Friday, October 08, 2010

Freedom and Responsibilities

No subgroup of citizens generally stands up for freedom of speech and the individual's civil rights more than artists. Being free to make the artwork one wants and living in a society that supports that right are essential to most artists' sense of professional and personal well-being, and so it's no surprise that artists are often among the champions of most efforts to protect both freedom of speech and the societal support structure of that freedom. As such, they often lend their stature as independent thinkers to the perceived integrity of political causes. Having a well-known artist among the signatories of a petition letter lends it credibility (at least in my view).

But championing civil rights doesn't always go hand in hand with being a conscientious citizen it seems. There's a truly awesome scene in Stieg Larsson's final book about the anarchist hacker and civil rights poster girl Lisbeth Salander (The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest)....spoiler alert: if you haven't yet read the book and intend to, you might want to skip the rest of this paragraph...in which a judge that Salander has all but dismissed as irrelevant finally gets through to her when he explains that with freedom comes obligations. If you want to have free reign to live as you wish, then you must also contribute to the system that works to ensure that freedom. It only works when we all contribute our part to keep it going.

This brings me to a small controversy brewing about another infamous "bad girl," British artist Tracey Emin. From the Guardian's Deborah Orr:
Not that the Conservatives are the only people who seem politically confused. I'm a wee bit worried about Tracey Emin too. Last week she, along with many other former Young British Artists – themselves great beneficiaries of the recent investment boom – signed a campaigning letter abhorring the cuts in arts funding that are awaiting us on 20 October, with the spending review. Yet what's the alternative to spending cuts? Higher taxes for the rich? Here's Emin, in October 2009, on the new higher tax rate for people earning more than £150,000 a year.

"I'm simply not willing to pay tax at 50% . . . I reckon it would mean me paying about 65p in every £1 with tax, national insurance and so on . . ."
I've long held that the quickest way to tamp down a dangerously popular revolutionary is to give him/her a bunch of money or property. Nothing turns a rebel into a bourgeois conservative like having something material to lose.

Orr goes on to write that Emin backed down from her inconsistent stance, saying that "too much had been made of her remarks." Orr nails the results of this change of heart, noting:
I don't suppose the [government] coalition will be making "too much" of that 100-signatory arts-cut letter either.
Don't get me wrong. I generally agree with Emin and her co-signers' position that the state stands to lose much more than it gains by focusing on cutting the tiny amount of money spent on the arts, when it barely even exists next to what they continue to spend on defense or corporate handouts. Such budgetary gestures are political grandstanding and nothing more in most cases. The setbacks that result from cutting the support for arts too much can dash the aspirations and achievements of an entire generation of artists. And you don't get that back.

Still, I'm willing to put my money where my mouth is here (perhaps because I don't have the kind of money I assume Ms. Emin must, but I would hope I'd be consistent on that as my income [hopefully] rises.... I have been throughout my life thus far). Then again, I'm sure my revolutionary tendencies could be tempered by, oh, let's say, a 30-acre ranch in Montana with breathtaking views and a four-story brownstone with its own garage.

Are you listening, arts funding cutters and their deep-pocket lobbyists in Congress?

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3 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Let me say that I have had my fare share of grant money in the past year.Some funneled through the NEA. I also have a full time job that is paying for my studio and food. Long story short is I wonder how it is that a group of people like us artists have come to believe we are entitled to money from the state or federal government. I will take any money any gives me s long as the strings attached aren't too painful. The money is very much a controlling factor in deciding who is worthy of showing or moving forward in the arts. Letting the government forward their agenda via the arts is a bit horrifying to say the least. Again, I pay my taxes and hate how the money I put in goes to seriously overpriced and very questionable war games and research into better ways to screw up things overall. But the bottom lines is I feel like each of us should take an interest in the arts and not rely on some agency to decide who is aided and who is not. I think it putting more money into art education for youth is a very fare notion. Putting more money into education itself is needed far more than I care to admit. If i ran the zoo it would all be so perfect.

10/08/2010 09:38:00 AM  
Blogger Tina Mammoser said...

My main issue with Emin's comment is that it distorts the tax issue into a larger number, may have been quoted out of context, or perhaps she simply has no understanding of the tax rates. (which I doubt, she is an intelligent woman)

She won't be paying the same % on every £1. Only over the higher rate threshold. Tax under the threshold is still 21% plus 9% NI. (plus class 2 NI which is approx. £12/month, fairly negligible) And it's not 65% in the higher bracket either. Tax there will be 50% + 9% NI. 59%. Those are sole trader rates for self-employed individuals. Emin might be a company.

The tax increases are difficult. But at the same time we have not suffered overall as much as many countries have. Even my lower rate is increasing - and while I will again struggle to pay my January tax I do not begrudge it.

Many things are being cut, not just art. Many important things. Science research funding is just one other area be hit badly if the coming week's protests do not succeed. That will hurt the UK economy far more, and for longer, than the arts cut. No one is immune and there's no way we can balance smaller budget cuts and no tax increase.

10/09/2010 06:01:00 AM  
Blogger Kathy Hodge said...

Funny Emin should say "There aren't enough incentives to work hard". She is supporting herself quite well and making whatever art she pleases. If that isn't incentive I don't know what is. If I could do that I'd be very grateful and wouldn't begrudge supporting the system that supports me. And a little extra for those not as fortunate.

Perhaps she'd like to join the Tea Party, UK division.

10/11/2010 09:53:00 AM  

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