Wednesday, 18 December 2013

NAVA, subsidising artists, Tax breaks and special needs middle class art poppits.

In my down time at work I usually start to read a lot of blogs and essays about various topics that interest me. I suspect everyone does. I have no idea what people did at work before the internet came around. But from what I can tell Public Servants did a lot more drinking and gambling during the day before 1995 than they do now.

The topics I go for range from ‘do what makes you happy arts blogs,’ why art school sucks’ topics and my latest search term which was ‘why are law grads such dicks?’ This led me to thinking about the latest proposal from National Association for Visual Arts (NAVA)  which just aggravated me no end. For the life of I just don’t get why artists think they are some special class of person that requires some sort of tax exempt status, special recognition, special funding and subsidies to make art. At the other end of the scale is this simple fact.

Artists can make art with or without funding.

I work a day job that is connected to one of my degrees, Law. It has its moments where it’s challenging, exciting and I’m at the top of my game. And sometimes it’s just a ‘job’ that pays my bills. (and provides me with my mini mansion and black shiny American made car). One of the reasons I studied Law was so I could subsidise my arts practice without feeling like I needed to struggle to buy materials, provide for my family and not rely on my wife to fund my dreams. Behind every male artist I know is a wife or girlfriend working to support both of them and the same is for a lot of female artists. Although the blokes tend to act kind of like body guards at gallery openings.

It doesn’t make me less of an artist to be able to afford drinks, have a nice studio, go on holidays and not wear brown corduroy. What makes me less of an artist is not getting an exhibition or people not buying or enthusing about my work. The inability to get some traction in the art space is what makes me feel held back.  

Anyway I put in about 25 hours a week on top of my day job into art making. These 25 hours are divided up into various activities 
  • Practical painting could be anywhere from 3 to 5 hours per night depending whether I want to get to sleep  before midnight or I have a project or painting I feel I need to get finished. 
  • Practicing tattooing. That’s my latest thing. I have been going for a few years tattooing leather and practice skins. I might also study, research and read up on tattooing or painting. 
  •  Spare moments during the week are spent drawing. Well the rest of my time is a mixture of battlefield 3 and 4, Call of Duty and angry birds, watching TV, being a husband and father and playing with my dogs. 

I really do not expect anyone to think I’m special or require special treatment. I chose the art life, it didn’t choose me. If I stopped making art no one would really care. Except maybe my son (who is a fabulous artist) who was a bit put out when I took up guitar a few years back thinking I would stop painting.(note * I also paint guitars). My wife might also have to start to buy prints to fill our walls. 
TISM Guitar

Artists are not unique and beautiful snowflakes. They are the same decaying matter as everything else.

The thing that aggravates me about arts funding proposals such as that proposed by NAVA is that it makes assumptions that never get challenged in a considered way. The response is either a flat out no by government or they will give minor concessions to the proposals but without really changing anything. The rest of the responses are either total sarcastic disbelief from the great unwashed masses, or nodding acceptance from the middle classes that a) art is important to the social fabric of Australian society b) and we should pay for it but with public money not my own. 
 I don’t understand the question of tax breaks for artists or glorified welfare payments. There is already a tax break for artists earningunder $40,000 a year which is probably most of them. As I have said before on my blog.

‘As a practicing artist you are essentially a self-employed salesman and manufacturer. There is nothing magical about it. You try and make a unique product in an oversupplied marketplace’

If Art is a special case, deserving of a special status then where is its importance and gravitas? If you follow the route that artists deserve special treatment then this is what will happen.

  •  More art will be produced that can possibly be absorbed by government and private institutions. 
  •  There will be an even lower quality of work produced because no market mechanism exists that will automatically weed out substandard, poorly made and generally crap art 
  •  The commercial art market will be consumed by the government bureaucracy.  Can you imagine art galleries concentrating on KPIs, reporting and answering to Canberra instead of chasing sales? 
  •  A new government sponsored art’s elite will devour everything. 
  •  Artists still won’t get paid. 
  •  And the art market will be even more of a tournament than it already is.
Is art good for society? Maybe, I don’t really know. What I do know is that unfunded artists can sometime produce way better work than funded ones. Street art is a good example of art made for art’s sake that is of extremely high quality. It has to be to stay ahead of the competition. Why is art made for love of less value than pseudo academic site specific installations? Tattooing is another example of fine art sold to the masses that is mostly better than the work found in government funded galleries. Plus the artists can make a pretty good living from it. (If they are good enough!)

Should arts courses be subsidised more? My answer is a total no fucking way. Having been to University and completed a BFA. There should be no more money given to art courses until they lift their game. They are shonky, boring, deskilling institutions producing mediocrity at every turn. (See my art school post about this)

I know it’s a bit mean to criticise peoples work (either policy or artwork) without offering an alternative, so to improve the lot of the visual arts in Australia I will make my own policy proposal. 

1     A return to a traditional classical arts education. Call it the new conservatism, call it reskilling of Australian artists, or call it Objective arts training. I don’t care but arts education is poorly thought of in Australia because it’s badly taught. Art schools teach nothing but made up theory, and it allows kids to waste 3 years of their lives and $12,000 dollars finger painting, horse shit sculpting and boob photographing. These BFA jokes don’t come out of nowhere, they are telling a simple truth. Young people go to art school hoping to learn real skills and they do not learn them. What they do learn is evident from every second year art student show. Lazy, crap, poorly made work.

      And it’s the teachers and Universities fault. 
  •  bolstering of commercial art galleries with a standardised contract that can be used by all artists. This will allow real competition in the market place and protect the suppliers(artists) from unscrupulous dealers and rip offs associated with bailment contracts, forced selling and illegal consignment, theft and charging artists for work not sold by the gallery but the artists themselves. This ain’t a charity people. 
  •  A standard negotiated base line fee for commercial galleries. Or at least an explanation that a 40% mark-up on works is just that, not a commission on the base price.    Better legal representation and legal advice to artists. The arts law centre is great, let’s make it even better.    
  • Specialised arts business and marketing courses, in fact make them compulsory for all Arts students. And not crap ones like I went to at the School of Art in Launceston but good ones run by real industry accountants, lawyers and business teachers.
  • Specialised tax training for accountants dealing with the Arts industry. And specialised Legal training for Lawyers dealing with artists. This would include better copyright enforcement and civil remedies open to artists. I couldn’t get what NAVA was actually going about in relation to copyright. The law is pretty good; it’s the enforcement of the law that can be complex, expensive and full of contract based pitfalls. 
  •  Big art costs money. Operas, orchestras, museums and mass music cost a lot to produce. A future fund or trust may be a better alternative than yearly budget increased arts funding. It could be added to by the private sector. Put a lawyer in charge and avoid subjectivity and we could end up with something pretty cool. Haha.  

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