘pictured’ goals coming from? Who paints these pictures? And why have we decided to believe in them so much?

    Of course, each trade and profession warrants not only a decent wage, but warrants respect equally. I do not hold a lawyer (for instance) to be any more important than a janitor within societal well-being. We need both. We need clean toillets as much as we need law argumentation. And we should respect both. And both should be able to earn a decent living. Just because a lawyer’s job has been ‘pictured’ as being more ‘glamourous’ doesn’t mean we all need to aspire to be that picture. Giving individuals a sense that all jobs are important within our society will level out some of the respect that needs to go around, and will level out some of the wage discrepencies being heaped upon ‘glamourous pictures’.

    But let’s face it: who or what sets the wages? Well, certainly not so by supply and demand only. People in higher position set wages. And they would certainly not set their own wages at the lower end of the scale, because they are in position to set wages and are thereby deemed to be in the higher bracket scale! See where this is going?

    In any case, many of those kind of circular thinking is happening all around us. But we seldom think of it in that way.

    I know lots of people in the trades and a lot of those people are happy being in the trades by fully realizing that that’s where they want to be and therefore should be. For them there is no stigma attached whatsoever. They know where they find themselves to be most happy. Isn’t that a big part of what it’s all about?

    Being an artist can be considered in the same sense. If I would choose to be an artist to make a lot of money, then I have different expectations going in, namely the expectation of making a lot of money.
    But if an artist is completely happy living at or slightly above subsistence level but can be an artist full-time, I think the expectation would be somewhat different, and the level of frustration and lack of happiness would bare that out.

    It all depends what your emphasis is on. I mean, money can do a lot of things, but whether it can really buy happiness, I, for one, am not convinced of.

    Some (and certainly not all) what we see around us now with the economic downturn, also turns around this very notion of happiness and money; taken into consideration going into the downturn as well as coming out of the downturn.

    One more thing regarding the arts: if the general public is not interested in art, then artist will do poorly financially. If the public at large is more interested in buying a new cell phone every 6 or 10 months, well, then fewer tickets, or paintings will be sold. That sort of math is as easy as ABC.

    :)

  67. Ti-Guy,

    “While Macleans was an easy target..”

    Was it not a good plan then to take programs under review every now and then? And isn’t that what the Conservative Party had done all along?

    Cirque the Soleil at one point in time was helped by government programs. Nothing wrong with that. But also through hard work and preseverance, and because they had a very interesting and new identity which had propelled the group simultaneously. Supporting the arts is not as simple as saying:

    ‘Here is some money, now go show us some art’
    It doesn’t work like that.

  68. But if an artist is completely happy living at or slightly above subsistence level but can be an artist full-time, Francien, why must the government force us taxpayers to promote that way of life?

    If I open up a corner store a two mile (sorry, 3.2km) walk off the Mackenzie Highway, and my venture does poorly, can I get a government grant to keep going offering a contribution to the economy that nobody wants? Please answer NO, everyone. A failed venture should be abandoned in favour of something else.

    So why should other failed ventures be propped up only to demand to be fed again next year, and the year after that, and the year after that?

  69. madeyoulook,

    “Francien, why must the government force us taxpayers to promote that way of life?”

    No, no, sometimes I seem to ramble on without getting my point across. I know I shouldn’t do that but, hey, some days could be better.

    Of course, it is NOT up to the government to promote that way of life. That is my point. The government should never stand in the way of letting people choose their own way toward happiness. Happiness does not mean going to the government for hand-outs: that would make me terribly unhappy.

    All I was trying to say is that artist have to make a choice as well. If the person who decides to buy a cell phone every 6 or 10 months, rather then buying a new cell phone every two years and with those savings be able to buy a small piece of original art, then they also should be free to make those choices. Of course. But the artist must make choices within that setting equally.

  70. Thank you Francien for skipping ESL class with me. Sadly, it seems, the crybabies with protest signs and ample free time fill the news convincing us that it IS up to the government to promote that way of life. And it seems the Tories have had a change of heart and want to continue to yank real $ from the real economy to continue to do just that. Even the most timid of cuts, in an area of government spending where the government doesn’t even belong in the first place, is politically DOA. Sigh.

    And I heard Jack Layton in the English debates lamenting the poor income of the starving artist, who naturally had a family to support, probably around a kitchen table. How I wished Harper would’ve had the (career-ending?) guts to mutter under his breath “then get a real job”…

  71. And isn’t that what the Conservative Party had done all along?

    That’s what they claim. But they never provide any real analysis in terms of cost/benefit. They just assert that the programs are not meeting stated goals. That’s not good enough.

  72. Art within culture leads a very complex existence. Too often, I believe, ‘we’ want art within trend keeping. If everything gets bigger around us, well, then art must also get bigger. But I’m not sure if true art should be so concerned about trend setting or trend following.

    The movie industry is a good example of that. The movie industry is huge, very huge. Big dollars and big pictures. All concentrating on commercial succes. That is their emphasis. The emphasis of commercial movie making is certainly not on art. If anyone believes that they have been seriously misled.

    So how then could the artist who wishes to make an artistic movie ever get a chance? Well, some of those chances might come from government support, but other chances might come from a general audience being tuned into more arty pictures. That would be an attitude. The next question the arises, of course, if the government has the right or the responsibility to chance attitude. I don’t know. You tell me.

  73. I might ramble on for a little bit.

    Art should not be confused with entertainment. Sure, art may have a certain entertainment exponent within, and entertainment may have a certain art component to it. And yet, I believe, art and entertainment to differ in this way:

    Art is to be: with or without entertainment.

    Entertainment is to be: with or without art.

  74. The next question the arises, of course, if the government has the right or the responsibility to chance [change?] attitude. I don’t know. You tell me.

    I retain the naive notion that a democratic government should, within the boundaries of respecting agreed-upon human rights, reflect the attitude of the population. For years, the population has elected governments that have thrown all sorts of $ at all sorts of undeserving junk, in my opinion. But so be it, if that’s what the population wants (tolerates). I’ll just keep up the struggle here in cyberspace.

    I am enjoying this conversation, Francien. Thanks.

  75. madeyoulook,

    Democracy! Ah, well, one has to be certain now: are we willing to look inside?

    I learned a lot of things when I was young. What I learned then and what I still learn more about each and every day, is that one hundred empty heads are no more than one empty head. In fact I can bolster that argument by saying that one thousand empty heads are no more than one empty head.

    Within democracy, the math can be overwhelming.

  76. Lousy system, save for all the others. The will of the people is absolute. The people have a right to be wrong. Etc.

    I am blessed to be living in a country where the people can outvote me to tell me what to do, rather than live somewhere that the tyrant decides that for all of us.

    But I still don’t have to like the art subsidies, the agriculture marketing boards, the subsidies to Canadian magazines, the sponsoring of every stupid little town festival by the feds, all corporate welfare-bums support, billions and billions to maintain a miserable status quo on native reserves…

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