My 'just for the sake of argument' rant on arts subsidization
As the late Dick Martin was wont to say, you bet your sweet bippy I do. I also value such things as health care, adequate policing, school crossing guards, and providing our troops in Afghanistan with absolutely everything they need, more than every painting or written screed I’ve ever come across in this land of ours.
I’d rather see a kid in a village in Somalia or in Nunavut in Canada’s far north get a few good meals than to see some painting or other subsidized via my tax bucks.
Does this make me a philistine? I don’t think so for a moment. I love the arts and hold them in great value and esteem, be such arts painting, sculpting, prose, poetry, or theatre little and big. We are surely the sum of all our collected creative forces.
But, I also believe in something else. I don’t believe taxpayers should subsidize the arts past a certain point. Consequently I do not buy into the big foofrah about the current government of Canada purportedly stiffing the arts in the country. The argument is all bloody politics, no more, no less. In point of fact the current government actually gives more to the arts than did the previous Liberals, despite M. Dion’s protestations to the contrary and attempts to make it an election issue – as if Joe Lunchbox could really give a shit. He’s more concerned about Dion’s avowal to slap a carbon tax on everybody across the land.
By the way, there is absolutely no truth to the rumour that Stephane Dion is Celine’s brother -- is there?
Now, for fear of appearing Neanderthal about all of this, let me clarify. My point is that while I revere the arts and firmly believe the world would be a worse place without some of the magnificence that has come our way via the brilliantly creative, I happen to hold to the antiquated theory that the arts should pay for themselves via purchasers, patrons or whatever. That worked well in the times of Shakespeare and Mozart, and I suspect it does now. For example, the corporate world is awash in money both legitimately and ill-gotten. Let them pay for the arts, too..
For one thing, what is deemed ‘art’ is a matter of taste, and I don’t think any artist, musician, writer or whomever should have to go cap-in-hand to some gormless civil servant to seek approval. The approval is up to public taste, and the work should rise or fall on its own merit, or lack thereof. If there is a bureaucrat who happens to fancy madrigals sung in the Ojibway language, that is jolly nice. But, if there is little demand for such an obscure offering, then I am damned if I want to pay for it.
Anybody who has ever applied for a Canada Council Grant knows well the hoops that must be conquered to receive a nod, and those nods only come if the flavor of the moment is adhered to. The joke used to be that if you happened to be a bipolar, aboriginal lesbian, double-amputee writing in a native Canadian language of which there were only two known speakers, you were in. If you wrote a ripping yarn in English you were hooped in the old CCG department.
For another thing, I am just not all that big on creative nationalism in which a work is deemed worthy only because it is Canadian in both theme and in the origins of its creator. Art to me is a universal thing and can possible get more out of a book translated from the Slovenian than I can from something written by a poet living in Moose Jaw, Sask. Or not. The Moose Jaw verse might be wonderful and inspiring, in which case thousands will flock to buy it. Frankly I did that there now is or ever has been a poet who could put a meal on a table by dint of his or her efforts at versification. Most teach, or sell used cars, or wait tables. The sensible ones marry rich. It’s in the nature of the calling. At the same time, most poets don’t give up their passion just because big government doesn’t cough up.
“That’s it, I’m out of the poetry racket. The government either gives me a grant, or I’m pulling the pin.”
“Wow. That oughta bring the bastards to their knees.”
In earlier times, and certainly in many other countries, the artists rose and fell on both the talents of the artist and, if he or she was lucky, he or she managed to acquire patrons to back their efforts. Either that, or they managed to capture the public’s affection.
Some societies were known for fully subsidizing the arts, provided a national flavor and state-deemed acceptability were in place. The Soviet Union and Nazi Germany come to mind. Oh, and don’t be citing Solzhenitsyn or Pasternak to me. Both were rebels, of course, and received no state support whatsoever. Yet, funnily enough, their works survived and gained universal appeal. Might be something to do with the fact they were brilliant.