Archive for the Humans pretty much hate art Category

Hope, that all too scarce commodity of late, made a brief, mild resurgence earlier this month, only to suffer setbacks to late-November fear and panic. (November is just that way, or so I surmise in my latest piece on the Thousandth Word.)

But hope, as we all know, even if it often gets beaten down and left for dead never goes away. (I remarked on this tendency too, in two recent pieces on the local arts, again for the Thousandth Word.)

But you don’t have to take my word about hope. One of my favorite recent arts commentaries—a piece from the Art Newspaper earlier this month called “Tough Times Will Provide Opportunities“—suggests too that hope springs eternal, even in a collapsed economy, even in a bottomed-out market, even in the dismal contemporary art world. “So what’s next? Is the future of the art market that bleak?” the article asks.

No, this will be a market for new opportunities. Major collectors are waiting for prices to come down 30% to 40% from their peak, a correction that was already evident in the latest round of auctions in London in October… Further pressure on prices is expected, and it will take some time before the market has reached equilibrium… Now the question is: which artists will survive the adjustment? We all know what the last crash in 1991 did to hotshot artists such as David Salle, Julian Schnabel, Eric Fischl, Francisco Clemente and Sandro Chia. Their markets took 15 years to recover, and in real terms (adjusted for inflation) are still considerably below their peak, but at least their markets survived… The primary market is also likely to regain the balance of power compared with the auctions. The auction houses have dented their credibility as money-making machines, and would-be sellers are realising that the liquidity is quickly evaporating. In a falling market, the focus will again be directed towards the galleries that have proved their commitment to their artists… In the end, a correction is healthy for the sustainability of the future art market. The interest in art will not disappear, art and artists will not disappear—if anything, a tougher environment will be more conducive to artistic creativity, and hopefully the market will go back to focusing on what constitutes the real value of art, as art history is rarely made in the auction rooms.

I’ve been reading and writing about Canada’s ongoing national back-turning on its artists of late, which apparently is a huge subject up there because it keeps coming up of late. This most recent story, from the Oct. 11 Globe and Mail, is interesting because it discusses an arts event that was highly praised in Canada—the recent triumphant visit of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra to a sold-out Carnegie Hall—and describes how impossible it is, in our modern business-oriented economy, for an arts org to be deemed a success. “…the tour was an artistic and critical success,” writes Simon Houpt, “[but] those viewing it simply through a prism of profit and loss would call it a failure: The performance fee paid by Carnegie Hall didn’t come close to covering even half of the orchestra’s $466,000-plus costs.”

The author then looks closely at the upcoming budget for Volcano, a Toronto-based theatre company, which took the unusual step of opening its books to The Globe and Mail, and examines point-by-point how what people are willing to pay for art is vastly outstripped by the expenses incurred in mounting arts programming. The problem with art has long been noted by economists: The cost for the products of our economy become ever more based on the efficiencies associated with mechanization and mass production, so that a product like art that is impossible to make more efficiently (a painting will always take so long to make, a symphony always will involve so many producers) are regarded as too expensive to support in relation to cheaply reproduced good and entertainment (crappy cable TV, for instance). The arguments that people make against arts funding fail to take into account the simple human costs for art.

It’s interesting too to have read this story from the past weekend, from my own formerly artistically “enlightened” northern home state of Minnesota, just south of Canada’s southern border, about the impending doom facing pretty much all of our former artistic treasures. Art funders here, according to the story’s author Mary Abbe, are “bracing for rocky times.” Major arts orgs like the “Minnesota Orchestra, Guthrie Theater, Walker Art Center and Minneapolis Institute of Arts,” who are seeing their endowments rapidly shrink, are “braced for the worst.” At the end she quotes Jacques Brunswick, chief administrative officer of the Guthrie Theater, as he makes an (unconvincing) appeal: “It’s a rough time. I think the arts need people’s money now more than ever.”

And in response (in the Strib’s comments)?

Time to get back to the basics

When many are faced with homelessness, hunger and a lack of health care, it is time to get back to the basics. We have to pay off massive governmental and consumer debt that is strangling the country before we can make much progress. Also, we need to ensure our kids and even adults are getting adequate scientific and technical training so we can compete again in the global market. Given all this, the upcoming decides need to focus on basics rather than arts.

posted by rebeccalhoover on Oct 11, 08 at 7:29 pm |

CTV’s website recently the following story, which provoked some interesting and telling comments (below):

Some Calgary artists played dead on Monday to try to raise awareness about cuts to national funding for the arts.

