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“It’s a lifestyle choice,” (so it’s not work) said Simon Birmingham

The catalyst for writing this post was a political video of an unwell President Trump trumpeting his self-image with a voiceover of Frank Sinatra singing “My Way.” (Click on link, or you can watch the video at the bottom of this article).

I thought to myself; “What effrontery, what gall, what would Sinatra, a Democrat, have thought of his chutzpa?”

Probably something like this: “I’d like to shove a clarinet down his throat and see what his highest note is.”

Or more Sinatra-like might be; “I’d like to shove a sax up his arse and see how much more shit he can blow.”

So, what brings me to this? Well, during Question Time last week Labor MP, Josh Burns, asked the Arts Minister Paul Fletcher why he had claimed in an ABC interview that money from the government’s Arts industry support package was “already flowing” when senior officials in his department told Senate estimates that in fact no cash has flowed.” He struggled through an unconvincing answer that would have been no comfort at all to the workers who have been waiting nearly nine months for help.

The Arts in all its forms has never been of particular interest to conservatives. The fact that, as a cohort, it employs so many people doesn’t impress them at all. Fletcher’s answer was typical of a government keen to announce but not act.

If you cast your mind back to earlier this year Scott Morrison, with great fanfare, announced a support package for this industry that supports 600,000 workers and an economy of $112 billion:

“Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the commercial arts and entertainment sector was one of the first to be affected by COVID-19, through strict social distancing measures that were enforced, and would be one of the last to come out of hibernation.

He said the package, which includes $75 million in grants to provide capital to help production and event businesses and $35 million in direct financial assistance to theatres, dance groups, circuses, musicians and other fields, would help get “their show back on the road, to get their workers back in jobs.”

We are now in November and not a note has been seen nor heard. Another announcement with an enormous crescendo but no climax.

Guy Sebastian was heavily criticised at the time for thanking Scott Morrison.

“Firstly, I would like to thank you guys, especially you Prime Minister, for listening … you really were, and that was evident the other day when we jumped on that Zoom call.”

“You really did hear us out, you heard all the challenges we were facing.”

Workers in the industry were never included in JobKeeper, and Sebastian was conned.

Then in June Arts Minister Paul Fletcher defended the delay in funding:

“We think this comes at the right time to get the sector restarted,” he said.

Labor’s Arts spokesman Tony Burke last Thursday said it had been in March since the opposition had first called on the government to deliver a support package for the Arts and Entertainment sector:

“This totally unnecessary delay has done enormous damage to this industry and its workers,” Mr Burke said.

It is now November and there is still no funding.

Our dance companies, artists, writers and musicians are applauded and recognized throughout the world, but the government doesn’t reach any high notes when it comes to the Arts.

Four years ago the then Education Minister Simon Birmingham described those seeking a career in the creative arts as making a “lifestyle choice” that wouldn’t produce an economic return and therefore shouldn’t be supported by government. In other words, he couldn’t give an octave.

By what criteria Mr. Birmingham makes his fiddling “lifestyle” judgment is anyone’s guess, but it’s fair to assume that he means it’s not real work.

I would suggest that he was making some sort of vague conservative value judgement about the Arts that implies it is both a luxury and a valueless product.

However, many people are not necessarily born with creative attributes. Sometimes it is born from a simple preparedness to just “have a go.” What is that lyric of Morrison’s? … “If you have a go …”

So, if we don’t have music, literature, poetry, art, dance, theatre, performance, film and many other forms of the Arts, what then defines our existence – records our history?

After all, we are by nature creative. Art is but a reflection of society. Throughout history, in all it guises, it has reflected our journey. Design is a graduate of art which gives birth to innovation.

Do you know that more people visit the Melbourne Arts Complex in any given year than the MCG over the road? Birmingham went on to say:

“Currently there are far too many courses that are being subsidised that are used simply to boost enrolments or provide lifestyle choices but don’t lead to work.”

Sure, it’s true that people in the Arts are attracted to socially progressive politics.

There is a mutuality of understanding. Artists of all genres take it for granted that there is some suffering in their undertaking.

Of course, it’s the country that also suffers if the Arts are not encouraged. Our culture is lessened, and diversity threatened.

Conservatives have never understood the Arts. They see it as a haven for left-wing radicals.

If you look at funding for all forms of education you will see the same principle repeated. Decisions driven by conservative ideology. It has no ambient overtones what so ever.

