How many times in the last two weeks have we had some poxy journalist or other tell us that hard times are good for art? How many of them think that the endless queues at Job Centre Plus will be the inspiration for a New New Objectivity movement, or that the broad pretentiousness of the highly commercialised underground art movements of Shoreditch and Whitechapel will eventually gain some authenticity in finally being driven properly underground when there’s no more money to rent studio or gallery space?
In the first wave of cuts, last week, we saw the axing of the government funds towards the new BFI Film Centre planned to be built on the South Bank. No doubt in the budget tomorrow we are likely to see further cuts to our country’s artistic institutions. Furthermore, over the course of the last century more and more artists find that the only way they can exist is by taking a salary from universities, and ongoing cuts to the HE sector, particularly aimed at arts and humanities will inevitably have a turbulent effect on Britain’s artistic life.
The fact is that many of the critics who come out with this sort of shit have some awful Romantic notion of some wondering classless artist (both within and without capitalism.) You say art and they think of Chopin or Van Gogh. The reality of artistic production doesn’t come into it. Whilst there are undoubtedly many problems with state-funded art in this country (I mean which fuckwit thought that hundreds of colourful elephants sprinkled throughout London’s streets were either interesting or a good idea?), the state does fund all sorts of useful things that simply wouldn’t be able to exist otherwise: By this I mean large free public galleries, theatre, opera, concerts etc, which simply couldn’t exist without subsidy.
Yes, there are serious aesthetic problems with artistic production, yes, a whole lot of shit ha been produced in times of not a whole lot of aesthetic theorisation in the last 25 years, but it clearly is not a direct result of everyone being well sated and kind of happy that capitalism keeps them going, despite what Damian Hirst might have you believe. Perhaps the realisation of the fragility of capitalism may offer a crack through which some light of the necessity of new aesthetic theorisation may be allowed in, but the relationship of art and the economy is rather more complex than than saying that when capitalism does badly art does well.
Furthermore, if anything this recession will more than likely turn art in the other direction. In an already horribly dog-eat-dog world, a scarcity of liquidity can only spur on an aesthetic of populism. When every avant-garde concert has been ridden from the world to be replaced by some banal collection of popular classics ranging from the chorus of Beethoven 9 to Barber’s Adagio for Strings, when the only ballet that ever gets performed is the god damn Nutcracker, when everything is new has been murdered at the expense of what is familiar, and all the artistic spaces make wonderful fortunes as businesses, will we still be saying that hard times are good for the arts?