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Arts – And Not Just For Art’s Sake!

“The fundamental cause of trouble in the world today is that the stupid are cocksure while the intelligent are full of doubt”

Bertrand Russell

Basically I think that one of the problems with the world is that spend far too much time discussing the soap opera of politics and not enough discussing the substance.

Ok, I’m guilty too. I’ve been distracted by the Bronwyn Bishop fiasco, when the issue hasn’t really been about her behaviour – it’s about the “system”. I know this because Tony said so. You see, our ex-Speaker grew confused because, when Joe said that the age of entitlement was over, he left the sentence unfinished and didn’t tell us whether the age of entitlement was 67, the pension age, or 90, the age he’d like us all to work until. However, Mrs Bishop thought, being over seventy, that she must have surely reached the “age of entitlement”, and, therefore, her entitlements were guaranteed. This was confirmed for her when she was told that politicians’ entitlements were a “grey area”, and because she actually has grey hair.

Of course, while all the fuss has been about whether Bronwyn was entitled to have a chauffeur-driven golf buggy to drive her from her office to the door of the House, and whether the trip to opera constituted Parliamentary business because the audience was primarily composed of voters, we’ve let quite a few things slip.

You may have noticed that their new Arts Policy is very different from the approach that they want the Clean Energy Finance Coorporation to follow. While they’re telling the latter not to finance Solar and Wind because they’re established and they don’t need any help, their Arts policy is all about encouraging “exellence”. Which basically means that the money goes to the people who are already successful and financially viable.

As Georgie Brandis told “The Australian” – that wonderful paper owned by an American:

“I’m more interested in funding arts companies that cater to the great audiences that want to see quality drama, music or dance, than I am in subsidising individual artists responsible only to themselves.”

Leaving aside the rather quaint notion that somehow what Brandis is “interested in” should be the basis for an Arts policy, one has to wonder what he means by “great” audience. One assumes he means “great” in terms of number rather than making a judgement on the quality of the audience.. Although given that many members of this government seem to think that they should be the final arbiter on everything, they may have a plan to say that they won’t fund a particular company due to the “ordinariness” of the audience. “Sorry, we’re rejecting your application for funding on the grounds that your audience did not have the requisite number of high brow afficianados and contained a disproportionate number of latte-sippers and/or bogans.”

Unlike their direction to The Clean Energy Finance Commission, which was directed to fund start-ups, rather than make money lending to the “winners”, Brandis seems to think that only those already attracting a large number of patrons are worth funding.

The fundamental problem with this line of thinking is that people working in the Arts may take many years to develop their craft. It may take many years for them to become successful. Some people will never succeed.

So, the argument goes, why should we be throwing taxpayers’ money away on people who aren’t attracting patrons, and in some cases will never be successful, but it’s worth considering Google here.

As most you probably know, Google gives their employees time to work on their own projects, and while most of this time doesn’t lead to anything, the few ideas that actually work bring in more than enough money to make up for the other unsuccessful projects.

Brandis seems to be assuming that quality drama, music or dance just suddenly happens and that people don’t need time and support to develop. As for the idea that “individual artists” are responsible only to themselves, he makes it sound as though they’re no more than a person spending their whole life just taking “selfies”. It’s as though once one chooses to work in the Arts, one immediately has obligation to lead a solitary life starving in a garret. People working in the Arts can’t have families to support, or – if they do – they should just take Joe Hockey’s advice and “get a better job” so that they can afford a house in Sydney. (Which as Joe points out are affordable because people are buying them.)

For many, I’m sure that the Arts is looked on as indulgence, but even those “individual artists” contribute to the economy. Before we even get into the aesthetics or discussions about the Arts improving the quality of life for everyone, every one of those “individual artists” will be boosting the economy in some way whether it’s by buying paint or having programs printed or buying strings for their instrument.

In purely economic terms, the Arts Council tells us:

Australian households spend $6.5 billion a year on arts-related goods and services – more than dairy products or household appliances

Even judging the Arts from a pragmatic perspective, the Abbott Government approach is short-sighted.

But one of my great concerns is the tastes of the current Arts Minister. This is from an interview with Mr Brandis in “The Australian” in 2013 shortly before the Abbott Government was elected:

“Literature is his great love, especially Charles Dickens and, because of his Catholic upbringing, Evelyn Waugh and Graham Greene. David Malouf is his favourite Australian author, particularly his novel about growing up in Brisbane, Johnno. He has a growing interest in classical music: the great symphonists Beethoven, Tchaikovsky and Mahler, choral music and operas such as Carmen and La Traviata. One regret is that he never learned the piano when he was growing up, and he says he ensured that his two children did.”

Later on in the same interview we read:

Brandis says that the government and the responsible arts minister should be the “final arbiter” of arts policy because they represent the taxpayers who pay for it. “I was concerned about aspects of the Australia Council Bill which would have imposed new limitations on the capacity of the minister to give directions to the Australia Council, in areas other than particular programs or particular funding,” he says.

I have no problem with anyone loving Dickens, Waugh, Greene and Malouf, nor do I dislike classical music. But there seems to be a lack of anything contemporary – save for one Queensland author (for which state is Brandis a senator?) – and if you are suggesting, as Brandis does, that he should be the “final arbiter” then I have a concern that it’s the very art forms that will need encouragement that won’t meet the “taste test”.

I can imagine Brandis vetoing some project because it’s far too modern, having its roots in the twentieth century. As for “new” art forms, like multi-media or film, well, they’re not the sort of things that “great audiences” attend, are they? They’re really just like “selfies”.