Robert Kennedy put it like this:

“The gross national product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education, or the joy of their play. It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages… It measures neither our wit nor our courage; neither our wisdom nor our learning; neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country; it measures everything, in short, except that which makes life worthwhile.”

When I was studying for my Dip of Fine Arts I often used to say, when we were discussing its history that:

“Art in all its forms, dance, music, drama, painting or other genre, is but a reflection of society at the time.”

A class fascination for me was trying to identify the political leanings of my fellow students. Invariably when they spoke about their work, it was apparent that those producing works with a radical but social objective: commitment to social justice were always of the left.

As for me, I always confronted the class and told them that if art was not commenting on society then it was not contributing toward it.

The Arts are about broadening human horizons, lifting people up, and opening their eyes and hearts to the beauty of existence.

Simply put, it is easier to be creative if you are sensitive to the human condition. Art over many centuries has reflected the society in which it found itself. From ancient Aboriginal painting to Pablo Picasso’s depiction of war in his work Guernica, which was a powerful political statement about the Spanish war.

We judge art not by how it arrived on the canvas but how it speaks once there.

The Russians and Germans made art a general tool of propaganda.

Then there was early Christian art that portrayed arguably the world’s first socialist as white and fragile when the reverse was probably the truth.

Throughout history, art has been used in as a means of political persuasion. Art challenges many of society’s deepest assumptions. Look at the persuasive techniques of street art.

In music think about the protest songs of the 60s and the rap singers of today. Think about the environmental lyrics of John Denver and the working-class words of Bruce Springsteen.

The protest songs of Dylan, Billy Brag and Joan Baez.

An artist creates a sculpture alone; a painter uses a brush in isolation. But music forms a community, where the spirit of life can be felt.

In literature the writing of John Steinbeck whose book ‘The Grapes of Wrath’ changed my life and the leftist writing of Australian poet Henry Lawson.

Other notable Australian leftist writers include Thomas Keneally, Patrick White, Marcus Clark, Frank Hardy, Manning Clark, and Martin Flanagan.

And it should not be forgotten that the Australian film industry might never have gotten off the ground but for the efforts of the left-wing Philip Adams and Labor legend Barry Jones.

In my observation and experience people from the creative arts, be they writers, actors, painters, sculptors, poets, musicians or from whatever genre, predominately come from the left. They tend to be more sensitive to the marginalised and social issues like the environment, equality, gay rights, and are more open-minded about such issues.

Their views are more humanitarian and empathetic. Artists are not afraid to speak through their work and readily accept the challenges of change and its consequences. Artists see possibilities and opportunities that others do not.

The left side of politics has always attracted those from the Arts because there is a mutual philosophical co-existence and understanding of what human nature is.

On the other hand, the right side in Western democracies can only see the Arts through the prism of capitalism and profit. Rightists only see the Arts as a means for social display and as a source of commodities to be bought and sold for profit (like everything else). They instinctively resent and despise those morally and spiritually superior to them.

Censorship of art and entertainment is, historically, a socially conservative trait.

There is no greater illustration in political history of the rights attitude to the Arts than when, in the 1950s USA, junior Republican Senator, Joe McCarthy accused 10 innocent Hollywood writers of having connections to the Communist Party. It snowballed to the point where the slightest suggestion of association ended many entertainers’ careers and left a dark stain on American political history.

Many had to go to England to further their careers. The events of the time were later encapsulated in the movie; ‘The way we were.’

Notable names included as communists were: Helen Keller, Leonard Bernstein, Burl Ives, Pete Seeger, Artie Shaw, Zero Mostel, Charlie Chaplin, Langston Hughes, Orson Welles, Dolores del Rio, Danny Kaye, Dorothy Parker, Lena Horne, Gypsy Rose Lee, Burgess Meredith, Ruth Gordon, Eddie Albert, Richard Attenborough, Barbara Bel Geddes.

Charlie Chaplin had this to say about the allegations:

” … Since the end of the last world war, I have been the object of lies and propaganda by powerful reactionary groups who, by their influence and by the aid of America’s yellow press, have created an unhealthy atmosphere in which liberal-minded individuals can be singled out and persecuted. Under these conditions I find it virtually impossible to continue my motion-picture work, and I have therefore given up my residence in the United States.”