Protestors gathered at City Hall to say that Canada’s arts and cultural scene is on its deathbed.

The federal government recently cut 45 million dollars of funding and the artists say they already struggle to make a living and they worry it’ll get even worse if the Conservatives win a majority government.

The protesters want people to save the arts and vote for any party but the Tories.

Local theatre director Jamie Dunsdon says the conservatives have undermined the value of the arts in the community.

“I think it’s because we have politicians like Mr. Harper telling us that we don’t value arts which isn’t true, every day citizens do value arts. It’s on the walls of our dentists’ office, it’s on the radio. We do value arts, we just need the funding and we need politicians to recognize that we need the funding and the support,” said Dunsdon.

The Conservatives say they’ve boosted arts funding since coming into office.

They also say they’ve simply shifted some of that money into other programs, including sports and recreation.


When people are loosing their houses etc. it would be irresponsible for the Feds to put more money into the ‘arts’. Get real! Who else should the government bail out?

Glenda Bowser
I think the arts have survived very well on the backs of taxes payer. If they are starving I suggest they get a job like the rest of us,

Totally agree with the cuts - an elite group with attitude - what about extra funding for the underemployed,the wait staff, the retail clerks - everyone cud benefit from a hand-out. What makes the arts group so special!!! - talent - if they had any, they would not have to beg.

Lets see, a cut of less than 2% to the total arts funding. If thats catastrophic then these people have much more to worry about in the current financial climate when other people are trying to keep their real jobs that pay taxes and support these “artists”. Gravy train is over folks

I always figured being an artist was a side job, since when am I, as a taxpayer paying for “art” that I wouldn’t pay to see anyway? Put down the paint set and pick up a hammer!

I would rather my tax dollars go to HEALTH CARE, than some starving artist. While listening to them cry on the news about how they can barely survive now, I could not help but think…”Get a real job then!!!”

Davey boy
If that’s the best artists can come up with. Then please take there funding away

Sue - Calgary
I think people in the arts community should wake up and get a real job instead of perfoming meaningless plays that no one understands. I think our tax dollars can be better spent elsewhere.

Jane - A Calgary Taxpayer who is struggling
Well, if the artists were any good at what they do, they would make a good living at it in the free market. If they cannot support themselves, perhaps they could get real jobs like the rest of us! Welcome to the real world! If I like art, I will buy it or see it, otherwise, I am not going to pay for it. I am a good gardener, but the government does not support my hobby. Why would I, who am struggling to make ends meet, have to pay tax dollars to the arts? Funny how the artists have time to play dead, on a work day. I am at work. Making a living. Maybe they could try it instead of complaining and protesting.

An article in the National Post of Canada, titled “The working man’s case for arts funding,” reveals some exciting news from that quiet country to the North: Canada has, politically speaking, finally reached the 1990s. Canada has at long last discovered the great golden age of the American “Culture Wars.”

According to the story’s author, John Moore:

(Prime Minister) Stephen Harper’s campaign has been all about easy points. Teens with guns; lock ‘em up. Average families (we all think we’re average); give ‘em a tax cut. Arts funding; let the sushi-eating, bow-tie-wearing snobs pay for their own meat dresses and urine-soaked crucifixes. Earlier this week, the PM took a gratuitous swipe at the arts, cleverly widening the perceived divide between “ordinary working people” and the “elites” who make their living in creative endeavours.

Ah, such warm and gentle memories this evokes in my hardened art-loving heart. Jesse Helms. The NEA Five. Piss-Christ. Pat Buchanan. Rudy Giuliani. Oh, it’s so fun to demonize the arts and terrorize artists! So much fun!

The author continues with some good points (that puts some of the blame on the artists themselves):

It’s not easy to make a case for the arts, which is precisely why they are such a ripe target. And artists don’t make it any easier. Most Canadians don’t really have a warm and fuzzy impression of Wendy Crewson or Margaret Atwood. Outside of their books, sets and performance venues, artists have a frustrating inability to connect with anyone but each other.

