My inability to make and sustain a living as an artist is questioned often by those who believe that to be a proper, functional adult is to be someone who recognizes that if something doesn’t work financially then the sensible thing to do is quit. If you read biographies on artists from the last thousand years you read stories about productive people who help their communities and in return are helped by patronage, friends and family or whatever governing structures they live under. This paradigm, that creativity is produced through a quid pro quo with a community for sustainable reasons has worked for millennia until about forty years ago when everyone thought that turning citizens into consumers was democracy’s destiny.
Funny, I now long for the era of the 80s and 90s when in fact I could get funding for individual driven art work not based on community engagement or some kind of moral reason since those things were considered a given in art making. Now, not so much. Artists are no longer to be trusted.
This fact becomes blazingly clear in two different cultural strategies released this past April by the federal Canada Council for the Arts and the Ontario provincial government’s Ministry for Tourism, Culture and Sport. The focuses in both strategies are outcomes and how a community’s response is vital to a vibrant art scene. How these strategies become real policy or actual, tactile funding situations will still need to be tried and tested and perhaps these frameworks are vague enough to become flexible as the culture veers this way and that. There are some good things in these strategies, lots of things, but the individual artist’s benefit will remain to be seen as it isn’t apparent in either.
Digital in both strategies hovers above the pages as some kind of oracle or mythic riddle that is needed to be figured out – both tiers of government plan massive symposiums on this. Creative clustering a la virtual reality will arrive on cue and artists will be once again be pushed aside by consultants from ‘Silicon Valley’ this time and told to get their online acts in order. Money will flow into the coffers of online start ups and digital gurus as they become like Richard Florida once was, the artist’s leader into the future. I am really looking forward to hearing from American experts on social media and content strategies and how if we just used hashtags properly and cared more about our metrics we would be really successful. Superstar artists who use robots and computers will be given the golden key to these events as curators line up to see a 3D printer make “a group of sculptural works that aims at a void that signifies precisely the non-being of what it represents”. And of course that everything has to be a video.
Once again the partnerships with the private sector are held up as the only route toward sustainable funding. While this does seem to work for certain kinds of things such as festivals and large scale events, what it does for the day to day work of the average artist is questionable. Why we need to partner with the private sector now that the new Liberal government has promised lots and lots of money for the arts over the next five years is not addressed at all.
Sustainable funding for the arts is actually simple; it has to come from people either via taxes or by finding ways for them as individuals to be able to invest in art. But this is never addressed. Ever. What is mentioned is new programs and new models of working and new ways of doing things and new ideas and new this and new that. None of it is new. I mentioned in a recent arts grant application that the contemporary art world was in crisis and that what we are experiencing now is not dissimilar to the invention of the printing press and how that technology enabled people to experience art in mass quantities thus (supposedly) rendering individually made art work irrelevant.
“He who first shortened the labor of copyists by device of movable types was disbanding hired armies, and cashiering most kings and senates, and creating a whole new democratic world: he had invented the art of printing.”
(Thomas Carlyle, Sartor Resartus, 1833) fm History Guide website
Sound familiar? Even they thought the world was on its way to pure democracy and no war. The thing is we don’t need to get hung up on new or even the idea of originality. All we should really concentrate on is how to do things better, not new.
I am weirdly comforted by the fact that I live like so many artists have done before me. Little resources, little support except from the tiny community I have built around my art making keeps me going. It isn’t an easy life but it is mine. Artists after the invention of the printing press began to see the opportunities in this mass production. They came to work in tandem with an invention that gave them the world and them to the world. We will do this with the digital world too.
Our crisis isn’t about our work or our experience with the internet; it is unfortunately with the very less sexy problem of sustaining a life in the arts. And that means helping individual artists with the very real problems of paying their bills. These governments have an enormous opportunity here to help and be the biggest part of the solution and I hope that these strategies become just that. We shall see.
JUST ANNOUNCED: Funding to celebrate 150 years of Canada
Luther Bible image fm Google Images