I suspect that if a poll was taken of prominent actors, writers, musicians and other artists etc. in Australia prior to any election 90% would pledge their support for Labor, and 10% for the Greens. The only way the Arts will ever increase its funding by conservative governments is to convince them that it’s profitable. In a way it’s like the advertising industry which is dominated by capitalists but creatively inspired by the leftish artistic directors.

Artists and the left exist in a natural marriage of ideological compassion and understanding that speaks of protest of dissent of change of charity and challenge, but most of all for the common good. The creative arts share its values and social democracy exists for the same reason.

Now, here’s that video of Trump:

 

 

My thought for the day

An artist creates a sculpture alone; a painter uses a brush in isolation. But music forms a community, where the spirit of life can be felt.

 

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14 comments

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  1. John Hanna

    Interestingly governments of both sides have included the “finance sector” in calculating GDP when in fact it produces nothing, the LNP in particular love that sector which is built on ususry and creates wealth for it’s investors off the backs of working people when they pay their motrgages. Ultimately it comes down to serfdom. Working people pay for everything, the further up the tree, less and less ‘work’ is done and the sponging increases until you reach the pinnacle of money for no work,,,a rentier class.

  2. Awashwithcolour

    I agree with what John Lord has written on conservatives.
    As an Artist l haven’t worked since February this year. When l saw Scott Morrison with guy Sebastian l was feeling like this announcement of support for the arts was too good to be true…and it was.
    Everything Morrison makes announcements about are just porkies.
    There is no support for the Arts sector which employs more people than mining. Generates more money than mining.
    The lying nasty party are filthy philistines.
    It breaks my heart to see what this bunch of fools have done to this country and our communities.
    Art matters.
    Painting and music, theatre, dancing and performance, design and all levels of the creative arts community should matter. Just not to the LNP.
    Support an Artist!
    We need you!

  3. New England Cocky

    Agreed JL, Arts are important. Indeed, about 1932 Howard Hinton began donating art pictures to the new Armidale Teachers College to determine whether exposing trainee teachers to art on the wall of the College lecture rooms would make those trainees more appreciative of Arts generally. By the time of his death in 1948, Hinton had donated over 1100 art works, many of them by the ”plein air” School camped around Cremorne, Sydney. Think just about every major name from that period; 17 Norman Lindsays, 14 Tom Roberts, and the list goes on. The collection is presently housed at the New England Regional Art Museum (NERAM) Armidale NSW.

    Come 2001 and the trustees of the Hinton Collection had become Armidale Dumaresq Council (ADC) with their coven (9/11) of Nazional$ councillors, mainly ill-educated, naive, rural bumpkins. So when the ADC General Manager suggested selling half of Tom Roberts “Mosman’s Bay 1894” painting to the Art Gallery of NSW for $130,000 to cover a major financial maladministration ”error”, the bumpkins all agreed. Mosmans Bay had an estimated value then somewhere over $1 MILLION.

    However, the full text of the proposed sale contract had AGNSW purchasing the entire Hinton Collection for WHATEVER THE AGNSW WOULD AGREE TO PAY FOR IT.

    But not the ratepayers! Friends of the Hinton Collection Inc was formed and successfully contested this ADC decision in the NSW Supreme Court to keep the Hinton Collection ”in Armidale”.

    So, for the past about 15 years ADC and its successor Armidale Regional Council have done as little as possible to promote the Hinton Art Collection, which is the definitive collection of Australian Art 1880 to 1948.

    This council strategy complies with the over-riding Nazional$ strategy to suppress any economic developments in regional urban centres. This policy was supported locally by the Nazional$ Dowager who successfully advocated that Armidale remain as it was when she arrived in 1961 resulting in economic opportunities being pushed away ofteen to the progressive Tamworth Council. So Armidale now has a 1961 future ….. in 2020. All that remains is for the population to be reduced by about 20,000 persons.

  4. Keitha Granville

    Arts and entertainment contribute more than $100 billion to our economy. Just think about that. I want an answer from the PM about how he is balancing a budget into the future without that.

    I have worked my entire life (retired now) in my own theatre related business. I have NEVER received unemployment benefits in my working life of 50 years. Over that time I have employed casual workers. My husband started out in the UK at the age of 15, continued here till he retired. When he applied for his pension they asked for his CRN, but he didn’t have one because he had NEVER received unemployment. Two of my four children work in the sector – worked.

