Sunday, November 13, 2011

Pain In The Arts

IN THE current edition of Quadrant, James Paterson suggests a strategy whereby Tony Abbott might win the culture war which John Howard lacked the stomach to prosecute with the resolve that campaign warrants. An appointment or two to the ABC board, the placement of a bona fide literary scholar in the Australia Council’s bookish precinct and a bit of eye-rolling at some of the “arts community’s” more ludicrous, publicly funded exercises in onanism and aren’t-I-so-daring indulgence – that was the sum of Howard negligible achievements. Paterson’s solution is simple: choke the funding. The luvvies will howl, but then they are always howling about something, so our next PM should not worry too much about aggrieved members of the Wanker-Australian community calling for his head or, because the Speedo uniform of volunteer lifesavers seems to amuse them so very much, burning bathing costumes on the front lawn of Parliament House.

They will do all of that and worse, but if Abbott sticks to his guns those demonstrations of artistic fury will do much to make his case and, as a guaranteed bonus, boost his standing with the electorate. The proof is in this morning’s edition of the Sunday Phage, where arts editor Raymond Gill has a look at the ten artists who “actually matter”, the ones “continually pushing boundaries, investigating new methods, forging new forms of expression, influencing their peers and shaping the way artists, curators and audiences might look at art in the coming decades?”

They compromise quite a crew, starting with “urban sculptor” Stuart Ringholt, who “explores the idea of embarrassment”, not to mention grants, by getting about in public “in the nude or with snot hanging from his nose.”
 Ringholt: Your taxes at work
Then there is the woman, Bianca Hester, who installs live horses in galleries, exercises in expression whose significance Gill neglects to explain. Is the horse the art form or its manure? Perhaps, while Ringholt drips mucus and scratches his nuts, Hester could put trousers on the beast as an investigation of the bourgeois fixation with appearance. Hey, why not? If she were to leave large wads of cash sticking from Dobbin’s pockets, it would remind her audience of the government largesse that is so much part of her oeuvre. The Sunday Phage regards this pair and the other eight transgressive treasures as being figures of such interest and importance the introduction to their profiles needs to be plastered across the entire top half of the front page.

And that is the aspect of the art world Abbott PM needs to heed even more than the dubious works successive governments have funded. Simply put, there are no votes to be lost by cutting off the cash flow. The people who care are Age readers, of whom perhaps 1% might be tempted to vote Liberal. Back in 2005, when he was locked in a luvvie tussle with Robyn Archer, arts maven Gill unintentionally captured that delicious isolation from (and ignorance of) the broader community when he celebrated the government funding that is the mother’s milk of so many snot dribblers and horse installers:
….Archer overlooks some fairly obvious changes in Australia—changes she has herself brought about in her role as director of many of our arts festivals. She fails to note the proliferation of arts festivals around the country in the past twenty years, festivals that have brought work here that I would consider to be, in the main, innovative and tough. Such work has exposed audiences, critics and artists to ideas and work that they would otherwise have to travel as extensively as Archer to see. At the same time, substantial funds have been made available to festivals to commission, from local artists, new work that is precisely not the sort of ‘mainstream’ work we are used to seeing our state and national companies present in their annual seasons. There are now scores of artists who make work solely for festivals, not only in this country but around the world; another factor that helps bridge the gap between Australia and the rest of the world.
There is no enemy more vulnerable than one whose fortress is built upon a foundation of conceit. These people will be sitting ducks for a government carried into office on a wave of repulsion for the squandering and lecturing elites we have had to endure since late in 2007. Go ’em, Mr Abbott. Only The Phage will hear their whining above the cheers of those who must get up every workday morning, report to jobs many dislike and then see the confiscated fruit of their toil redirected by luvvie mates to luvvie mates. 



  1. I thought you were being a bit harsh, professor, until I saw this:

    For those not inclined to view the best artists Australia has to offer, the link takes you to a series of photographs, the first one of which shows Bianca Hester "holding the cast copy of the Henbury iron meteorite at the wall at 80 Collins Street for 10 minutes during lunch hour"...

    The photos below that show her "sitting together with people known and unknown, at 1pm a[t] the cinder-block wall".

    All of this occurred on Day Four of what can only be interpreted as a pretty easy week in the life of an Australian artist. Don't click on Day Two at that website unless your interests run to electric-blue hoops, or you like to see your tax dollars pissed up against a tree.

