I drafted the majority of this a couple of weeks ago, in light of the recent announcement of the funding cuts. In the interim weeks, Leah Sandals and Jennifer McMackon have done better jobs than I could have in assembling related links. Also, in the past week, it became increasingly clear that Harper will call an election within the next two weeks, making these controversial cuts and copyright bill null and void unless the Conservatives return to power with another minority or, god help us, a majority.
I live in a riding with an NDP candidate, and I will with good conscious vote to reelect her. Doubly, as a citizen of Toronto, I’m in an essentially Liberal area. For this reason, it has been said over the previous two and half years (since the last election) that the Conservatives have been screwing us over. It has also been said that Harper ideally wants to destroy the Liberal party. Do we really want to have such a petty and vindictive bunch of assholes deciding things for the other 33 million of us? Equally troubling is the fact that Harper grew up in Etobicoke, which is to say, Harper hates his home town. Well, fuck him too, and the scare-mongering flyers I’ve been receiving in my mailbox.
To Take Care of Oneself
As artists, it’s not a question that society owes us a living; to use that phrase is itself problematic – to say use the word owe, suggesting a debt or some other economic transaction.
For me, I go back to my early 20s, having gone through art school and having met and befriended people who in many ways weren’t really capable of taking care of themselves. They were deficient in life skills primarily, but also in terms of coping mechanisms. It wasn’t so much that they were losers or retarded in the legitimate sense of the word, but they were just different, round pegs for society’s square holes. Myself, I’d like to live in a society of difference/variety/heterogeneity. How we deal with the challenges presented by ‘un-normal’ people is one by which we can measure the state of our civilization. Since for me civilization is about the education we provide and acquire to remove ourselves as far as possible from the states of animals (who are fearful, ignorant and cruel), a civilized society is one reflective of communities of care and of elevated compassion: a state present even in animals but which we can nurture and encourage more of as self-aware beings.
In grade school, we had a class of ‘special kids’ who were the ones in wheelchairs, or were borderline blind, or whatever. One girl in particular I remember as probably having cerebral palsy. Because of the area (rural Nova Scotia) this class might have been doubling as a day care (I’m not sure what type of education was being provided) but for the most part, adapting to the needs of these children was taken for granted as the proper thing to do. It taught me that I lived in a civilized society because these people were both cared for and not to be mocked. Through this a sense of compassion was both taught and encouraged.
In my 20s, I learned that some people weren’t able to take care of themselves. And the lesson for me was just because this is so doesn’t mean people should be poor, unemployable and underemployed, nor end up homeless. It should be possible to accept these people and make sure they have homes, enough money for food and clothing and comfortable lives. There’s no need for them to suffer just because they’re different.
Like the disabled children of my community, they should to be taken care of. As a rich society not overwhelmed by the incompetent (I’d guess they’re less than 20% of the population), it should cost peanuts to make sure these people have ok lives. Considering that the real fuck-ups who end of in jail are cared for by the state, investing in keeping the annoying from becoming homeless and moochy shouldn’t be that big of a deal.
Maybe all they need is some kind of compassionate service – a councilor or a social worker. In terms of homelessness explicitly, I’ve heard it said that many are people who would be fine if they had a stable address and a social worker to help them take their medications on time. This doesn’t seem a lot to ask. If we can provide services for those who are not able-bodied, we should also accept that some people are just born different, and that they are just not ‘able-minded’ by what are thought of as society’s norms. 1
There is room for critique as to what constitutes the able-minded, but that is for another discussion. Meanwhile we’ve had plenty of critique of society’s norms, and while that has brought to light these considerations, they haven’t done much to encourage people toward compassion.
People who aren’t capable of fitting-in (to the extent that they can’t take care of themselves in the usually accepted way) just need accommodation and consideration. It isn’t a question of being owed, but of helping people within our community. Those who are physically and congenitally disadvantaged do not argue about being owed a living, but I think they rightfully feel entitled to being treated with respect and dignity.
So, send in the artists, with century old arguments about being owed a living and expecting support from government-funded organizations. What these arguments amount to is artists saying they’re retards who can’t take care of themselves and are essentially hopeless at basic economic management. Given that it was in art school that I began to think about this (as stated), that may be case. However, unlike the trolls commenting on the newspaper-site boards, who are happy with the cuts, I didn’t consider my fellow art-students and graduated artists as losers, but simply different. And so, I’m not very sympathetic to a line of argument that plays into ignorant prejudice among those completely uneducated and insensitive to the arts. The continued begging at government coffers, based on the idea that artists are incapable of surviving without it, seems self-harming and essentially untrue.
On the one hand, artists like to argue that they’re vital to society for all sorts of reasons, but on the other hand, they’re arguing that they’re incapable of functioning within that society. Over here, arguments about the intelligence of art and the superiority of the artist over the corporate clerk, and over there, whining about capitalist exploitation in the Third World while their dealers take 50% of the price of their work. Here a sense of entitlement to government financing, while there, artists who want to be above regulation and censorship while continuing to cash the government cheques.