    I am regularly found screaming at the news reports which bleat about the shattered tourism economy, the farms without pickers, and the need to get hospitality back in action, but there is NEVER a piece about my industry, my life.

    Theatres and concert halls are dark, more than 600 thousand people in this industry are idle. Many will NEVER work again. We have lost so many talented incredible dancers, singers, sculptors, sound technicians, lighting designers, producers, set designers. Don’t even start in printers, merchandise sellers, ushers and all those who produce refreshments for venues. It brings me to tears.

    Actually part of me wants there to be nothing for another year, so that when everyone else is back to their regular lives and they want to go to a theatre or an art gallery or a concert or a music festival, they can’t because they’re closed. Maybe then people just might realize what’s happened and what so many have lost. The next major disaster will have to manage without a fundraiser provided and supported by the entertainment industry. Always the first to respond in a crisis, and when it’s their turn to get some help………

    These are PEOPLE, who need to eat and pay rent and just simply survive.

    HELP THEM, HELP US

    (may I shamelessly advertise Support Act, please give what you can )

  5. wam

    Thank you,, lord, for the enlightening information.
    I was locked into the BA of my life experience.
    eg
    There are 30 majors available in the Bachelor of Arts: Ancient History, Archaeology, Australian History, Chinese, Classical Languages, Criminology, English, French, German, History, Human Geography, Indigenous Studies, Indonesian, International History, Islamic Studies, Italian, Japanese, Linguistics, Music, Peace Studies, Philosophy, Physical Geography, Political and International Studies, Psychology, Screen and Media Studies, Sociology, Spanish, Studies in Religion, Theatre and Performance, and Writing.(une)
    The students in these subjects are classified by the BSc, LLB, as look downs, activists public school teachers and members of the ‘young liberals NOT QED
    Birminham MBA is one of the few public school educated but he has moved on in spades.
    Keitha has the tragedy of this government and, perhaps the shame of labor for not stirring the morning shows and similar investigative, opinion shock jock expose style shows.

  6. Josephus

    Theatre and music filmed and streamed free provided both nationally and from overseas have kept many fairly sane, first traumatised as we were with fires all around us or worse, then alone in our houses and flats, or worse, sick or bereaved. Without culture we are all sick, even die mentally.

  7. New England Cocky

    @Keitha Granville: Much to the disgust of sports writer wannabes, MORE people attend the Art Gallery of NSW on weekends than attend Thugby in either of its guises. BTW … does anybody in Australia still play Thugby Union, the thugs game for gentlemen?

  8. Henry Rodrigues

    Art is what nurtures and feeds our souls. Since the conservatives do not pay much attention to those aspects of what makes us human, it doesn’t appeal to them very much. Scummo would rather, if he could, give all art funding to Hillsong and similar god botherers and pretend that he’s done his duty to the arts. There are no more crass, bare faced hypocrites, than the conservatives and the god botherers. Guy Sebastian is just another tag along, scraping up the spoils falling from Scummo’s flaying around of taxpayer largesse.
    Thugby still seems to attract the boofheads.

  9. DrakeN

    John Hanna @ 7:11 am – that’s it in a nutshell.
    One other consideration is that Art – of any kind – most often speaks to Truth, which is an anathema to the powerbrokers, mercantiles and religionists of our “civilisation”.

  10. Old bloke

    I am old enough to remember the hand-wringing and whining by the conservatives over Gough’s Australian purchase of Jackson Pollock’s Blue Poles (one million dollars, now worth $350 million). But when the forgetful arch crook Alan Bond ‘purchased’ van Gogh’s Irises for $54 million and had it displayed at the National Art Gallery, it was a different matter.

    Apparently van Gogh’s brother saved the painting as Vincent saw it only as an exercise and would discard it. Have a full-sized copy on my son’s bedroom wall.

  11. Old bloke

    Fortunately, not all conservatives are against the arts. Helicopter passenger Bronwyn Bishop is much involved in the classical music scene in Sydney. She was president of SIPCA (Sydney International Piano Competition of Australia) in its most recent event. However that ends my positive comments about the lady.

  12. JudithW

    Thank goodness Dan Andrews didn’t count on the PM’s offer of ADF support for Covid19 back in March …

  13. Brozza

    “Workers in the industry were never included in JobKeeper, and Sebastian was conned”
    He was conned years ago on becoming a member of hill$ong ‘show me the money’
    scummo – big on smirking rhetoric, miniscule on actions and morals.

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