Art For Everyone (?)
His latest effort takes the form of a Tale of Two Art Worlds:
It's a thoroughly researched, very well considered think piece, elegantly synthesizing the countless details into a convincing big picture view (truly, Ben's second only to Frank Rich in my book for this type of writing). Then, as Ben often does, though, he leaves me shaking my head, by offering something short of a workable solution to the problems he so accurately describes. This time the solution is not so much outlined as hinted at by the poster used to illustrate the article:
On the one hand, it is the Best of Times. This year has seen not one but two artworks sell for more than $100 million at auction, an almost unheard of feat: $104.3 million for Alberto Giacometti’s L’Homme qui marche I; $106-million for Picasso’s Nude, Green Leaves and Bust. To put such numbers in perspective, the price of the Picasso Nude alone is a wee bit less than the entire annual budget for New York City’s Cultural Institutions Group, which gets $110 million to fund the city’s storied museums.
Which, in turn, points us to the Worst of Times. Michael Bloomberg’s 2011 budget for New York City featured a $20-million cut for culture, though this was taken with relief because it was not quite as catastrophic as feared. The Billionaire Mayor is already back for more. In Los Angeles, smooth-talking Mayor Villaraigosa proposed a "crisis mode" arts budget earlier this year. The Illinois Arts Council is in such dire straights that it has had to chronically delay the delivery of funding. In Florida, the state arts council ate a cut of over one half this year. And so on.
Poster by Jeremy Deller, Scott King and William Morris, for Save The Arts in the UK [via artnet.com].
That poster bugs me on several levels, I must say. First and foremost is the assertion that art (a personal expression that may or may not appeal to any other being on the planet) is parallel to freedom (a human right) and education (a requirement for meaningful freedom and a workable democracy, as well as a economic advantage) in any meaningful way. We can legislate that education must be made available for all citizens (forcing children to attend school or be schooled at home), and we can legislate that certain freedoms are made available such that combined they provide as much independence as possible (ensuring speech, religion, press, etc. are free from government interference), but we cannot legislate that someone be forced to view art, or make art, or even like art without violating their other rights. Certain religions forbid certain types of art, for example.
Furthermore, there's an implied spoon-feeding of art in that sentiment that strikes me as too authoritarian. Again, we force education on children (many of whom would rather have dental surgery than sit through their lessons) because we understand that without it they will be at a significant disadvantage as adults. Forcing art on children as part of their education is a defensible action, but I can't connect that idea through to adulthood. If someone is more interested in sports or science or whatever than art, that should be their choice. If they wish to live as free from art as humanly possible, who is anyone else to object?
Which brings me to another aspect of that poster that bugs me: the assertion that people who want it are being denied access to art. As an art dealer, one of hundreds in this city, whose exhibition are 100% free to the public, I find this absurd. You can argue that only certain types of art are exhibited in galleries (the type that sells), but you'd actually find as many examples of art that don't sell (and most recently, due to the economy, often more art that doesn't sell than does sell in the art galleries) with just a little exploration of the more edgy spaces. But if you dismiss the art that's free for the viewing in galleries (because it's too commercial or whatever), then the argument shifts from being solely about "art" to actually suggesting one type of art deserves state support over other types of art: the type that you won't find in commercial galleries or non-profit spaces without entrance fees (which again, in New York, where a very wide spectrum of work gets exhibited, isn't as much as you might think).
So that leaves open the question: if art is readily available for viewing in commercial and non-profit (non fee charging) spaces, what the hell is the point of that poster? It can't be arguing that art should be inexpensive enough for everyone to own some. There's no workable solution to that I've ever heard, short of unlimited multiples, which is hardly something you can insist upon without interfering with an artist's personal freedom. So what is the point?
I suspect the point isn't to ensure each man, woman, and child can either view or take home a work of art, as much as it is to argue that each person who wants to live as an artist can be supported by the state to do so regardless of whether or not anyone else on the planet cares what they output. That's the only clarification of their point that makes any sense. And that's a point of view I entirely reject.
Red-meat admission: OK, so I don't actually believe exactly what's written above...I do feel that the state has a very important role in supporting the arts and ensuring access via funded arts centers spread throughout the country. Not everyone lives in New York, and not everyone out there who is an artist has the money to move here. Still, I wanted to deconstruct the oversimplified sentiment of that poster because I don't believe it will lead to any meaningful change. Any real solution will have to address the points I raise above: how to actually frame the issue so it doesn't seem so absurd or ignore obvious realities; how to balance the importance of art with the chosen (and entirely OK) indifference about it by some citizens; how exactly the state should support the arts; and how exactly the arts community is failing to get more people interested in the arts (the most sure-fire way to ensure support).
Labels: arts funding