In a sense, artists have become the ill character of a sitcom who doesn’t want to get better because everyone has become kind and giving toward them. In that manner they’ve degraded themselves and have invited disdain, which by the end of the episode is played for laughs. One of the values of Conservatives is personal responsibility, and the ability to take care of oneself. It thus follows that Conservative governments do not see much value in funding the arts because it’s representative of coddling adults who should be able to self-manage. By arguing that they’re retarded for so long, artists have willfully invited disdain.
Canada is a hard place to live
Sixty years ago, Roberston Davies’ Fortune, My Foe was first performed in Kingston. It contains a line I’ve seen much quoted in arguments reflecting on the development of arts funding in Canada.
Everybody says Canada is a hard country to govern, but nobody mentions that for some people it is also a hard country to live in. Still, if we all run away it will never be any better. So let the geniuses of easy virtue go southward; I know what they feel too well to blame them. But for some of us there is no choice; let Canada do what she will with us, we must stay.
Davies of course did not leave, but stayed and became part of the Canadian cultural legacy. (The internationalism of the film/television and music industries meant that we can still lay claim to those stars who now live elsewhere but who began with Canadian passports). In the years leading up to the 1967 Centenary, Canadians (reflecting a post-war, mid-20th Century modernist mindset as much as anything else) invested in developing a sense of nationalism. The result of this investment is people like John Ralston Saul and Adrienne Clarkson, the only two Canadians left in the media-scape praising Canada as a nation, both old enough to have been young adults at the Centenary, and both now at an age when they just seem like old fuddy-duddies.
The children of their generation is that of my own, kids born in the ’60s and ’70s and in terms of inherited legacies, pot smoking was far more successfully passed on then the spirit of Canadian nationalism. Planted in post-war soil Canadian Nationalism flowered for 1967, was worn in the lapel of Trudeau, then withered and died as is natural for flowers and all other living things. While ambitious and certainly worth the attempt, a government funded attempt at generating an artificial trans-continental consciousness in a place so geographically varied and multicultural is retrospectively absurd and perhaps deserving of it’s demise.
But the 1950s research into this attempt was that of the Massey Commission and the result was the Canada Council. We are told legends by elders of generous funding and ‘National Gallery Biennials’, where every couple of years the National Gallery would ‘define where Canadian art was at’. (src). This was part of the Nationalistic enculturation which produced the likes of Saul and Clarkson. By this early 21st Century, the children of those boomers are much more interested in city-state politics and thinking, founding the likes of Spacing magazine, not really giving a shit about McCleans while mocking Richard Florida even as he legitimizes them to the current crop of out-of-touch establishment.
In his 1993 introduction to a reprint of Fortune my Foe, Davies describes the genesis of the play; after World War II put a stop to touring plays by independent and occasionally American theatre companies, his university friend Arthur Sutherland established a theatre company in Kingston and invited Davies to write a ‘Canadian’ play to complement the repertoire of English and American comedies. In describing this background, Davies defines an artist as ‘a person who enlarges and illuminates the lives of others.’ In commissioning a young Roberston Davies, Sutherland, although aware of the risk…
“…wanted a play about Canada. It was risky because Canada has for a long time been thought a dull country, with dull people. But there was a time when Norway was thought dull, and Ireland was thought absurd, yet both of them brought forth plays which have been acclaimed as treasures by theatres around the world.”
Which reminds me of Norman Mailer’s claim that the economic recovery of Ireland in recent years can be traced to James Joyce. In other words, the capacity of a country to see itself reflected in a work of imagination can both be an ‘enlarging’ experience and also so inspiring to bind a community together. Davies is also claiming that the difference between being considered dull and ‘interesting’ (or cool, in the present sense) is in the nature of one’s self-imagining, and the messages that puts out. If painters of the United States had confined themselves to images of the American Gothic and considered that an accurate self-representation rather than satire, would we not think of the U.S. as dull?
After offering a synopsis of his play, Davies in the ’93 introduction goes on to say that his task was to make the play not too didactic. Within the structure of the play Davies had a character of a puppeteer, a European immigrant, who is sponsored to give a puppet show by the producer characters of Philpott and Tapscott. As Davies explains, the European puppet master was reflective of the recent wave of European immigrants and refugees from devastated Europe, who brought with them Old World sensibilities about art and culture, and were met with a homegrown New World audience who did not share those same ideas.