No, it is not easy to clarify why the arts are important to protect, nurture, and support. I’ve tried to do this for years, and I sometimes feel I’m no closer to any answers than I’ve ever been. Moore, for his part, gives the examples of Cirque du Soleil, SCTV, and a full host of Canadian art stars — all of whom received small token amounts of important governmental support when they were struggling to get established. Without such support, he suggests, these institutions that have entertained and thrilled so many people would simply not have been able to survive and thrive.  Because of this, he argues, small amounts of leg-up money from the government ultimately benefits all of us, not just some untouchable elite.

It’s a tough sell, no doubt. Good luck with your wars, Canada. Having been there-done that, I don’t envy you. At the very least, however, I can say in all sincerity: “Welcome to the 90s!”

So much going on around me. So hard to keep my mind and attention focused on failing artists.

Yesterday, I saw part of a skirmish between 100-odd unkempt and bandannaed young urban rebels and the police.

I watched, across the river from the riots, thousands of people sitting on the grass, listening to musical acts they barely seemed to care about, playing frisbee and surreptiously smoking dope.

I got a message with photos from my wife who had been given a last-minute ticket to check out the national Republican Party that was visiting my home town; she said the event mostly was pretty dull.

This all brings to mind the following Quote of the Day (CAFA QOD):

“This place has more failed artists and intellectuals than the Third Reich.”
–Don Draper, “Mad Men”

(** = Bullet Points of Failure)

Having been away all this past week at a remote and top-secret rural retreat (no email, no cell phone, no Internet — ahhh!), imagine my chagrin at coming back home to find my local community on fire like Atlanta — at least as far as local artistic failure is concerned.

To clarify what I mean, here are a few bullet points:

  • As you will recall from reading CAFA, I have reported on multiple local defections, failures, and collapses of arts administrators and organizations in recent months. Just to give a recap, in the past 2-3 years, prior to this past week that is, Minneapolis has seen the loss of three directors of two major arts institutions, the defection of a State Arts Board director after only one year, and the removal or resignation of five-six major curators at top arts institutions. It has seen the collapse of one major artist-member crafts organization (the Minnesota Crafts Council), the near-implosion of Minnesota Film Arts (which mounts the Mpls-St. Paul International Film Festival), the collapse of a regional Tony-Award winning theater, and the near-failure and rumored impending collapse of countless mid-sized arts organizations. (Rumors that are so common that it doesn’t seem right to pass them on, lest it keeps said orgs from rebounding. Just as an example, however, I will mention that this organization is emblematic; after failing to pay rent for three months this fall/winter, its director resigned and 3/4 of its staff was let go, and thus far no replacement has been hired.)
  • As if that all isn’t enough, on July 16, the board of the Southern Theater in Minneapolis — a venue that presents works by local and national performance groups in town — announced it was placing its long-time (30+-year veteran) Artistic Director Jeff Bartlett on “indefinite leave.” By July 17, public responses to this news had come from a coterie of interested citizen/artists and from a long-time writer on dance in Minneapolis. The immediacy and intensity of the response from the public resulted in, on July 18, a response from the Southern Theater’s board, which cited the need to deal with “a huge financial deficit, a building badly in need of repair, faulty and problematic accounting practices, personnel issues, low staff morale, and complaints from artists” and the resulting need to restructure the organization.
  • Finally (finally!), a press release came across my desk on July 18 announcing the resignation, after eleven years, of Minnesota Museum of American Art executive director Bruce A. Lilly.

I can’t think of anything else to say at this point, other than to quote the words of Henry Longfellow: “All things must change to something new, to something strange.” Be brave, Minnesota, this will all pass.

The local arts community here is atwitter these days with talk about the recent failure of the Theatre de la Jeune Lune. With a reported debt of more than $1 million, the theater is closing after more than 30 years of presenting a particular brand of original, experimental, physical productions. The shutdown comes just three years after Jeune Lune won a Tony Award for best regional theater, thus emerging as a national creative force. Dominique Serrand, a founder, had this to say about the end:

“Today, we begin imagining a new way of working,” Serrand said. “Building upon our artistic legacy, and facing a different future, we are exploring ways to reinvent an agile, nomadic, entrepreneurial theatre with a new name that will create essential and innovative art for today’s changing audience.”