The Arts is important part of the Australian economy and funding shouldn’t be determined by the whim of a minister and what he’s “interested in”.

Disclosure: Rossleigh is a member of The Arts Party.

arts party logo jpg


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  1. flohri1754

    Spot on …. as per usual ….

  2. Kaye Lee

    In the budget from hell, Brandis gave a $1 million grant to the Australian Ballet School, to help with its purchase of a new boarding residence. Armed with that taxpayer money, the school has spent more than $4.7 million on a mansion.

    On the board of the Australian Ballet School is Daniele Kemp, the high-profile wife of former Liberal arts minister Rod Kemp, a predecessor of George Brandis as arts minister. Mr Kemp is now the chairman of the Institute of Public Affairs, a right-wing lobby group.

    Read more:

    It’s not what you know……

  3. roaminruin

    George Brandis is the self-appointed Albert Speer of our very own Nasty Party.

  4. Rosemary (@RosemaryJ36)

    If you do not help the up and coming, how can they become excellent?

  5. Loz

    Self importance – Excessively high regard for one’s own importance or station; this is Brandis to a T.

  6. diannaart

    Well, someone has to be the final arbiter, why not George? I mean, if there is one thing the Abbottoir gets right it is consistency (hear me out).

    Do we have a First Nation person as minister for Aboriginal Affairs, a scientist as minister for science (yeah, I realise we don’t actually have a….) an actual woman representing women? At least Pyne attended school at some point in his childhood, although I am unsure if either Morrison or Dutton have fled war-zones in leaky boats, but doubt it.

    Clearly knowledge in anything to do with a ministry is not a vital requisite. Imagine a government that actually knew what it was doing? Then imagine a government that is easily brought to account – just sayin’

  7. kerri

    And let’s face it the bottom line of Brandis’ Arts policy is that he gets the last word. No inductry can survive if all decisions are left to the opinions of one person. And let’s face it if one person is making all of the decisions then the y should be guven their correct title! Not “Arts “Minister” but “Dictator”

  8. roaminruin

    diannaart – thanks for the cynical guffaw.

    Sir Les would be a far better fit than Soapy. But – the only required credential for this mob of right-wing ideologues is adherence to the neo-con dogma.

  9. Keitha Granville

    disclaimer: I work in the arts.
    The arts sector as a whole “generates more revenue and employs more people than many other essential industry sectors, including agriculture, electricity and gas.” (Aus Gov Creative Australia, National Cultural Policy) It always has done, aside from the other obvious benefits for the rest of the community.
    But it will die if we have neanderthals attempting to drag us back into the last century AGAIN. There is NOTHING wrong with any of the art forms enjoyed by the current minister, but he can’t seriously expect that we should only be exposed to those and nothing new ? Charles Dickens, Beethoven and Tchaikovsky would be the first ones beating down his door to complain. They were new once, and no doubt struggled to find supporters.
    Culture evolves, it has to. Existing successful companies don’t need as much support, they have ticket sales to cover their costs. Starters need a leg up, that was the whole point of the Australia Council.
    OMG – I can see the death of so many brilliant artists and performers – we will be a cultural wasteland instead of a world leader. In yet another area.
    Well done LNP.

  10. Harquebus

    The government has no business involving itself in art and sport. It is for propaganda purposes and vote buying that they do so.

  11. Kaye Lee

    “The government has no business involving itself in art and sport.”

    I disagree entirely. Your comment implies that the arts and sport are peripheral fluff. I know you don’t like sport but it serves an invaluable purpose in community cohesion. If you ever debated you would know the age old argument about the potato and the rose – we need both.

  12. Harquebus

    Kaye Lee
    You are 100% correct in your assessment. Community cohesion and exercise do not require sport which, is military training by another name and is a leftover from the Victorian era. It instals regimentation, obedience and suppresses original thought.
    Art I have no time for. It appears to me that a small select group are getting their entertainment subsidized by the vast majority who, never attend artsy type events.

  13. Möbius Ecko

    What a bland, staid and boring world you want to live in Harquebus.

    Sport is a replacement for the gladiatorial arena spectacles of ancient times that were used to keep the masses placated. Take away sport and I suggest you will have unrest and maybe even anarchy. This is why governments at all levels from local to Federal and globally, including autocracies, spend so much on sporting stadiums and sporting events.

    Art serves a higher purpose in human achievement at an individual level to mass appeal and participation.

  14. Harquebus

    I agree with you ME
    The purpose was and still is to provide emotional stimulation for the masses and to distract them from their otherwise dull and boring lives and the decay of their world around them.
    Gladiatorial combat is military in nature.
    We also spend massive amounts on sporting arenas and ever greater sporting spectaculars.

    Please watch this short video.
    h ttps://

    Also, there are lots of photos on the internet showing the carcasses of Greece’s 2004 Olympic Games.

  15. Möbius Ecko

    Harquebus you cannot equate the Greece Olympic games aftermath to all of them. Greece’s problem is that it didn’t have the finances nor drive to repurpose their sites and structures as most of the other Olympic games hosting countries have.

    I’m not saying the other countries didn’t heavily lose in hosting the Olympic games, the ever increasing cost of security is a big part of that, but most didn’t let their entire Olympic infrastructure and systems fall by the wayside.

    Attempting to equate the Greece Olympic aftermath to other countries is as false as attempting to equate the Greece debt crisis to Australia as Neil of Sydney attempts to do.

  16. Harquebus

    Möbius Ecko
    The point I am trying to make is, sport and the arts are not investments that governments should be making.

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