    For the truly adventurous, who cite "no fear" among their life's guiding creeds, Hester's PhD dissertation will test your limits ( Entitled "material adventures, spatial productions: manoeuvring sculpture towards a proliferating event 2007" (no caps, of course), its slender form (around 100 pp. of text) is a testament to how degraded the postgraduate degree has become. Read it when in need of sleep inducement or for boning up on how to comport oneself at a lively inner city dinner party.

  2. Elizabeth (Lizzie) B.November 13, 2011 at 4:10 PM

    Oh Bunyip, while at risk of trespassing too freely upon your tolerance in allowing me to voice, and as it is a slow weekend for me, I am stirred again to thought. How might I profit before Mr. Abbott sensibly comes to government and takes your most constructive advice? I am overwhelmed with a surplus of bat droppings. These slimy offerings found near the entrance to my abode seem ideally suited to creative artworks of the sort you identify. I will make a festive hat of them for the next luvvie Saturnalia and auction it to the most fetchingly naked prospective wearer riding a horse. A valuable work of performance art. Plus I keep the profits (always a capitalist at heart) as well as being handsomely rewarded by government grants for my lively creativity. My noxiously oozing hat will come with the added bonus of possibly being the natural home of some fascinating new viruses that have equine affinities. Perfect. Art triumphs again.

  3. Speaking as a person born of two family lines with lengthy histories of mental instability. I can both appreciate these people and decry them as people in serious need of (non-taxpayer funded) help at the same time. Mr. Ringholt dresses alot like my mother did during her fourth year of psychiatric care. Almost alarmingly so...

  4. Don't cut off ABC funding. Quadrant had an alternative solution recently -- just sell it off. The government has no business being in media' it's not a good look to the rest of the world anyway. The ABC (and it's mummy, the BBC) is an historical artifact. I'm sure that nice Mr Murdoch would be interested.

  5. I think his head has been pasted onto the body. The head appears to be lying or standing against paving stones.

  6. I recently visited Lake Ballard and was appalled to find a beautifull clay pan littered with iron statues. Anthony Gormley is the bloke responsible with the assistance of the Taxpayer. He ticks all the boxes from his billious emoting on global warming to his mastubatory manifesto. I do mind my taxes being spent of snotgobbling artists but when they start destroyng the environment I get really cranky. I wonder if it would be possible to skitch the EPA on him or take some legal action for littering. I know if mineral exploration company I work for made a mess like that in the bush we would be in big strife. I wonder if the Council they have the apropriate permits ?

    I wonder how much the bottom line on them is? There are 50 of the damn things and each one is about 6 foot high. Apparently they have to be periodicly refurbished.

  7. Thank you very much Hanyu!! After barely a couple of pages of that turgid magnum opus, I came to the sad conclusion that Michelangelo's work must be seriously deficient; denied as he was, Bianca Hester's little scorcher rattling around in his head and guiding hammer and chisel to the very boundaries of artistic endeavour. We can only mourn for what might have been, had their two great lives been in happy conjunction.
    But could she have survived in the manner to which she accustomed, on Papal handouts?

  8. My blood oath prof.- stick it to these Spencer Street led clowns - only an extremely rich society can afford these nut cases; and Australia is fast losing its wealthy status along with other socialist led countries.

  9. A simple solution: Change the funding model so that tickets are subsidised not the artist. That way, if people want to see it, the artist makes a decent living. If the work is produced only for the benefit of the artist, the rest of us don't have to sponsor their hobby.

  10. Defund the snot-dribblers & horse-installers, and redirect the monies towards mental health intervention and care.

  11. PhillipGeorge(c)2011November 14, 2011 at 9:12 AM

    "... a wave of repulsion for the squandering and lecturing elites"

    a Martin Ferguson or Simon Crean haven't had the decency to challenge - history mark it well - so if Ms Gillard makes it to a full term the subsequent government will have just enough credit left to fund food stamps for all. When Australia looks like anywhere else in the third world, and Sunnis begin to challenge local Shiite power bases [or vice versa], and austerity measures occupy every other headline, the boats will finally slow down however.

    Allah hu akbar, diversity is good, multiculturalism is sacrosanct, Rivers and Willie are free again. And somehow plants are choking on the very stuff that makes them grow faster.

