Monday, November 9, 2009

Social Sculpture Ramblings

For my birthday I was given a book; Simon Schama's The Power of Art (2009). What was interesting to me was how the French painter Jacques-Louis David painted That Picture of the murdered Marat in his bath (1793), but also creating the many huge revolutionary festivals and was part of the Committee of General Security which sent hundreds to the guillotined.


Fellow Thermal Shock member Bill Jeffery returned a copy of the NCECA (USA National Council on Education of the Ceramic Arts) 2009 Journal to me today. In an article titled Revisiting Basics to Behives: Three approaches to Social Engaged Arts Practice. Joshua Green summarises discussions on Artists as Social Activists. He claims the "Basics to Beehives" title was inspired by the work of Rudolf Steiner influenced German Artist Joseph Beuys.

Joseph Beuys was an ex-Hitler Youth, who creating an "Art" manifesto which became a "fundamental document for the [German] Green Party in the 1977's.

In a strange twist of fate, Beuys, who at one time advocated the Berlin wall should be make taller becaue it would look better ;), developed the idea of "social sculpture", which is now the foundation of much social activism by artists today.

It will be interesting to see what ex-actor and now politician John Hyde does over the years within the Western Australian Parliment. Or ex-Midnight Oil lead singer Peter Garrett in the Australian Federal Parliment. Or see the outcome of Bill's lobbying on behalf of the elderly.

But perhaps my own interest is more focussed/narrow, in an investigation of the social and economic basis of the Art "system"....

300 decision makers define what is "good" Art

In political debate there is little discussion of how the political candidates are nominated. Who picks the candidates? No seriously, who picks the candidates that are supported by the major parties? Without this support, anyone who enters politics is only a "want-a-be". Someone with litle social-political resources.

For example, we have seen many candidates for US (and in Australia and New Zealand) elections who have burnt vast fortunes trying to buy their way into office. But money will only get you some way through the process.
So too in the Arts....
Who are the judges?
Who picks the judges?
You don't want someone who will make unpopular decisions. There has to some be recognition of the pecking order. Look closely at your local established Art or Craft Association Exhibition or Competition. Prizes go the the established members, oh, and an encouragment prize to the ocassional young one or beginner, just so they don't leave the association or critise the system.

So too the art grant system.
Our State grant panels are appointed by the Minster of the Arts. Actually s/he usually follows the recommendations of the current panel members or chairperson.
Not surprising there has been a very small group of about 300 who have sat on the visual arts grants committee over the 34 years.
What is interesting is the number of past grant recipients, who end up being nominated and appointed onto the committee. That's the 100 I mentioned previously.
But there is good reasons for this.
It's called "quality".
(Actually, I'd call it the "social pecking order and crumbs for the promising/critical"!)
No one wants big grants going to someone who does not make great Art. It's safer to nominate good artists (already making "good/quality" art) to decide who makes "good Art"...
Plus Artists Groups tend to support a system where Artists and not politicans decide who gets the grants (Which reminds me to sometime explain the links between Visual Art Professional Associations, the grants system and commercial Galleries).
The system is not necessary evil, or currupt, it just reflects the compound result of human interaction over three decades.

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