[Translation: We’re failing because the audience is drying up.]

Meanwhile, an editorial from today’s Charleston Post and Courier suggests that something similar is happening to a theater in that town. Jill Eathorne Bahr, the resident choregrapher at the Charleston Ballet Theatre, pleas, in a piece called “Arts need support more than ever,” for more support for the arts from a seemingly ambivalent public. “Raising money for the arts in today’s financial climate,” she writes, “can be daunting, thankless and endless. Federal and state funds continue to be pushed into the background. And the product, dance, is more difficult to sell.

“I believe there is room and potential funding for everyone, but it won’t be as easy to do what we’ve done in the past. We’ll have to … generate new interest and operate in an accepting and generous manner. It takes a driven group to carry off a high-wire act like this.”

Today, at the small art organization where I spend my days (banging my head against the walls and not thinking much of life overseas or in any distant war zone), I received in the mail a notice that a MINNESOTAcharitable(butshallremain)NAMELESS Foundation is renewing our operational funding for another year.

“Phew,” said every cell in my body. Then, I noticed there was also a yellow note slipped into the letter by the McN Foundation’s VP of Finance and Compliance, indicating that, owing to “US government and treasury department regulations,” I should look for “new language inserted into the enclosed letter.”

Here is what I found upon rereading:

By accepting this grant, your organization agrees that it will not promote, support, or engage in terrorism of any kind, nor will it make sub-grants to any entity or individual that engages in these activities.

So this is what art has become in the 21st century? Anyone else but me wonder if it’s good public policy to ask artists, arts administrators, and other poor nonprofit workers to be part of the nation’s police force against terrorism?

Why stay in college? Why go to night school?
Gonna be different this time?
Can’t write a letter, can’t send a postcard
I can’t write nothing at all
This ain’t no party, this ain’t no disco
this ain’t no fooling around…
Burned all my notebooks, what good are notebooks?
They won’t help me survive…
Try to be careful, don’t take no chances,
you better watch what you say.

It’s been awhile since we’ve looked at what’s going on–funding-wise–across these art-hating United States. Shall we have a quick look-see?

Florida – You’ll Have Your Budget Cut by 50-80 Percent, and You’ll Like It

This quote, by Rep. Carl Domino (R-Jupiter), pretty much says it all: “The bottom line is at least they weren’t zeroed out,” he said. “That shows continuing support for history and culture.”

In a May 6 story titled Florida Legislature OKs cuts to cultural affairs, historic resources, the Palm Beach Daily News reports, “State funding for culture and historic preservation will fall sharply under the belt-tightening budget approved Friday by the Legislature. The Division of Cultural Affairs, which administers grants to cultural organizations, will get nearly $6 million — down from last year’s $12.5 million — while funding for the Division of Historical Resources, which oversees grants for history museums and historic preservation, will drop from $7 million to nearly $1.2 million. That’s a plunge from two years ago, when the state earmarked $32.7 million for culture and $18 million for history.”

According to one arts administrator, Florida’s arts groups will have to be “resourceful” to survive the economic downtown. “It will be survival of the fittest companies,” he said.

New Jersey – Things Even Worse Than During the Great Depression…

Favorite quote: “…the ideal [is} that art, with a capital A, should be incorporated into public buildings, as a high-ceiling barometer of culture in a civilized society. The irony is that the Statehouse Annex was built in the earliest days of the Depression. Still, art was not sacrificed. Not then, and not when the building underwent extensive renovation in the mid-1990s… [NJ Secretary of State Nina Mitchell] Wells seemed pained to explain why the arts and history funding under Gov. Jon Corzine’s proposed budget was being cut anywhere from 25 to 100 percent from a variety of programs.” –Mark Di Ionno, in a Star Ledger column titled “The irony here is art itself”

According to the story, “The New Jersey State Council of the Arts will lose nearly $6 million of last year’s $21.5 million in funds, a cut of 27 percent. The Newark Museum will see $2.3 million disappear from last year’s $4.7 million in funding. The Historic Commission will lose all $189,000 it paid out in project grants for history teachers and researchers. It will also lose $1.1 million from its supposed stable funding source, the hotel/motel tax, reducing its grant budget to $2.7 million. That’s 30 percent less than last year for the hundreds of volunteer-supported local history museums and societies around the state.”