“Message,” Davies wrote, “was very much on the lips of Canadians like Philpott and Tapscott, the do-gooders who took up the puppet-show, without having any understanding of its special quality or its cultural background, but who were convinced that the task of art was to teach – to offer a Message, in fact, and to offer it in terms that the stupidest listener could understand. Canada was, and still is, full of such people. They think of art of all kinds as a sort of handmaid to education; it must have a Message and it must get across. The truth is that art does not teach; it makes you feel, and any teaching that may arise from the feeling is an extra, and must not be stressed too much. In the modern world, and in Canada as much as anywhere, we are obsessed with the notion that to think is the highest achievement of mankind, but we neglect the fact that thought untouched by feeling is thin, delusive, treacherous stuff”.
Is it not the idea that the Conservatives, in government and individually, are people not touched by feeling? Is this not reflected in Jose Verner’s comments that she would like cultural funding to be efficient? Myself, I like efficiency since it’s about doing as much as possible with the least effort – in other words, ‘being lazy is good’ as they say in computer programing, for just this reason.
It is in fact sensible for the government to want to do this. But it is also the case that the government appears to show a disdain for the arts that lie partially in a complacency engendered by funding. Canadian art is rather pathetic and remains so because the infrastructure was set up within a moment of forethought and generosity, and instead of igniting both the imagination and the culture of the country, merely created institutions staffed by people who take the funding for granted and feel entitled within their institutional titles. Instead of fostering culture, they see themselves as beyond petty and quaint nationalistic concerns and instead fly off to Venice every couple of years to hob-nob with the planet’s remaining arrogant aristocrats, shaking away the dirt of the stupid ‘unwashed masses’ of this country who usually live in the neighborhoods the galleries move to. Admittedly, that’s being overly cynical and ignoring the good that many artist-run centres and other galleries do within their neighborhoods (before raising the market-value of neighboring properties by their presence) but such ‘good’ is questionable as a repetition of a colonial mindset that sees certain groups as needing help: bring them civilization and culture; capital-c Culture having replaced Jesus in a secular society.
On July 17th I had no idea that the programs in question even existed, and I’m in the culture business. Which is to say that the gang of young adults who have turned Toronto’s gallery-area Queen West West into another nightclub district probably have never heard of the programs either. Why then should I or they have cared on August 17th? When I didn’t know they existed I didn’t care, and now that I know they exist and may not for much longer I still don’t care that much. In effect, the Conservatives have potentially legislated my mid-July mindset into existence.
In as much as I’ve gotten emails repeating the contents of a new Facebook group, I have a suspicion this may be a lost cause. As evinced by their artist-statements, artists in this country are rarely capable of being eloquent enough to convince Conservatives or the rest of the population of their value. The Conservatives have upset an easily ignored minority, and inspired such comments as:
“when the government stops spending money on endeavours that provide next to no value to the Canadian people it is not pandering, it is good government. Am I the only person in the god forsaken country that remembers we have a fricking health care crisis? Sure, there is an element of pandering, and there is plenty of other funding that should be pulled but will not be, but the simple act of pulling funding from people who never should have received it is a good thing. End of story.” (from)
“I think that is what I was getting at. I’m all for supporting the arts but I feel that people of Mr. Lewis’s status and influence should not be receiving money from the government whether he is right or left wing. A friend of mine is an artist and she maintains most of the arts grants go to people who don’t need them. The real starving artists don’t have the influence to affect awards.” (from)
“The government is the one entity in the country that is least likely to make an intelligent decision on how to spend money. In fact, the only reasons to access government funding over private are laziness, a desire to be unaccountable for the funds you receive, and the knowledge that the general public sees no value in your product.
The government should contribute to the arts through tax credits alone. This can amount to a large amount of support, ensures there will be a respectable amount of accountability built into the system, and will bring the arts community closer to the community it supposedly serves.” (from)
yet, there is one considered argument:
“Fund the Olympics and not artists? Artists leave something behind for future generations; athletes… well, they’re fun to watch. Someone said independent producers such as Avi Lewis should pay to find their own distributors. Maybe. But then you should be consistent and argue against ALL government economic subsidies and incentives. Let’s stop subsidizing automakers, oil companies, the aerospace industry, etc. For the most part, the organizations and individuals affected here are either completely non-ideological (such as Tafelmusik) or engaging in economic development for Canadian businesses, which employ Canadians (such as the Hot Docs festival’s Toronto Documentary Forum, which among other things, brings foreign investment into Canadian productions). Finally, what’s lost here is that arts and culture have always been an important part of international diplomacy. The Tories are letting their ideology trump the national interest. Shame on them.” (from)
But in regards to Tafelmusik, a baroque orchestra playing on period instruments, they charge between $89 to $15 dollars a ticket. Surely they work a profit margin in there somewhere? Surely those wealthy egotists so eager to have their name immortalized for the a decades on a hospital wing (or listed in platinum lettering in the lobby of retarded new ‘expansions’ ignored by people waiting in line to pay $22 to see largely empty galleries) can find a mil or two to send the Bach to China?
[Cross-posted from Goodreads 08w35:2]