    The nub of it is this though. You are now opening water bills to pay and pay for "saving" rivers and you are opening electricity bills to pay and pay to "save" the atmosphere.

    With discretionary spending in over half Australia falling back to zero or below, the money for ordinary people to buy a painting, etching, or ticket to a symphony or the theatre isn't there. Art is a bit like inventing sports like Croquet, badminton, quoits, or racketball. Sports and art is what comes after sundry things like food and running water or keeping yourself warm through winter.

    When 100 percent of disposable income of the 'young' is to service debt, personal or public, art will once again return to what people find beautiful - they will need that to lift their spirits.

    Pessimistic Prof? - Look at your water and electricity bills and think about where this is heading?

  12. I don't know, we can now with a GreenALPINDY government, spray money in all directions like drunken sailors, from GFC frivolity to getting the Ruddstir a seat at the UN for 2 years .. someone told me it doesn't mean he'll go live in NYC to do that, if that's correct, can we get our money back? We have soo much money now, and we're spending it faster than we can borrow more.

    It makes the Howard days seem so stingy, mind you we paid less tax then too, so less entertaining waste.

    When we do fund the artists, at least we know the welfare is actually doing something, like th eBlue painted trees proposal for Albert Park. Most welfare is waste, look at all the green schemes.

    Art is just another welfare recipient, and there are so many these days.

    You'd like it though if occasionally someone could say "thank you", to the weary taxpayer, source of all good times.

  13. You'll make a motza, Lizzie. The arts/luvvies crowd are full of batshit crazies!

  14. You're not wrong to tear into the Sunday Age prof... there's something about that paper that epitomises the snobbery, exclusion, faux intellectual pursuits, and ritualised sophistication that the Fairfax papers stand for.

    That article on the 10 must know artists was a stand out, but other articles stood out as well - the groundbreaking piece of cultural investigative journalism about that super-important subject: should bands do an encore or not?

    The 'Sunday Life' magazine is reliably ridiculous, as well, and yesterday had columnists swinging wildly between those two favoured topics: dieting, and indulgence. (They've virtually eliminated the verb 'eating' in that magazine; now eating is described as 'indulging'; I suppose a chocolate mud cake with triple cream and jam coating, and mousse topping, would be described as a 'plenary indulgence'). One columnist describes how you can judge every aspect of a potential male suitor by a dinner date. Another diet and exercise columnist starts of diplomatically by calling people who offer you cake 'saboteurs', though for the rest of the article mostly succeeds in concealing her judgmentalism beneath sly rhetorical questions with faux-psychological interpretations: 'maybe those offering you cake are overcompensating for their own feelings of guilt'? (Or maybe they're just BEING NICE?)

    One thing that pees me off about The Age is they seem to have marked the arts off as their own special territory; they decide what is cultural, when it gets to be called cultural, and the terms in which it is defined as cultural - but of course it's all in their own heads. Culture does not rely on The Age, or any other newspaper. Never has. The boofheads who write for that paper probably have no idea of the real cultural life of the Australian people outside their narrow sphere of definition, including arts festivals, galleries, and inner city bars, but not much else. they probably can't keep the illusion of sophistication up for much longer. Keep fighting the good fight, prof.

  15. The election will come when GFC MkII arrives like a tsunami, with the inevitable austerity measures, blood, toil, tears and sweat immediately in its wake. That is when Gillard will call the election, losing cheerfully in the knowledge that Tony Abbott will take the blame for all the pain that is to follow.

  16. While Paterson does a good enough job of identifying why the ABC is the way it is (a self-selecting cultural enclave), he is way too soft when denying that thay are partisan. It has been obvious for many years that they tend to only attack Labor on rare occasions and from a more left direction. They even go to the trouble of going negative Republicans way over in the US! Solidarity forever.
    But his solutions are too laissez-faire, and by his own admission can be reversed later, if in fact a cultural change was achieved by making them more self-funding. I believe in national public broadcasting and regret its hijacking, but am more inclined towards attempting cultural renovation than simply de-funding or selling off. The track record of commercial broadcasters here leaves much to be desired - they are just as likely to do a Cate-Fest as Rudd was.

  17. "A publicly supported artist is an incompetent whore."
    -- Robert A. Heinlein