And Let’s Not Forget Pittsburgh…

According to this story in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, the Hempfield Area school district, facing budget shortfalls is eliminating world language at the elementary level, and limiting middle school art and music to one nine-week instructional block per school year, and cut the daily activity period high school students use for club participation.

According to the story: “At a special meeting Thursday night, administrators said their primary goal is to provide a ‘rigorous curriculum’ that meets the needs of all students, but a review of existing programs was necessary to put the focus on early intervention to ensure proficiency in reading and math and increased instructional time in the core content areas.

“The proposals outlined last night would affect four world language positions, three art positions, 2 1/2 music positions, two guidance counselor positions, two assistant middle school principals and one librarian.”

CAFA occasionally receives a particular and peculiar response to the strange and distressing features of contemporary artistic failure that we point out week after week. It is this: “Well, yeah, things are fucked up in the arts. But that’s always been true. Things are no different now than they’ve ever been.”

Well, actually, I would argue things are much worse now for artists and the arts than they’ve ever been. In fact, it is a key part of the mission of CAFA to document exactly how they are worse.

As a case in point, consider these two stories, which reveal how human attitudes about art and cultural treasures have worsened over the past two hundred-odd years.

First, in 2004, just a bit more than four years ago, on the first anniversary of the war in Iraq, I wrote an essay about why, despite having every reason to be gloomy, I still loved art. I had been to Paris a year earlier, soaking up the arts ambiance of the place just as our national brain trust was making its ill-fated decision to open up the bomb works on Iraq. Here was the crux of my argument (for still loving art despite the dispicableness of humanity):

Toward the end of the trip I took a train out to Chartres to see the famous cathedral. Once there, I latched onto a tour with local British historian Malcolm Miller. He pointed out the stories in the cathedral’s stained glass, which windows had been restored at what cost, and so on. He… took us outside to look at the Gothic sculpture that adorned the exterior of the building. We examined the flying buttresses, learned how many steps were in each tower (and when each tower was built), and came to a part of the cathedral accessible to a small town square. Here, he pointed out sculptural figures that were armless, occasionally headless, chipped in leg and foot, and asked us if we knew what had happened. One person guessed that was the ravages of time, but Miller shook his head.

“In 1793,” he said, “revolutionaries converged on the cathedral to remove the sculpture and rededicate the building as a palace of enlightenment, or some such.” Such fanatics had knocked many of Paris’s cathedrals to the ground in the early 1790s, and some wanted to do the same in Chartres. They began hacking at its statuary, Miller explained, only to be stopped by a local official. “They had already done some damage, as you can see, knocking off heads and other elements that they could reach. The official stopped them by simply saying in one hundred years people will want to come see the cathedral.”

Here I was, more than two hundred years later, thankful to the nameless official for his insight. The simple answer to why I love art, why I continue to seek it out despite all the distressing and depressing things of the world, is that it is in art then that we rise above it all… In the long run, art outlasts all the tiresome and anxiety-inducing aspects of living; it outlasts the arguments, the blood feuds, and the sectarian squabbles. Art is the way we reveal ourselves as somehow more than ordinary.

Now, compare Story 1 with Story 2, which recently appeared in the L.A. Times, about all the priceless and irreplaceable antiquities and ancient artistic treasures that were taken, damaged, or destroyed from Iraq’s National Museum at the onset of the Iraq war. “Five years ago this week,” the story by Johanna Neuman begins,

looters ransacked the Iraqi National Museum, stealing centuries-old artifacts that celebrated Iraq’s role as the cradle of civilization… Today, investigators say that about 15,000 pieces were either stolen in the wake of the U.S.-led invasion in March 2003 or went unaccounted for in the months and years before the conflict began. About half have been recovered. But the impact of the thefts — amulets, Assyrian ivories, sculpture heads, ritual vessels and cylinder seals — is still being felt in art circles and black markets throughout the world.

“The numbers can’t tell the whole story,” said U.S. Marine Reserve Col. Matthew Bogdanos, a New York assistant district attorney who has made the hunt for antiquities his specialty. “These things remind us of our common beginnings.”

Plus ça change, plus d’art échoue…