Thursday, January 29, 2015

Art for whom? vs what art, and by whom?

Most art laws tries to bring together

two opposing objectives, 

the pursuit of professional excellence 
and 
wider community participation.

Classic Us vs Them, or Them and Us binary thinking.

But we are not alone in Australia with this problem.  

Tribal Revolt (1994) by G. Hay.  Ceramic earthenware paper clay, plaster,  54 x 47 x 46 cm.  Photo: P. Northcott.**


Seeing our common dilemmas from another culture provides a fresh perspective.

"Freshness" does not garantee a solution for ourselves, but, at the least it may make it easier to live with our dilemma.

A Finnish  artist wrote

"...  I was invited to take part in a panel to discuss the topic of ‘for whom should art be made?’ 

The discussion centred on whether art should be made for a professional arts audience or for a wider public, and what the need was for applied arts and societal arts in today’s society in general. 

I remained silent for most of the discussion, as I felt I could not grasp the point of the question. 

The question seemed to portray art as a specific kind of a ‘product’, which was manufactured by professionals and then distributed to consumers. 

The structure of this art distribution was analogous to that of any product, where demand, market value and consumer expectations were driving the development of product design – in this case, the strategies of art funding.

Finally, I tried to raise my voice, and proposed to shift from the question of ‘for whom should art be made?’ (which presupposed a one-way deliverer–receiver structure) to the question of ‘who can make art in society?’ 

Following this, I proposed that, if we had societal funding structures such as a ‘citizen salary’, people could participate in creativity and art-making, and questions about the status of professional or amateur art or boundaries between popular culture, DIY communities and fine art would become trivial. 

Then, the follow-up question would be: ‘what kind of art is made, and made possible, by the people?’


As one might expect, my proposal was met with minimal response, as leaders of art institutions continued their debates on the distribution of governmental art funding to established institutions. 

The problem did not seem to be how to deal critically with the economic structure, which increasingly defined art and art-making, but how to get as much funding as possible from this structure. 

Slight panic seemed to be filling the atmosphere, as pressure from diminished state funding, on the one hand, and increased reliance on private funding, on the other, forced institutions to blindly fight for survival. 

For the artists, the question of DIY or amateur art posed a threat to the professional league, which also had to prove its expertise and irreplaceability in the face of the system.*

For me, this was a clarifying moment. 

There I was, at the very core of cultural funding, amongst these high-ranking decision-makers, and not even they had any power over the rhetoric that comes, direct and unmasked, from neoliberal economic language. 

There seemed to be no other option than to accept what was put into action, from the top down, by the government and make the best of it...

But it doesn't have to be this way...


*emphasis added by myself
 ** From The Ways of the Seeing Places exhibition, Arts House Gallery, Northbridge,  Perth, Western Australia, 7 - 19 August, 1994.

Extract from Terike Haapoja's paper "At Least We Now Hear Them Talking: Art and the animal other in the era of neoliberal dogma", from Corcoran, K., Delfos, C,  Maxwell, J.  (Ed), Art Futures: Working with Contradictions in Higher Arts Education, The European League of Institutes of the Arts (ELIA), p. 43.  Read it online: http://www.elia-artschools.org/documents/artfutures-working-with-contradictions-in-higher-arts-education. Thanks to Chamber of Arts and Culture Western Australia for providing a copy to to members.
Chamber of Arts and Culture Western Australia

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