Tag Archives: Karl Marx

Ode to a Jackdaw, the sequel

Victoria Ward
Victoria Ward

When I started this blog I innocently thought, hey, no one is discussing some things in the Canadian art world. Where are the public conversations about money? Are the arts councils working for us? Are artists treated fairly? How come rural artists are treated like crap? And why does no one know how to use Twitter in the art world?

Moving forward in time I found that there were lots of people who felt the same way I did and we were able to share some of the things I was writing about. I still naively believed that the art world needed a good dose of social justice and that artists would unite to recognize this. Has this happened? I am uncertain. I still maintain that these issues are relevant but social media has become a place for fighting and fighting is not what I signed up for.

I did not begin this blogging gig so that I could ‘change the world’ or ‘help people’ or get ‘popular’ or even just get some notice. I honestly thought that I was doing something constructive for myself and my friends. I thought I was helping change the channel on how art is discussed.

from ‘To Walk Invisible’, Sally Wainright’s astounding drama about the Brontes. Herself a former Yorkshire bus driver, Wainright knows better than anyone about being invisible.

It all began in Yorkshire and my discovery of the Jackdaw. This zine publishes a few times a year and is written by artists and art supporters in the north who see an unfair advantage to how the arts is funded and promoted by London. I’ve written about this before but the Turner Prize is but one example of this. The prize is often awarded to artists who are pet projects of curators and arts investors who need the prize to uptick the art’s value creating a situation where money flows like confetti all over the place but not in the coffers of arts organizations that need it. This is a huge paraphrasing of the corruption – you really need to read about it in the Jackdaw – but it’s a circle of life that has been normalized which in turn has essentially killed off funding and interest in any kind of art making not associated with the Westminster zone. Austerity and now Brexit in that country has ruined not one but perhaps two generations of artists not living below the midlands. When I got back to my rural log cabin in the central Ontario I looked at the world very differently. Was this kind of thing happening here?

In a very different way it was. Money was flowing then to Luminato, Nuit Blanche and all sorts of southern Ontario artistry while most of the galleries I show in had a hard time coming up with a per diem so that we could eat while visiting their community. For awhile conversation and community sprung up around these issues and I actually thought things might be getting better but… while we wait and wait and wait for the Canada Council and Canadian Heritage to dole out money to supposedly ‘a more diverse’ amount of art the talk of art making has switched to the discussion of who should be making art. This may or may not be a discussion that will have happy consequences; all I know is that it probably stems from a community’s desperation more than anything.

If you take food away from animals they starve or eat each other. It’s just what happens.

The Brontes and Elizabeth Gaskell brought international attention to the plight of northern people and the lives of those who worked and lived in the heart of the Industrial Revolution. They were northerners (Gaskell was born in London but lived for a time in the north, the sisters were Yorkshire rural), even today they are perceived as writers from a genre, or a time and a place. But they helped pave the way for Karl Marx and George Orwell. They are world famous now and beloved but their contribution is far more reaching. Books such as Jane Eyre and Mary Barton helped bring about a labour revolution – one that we are still fighting today. I mention these writers, these artists because I think it’s folly to think that art needs to have a time and place or be of somewhere or be popular. Art has no ‘dominion’ really – it just exists and sometimes in the unlikeliest places made by the unlikeliest people.  I have hope we return to these conversations at some point.

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State of the Arts – the culture of economics

Victoria Ward
Victoria Ward

Its the economy people!

It is curious to me that the number one best selling book in the world at the moment is Thomas Picketty’s Capitalism in the 21st Century. It’s 700 pages long and densely written without any nod to populism. I haven’t read it and I won’t, I’m not that interested in economics and anyway I believe it is culture not the economy that changes us. Perhaps they are interwoven, maybe, but it doesn’t matter because I only have time for so many things… so I will have to trust that this Picketty book is akin to the Communist Manifesto as in, it’s impact could be felt for centuries.

I believe like I did about Karl Marx that these kinds of people who are able to coalesce our age through research and historic precedent, and create a picture of how we spend our money do a great service. Money is a kind of truth because how you spend it says a lot about who you are.

However the culture of spending can change; look at smoking. We all used to smoke right? Well, a lot of us did. But we don’t now for many reasons, many of them cultural. Money that used to be spent there has gone elsewhere, we seem to have outsourced that vice too, the biggest purchasers of tobacco products are in Asia.

Think about the pressure now to buy the right kinds of product. I had an hour long debate with my partner’s brother in law about eating shrimp. After watching a VICE episode about how most of it is farmed by slaves in India I thought, well, that’s it for me and shrimp. He however felt that the story was an exaggeration and that shrimp is a great treat for a family and that Red Lobster is great and affordable for families. I didn’t want to mention to him how many families I know that would never cross the threshold of a Red Lobster but whatever.

NCM invite 2014
When we get back to Yorkshire my partner’s work will be here, the National Coal Mining Museum. It’s a place where art/culture and the economy blend seamlessly.

“You have more education and a higher level of human skills today. But you also have a higher level of real estate, equipment, patents, robots and other non-human assets. So that in the long run, you know I’m not saying that robots will dominate humans but I’m just saying that the balance between human capital and non-human capital has no reason to move in the direction of human labor.” Thomas Picketty, The Real News Network

One of Picketty’s points is that we are under some illusions about how education and hard work relates to wealth. And, yes, this guy apparently talks about robots. He also says technology will not save us. Sorry nerds. How all this affects the life of an artist may seem rather obtuse but if you consider that art is one of the few commodities on Earth that cannot be relied on and that people still want it and want to make it – you’re looking at an entire economic sector that works in the irrational. Ain’t that glorious? It is what I love about what I do, it is kind of ridiculous.

I feel sorry for people who would find this kind of thinking threatening or inappropriate. I felt free the minute I realized that life holds no formula and that regardless of convention and decorum there is no reason for anything to exist at all and perhaps it’s all pointless. To me this is not a depressing topic. Not at all. In fact quite the opposite. I think life is completely ridiculous. I take some of it seriously of course. I wasn’t laughing when my mother died suddenly and my sister and I found her. That wasn’t funny at all. But it has given me the strength to realize that being an artist is as crazy as going to the moon, or building a pyramid or running for political office. People who have been deeply hurt know exactly what I mean.

The spending of money is perhaps the only way to gauge how we asses ourselves. In this gilded age we live in now with a tiny portion of the populace owning most of the wealth we will need to rely on the fact that culture does in fact change us. Through our daily routines of where we go, what we purchase and how we live, we can turn the world around by engaging in culture. Artists and those who interpret the world are more important now than ever which I think is wonderfully crazy.

State of the Arts will return at some point from Yorkshire in June!