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