Tuesday, December 20, 2005

The Great Arts Debate

Unlike a certain SAR-based blogger, I do appreciate the arts. This is understandable, since I'm a very cultured chap. I believe strongly that there is much to learn from the musical, operatic, literary, and visual greats.

What I object to, however, is the Government forcing me to pay for a bunch of lazy no-hopers to claim creativity without any hope of practising it. The Arts for the Dole Scheme is one of the most garbled failures, and most insidious symbols of government largesse. When the Government pays actors and painters to sit at home doing nothing, then they sit at home and do nothing.

Creativity, as I was telling an old-time professional actor friend of mine, stems from desire and personal necessity. As I was buying him lunch a few months ago, he was praising Aunty Helen for everything she has done for Aotearoa/New Zealand’s cultural movement. He then claimed that he was not interested in making money. He argued that he was not good at making money. He proposed that making money is just not good for society.

To wit, I responded: “Which of the great civilisations of history have ever contributed to world culture, except through economic dominance?”

“What?” he asked.

“Simple. Every great civilisation has created great cultural artefacts, by virtue of the fact that individuals have supported and patronised a great artist and encouraged that artist to be creative and productive, or else an artist has doggedly chosen to pursue a career by having that inner hunger—supported by nobody except their own determination to succeed. There is no other way to cultural success.”

“What about talent?” he countered.

”Yes, they’ve all had talent. But the successful artists have all worked their arses off to get there. They’ve had to understand their market. They battle on no matter what.”

Government-funded actor suggests that so much art would be lost if it wasn’t state-sponsored. I answer with: “Like what? That theatrical bullshit you come up with that nobody watches?”

Actor is hurt. I say to him: “Look, don’t take this personally. But the reason why your work is such utter shite is that you’re not hungry enough. You’re content with mediocrity. You don’t have to listen to your audience, or respond to what they want. You just do it anyway, because the State gives you a big whallop of cash for you to sit on your arse, so that it can feel good and pretentious about contributing my money to your idleness.”

Case in point is the TVNZ charter. For the last several years, the Government has paid TVNZ a special subsidy to promote New Zealand content on television. The result: outgoing CEO Ian Fraser says that New Zealand content is under threat, that there has been no noticeable increase in content capacity, that there has been no increased audience demand for local television, television revenue is falling, and, in a nutshell, TVNZ has simply absorbed the subsidy into its baselines. Money is thrown at New Zealand culture with no long-term positive effect. It is spent, simply because it is there, on mediocre television that nobody wants to watch.

This morning, I was walking past the Civic Centre. A cohort of skateboarders were doing funky things with their skateboards, outside one of Auckland’s premier cultural attractions. I stopped and chatted with them. “So what do you guys do?” I ask.

“We’re artists,” they answer.


Meanwhile, the Herald reports this morning that a family of buskers—extremely talented, albeit not particularly attractive young musicians—have been given a different treatment from local and government authorities. The story goes like this: two pianist ingĂ©nues, aged 14 and 20, have been slaving their guts out for the last six months, providing musical entertainment on Queen Street, playing some of the most difficult Rachmaninov and Chopin pieces, among many others in their repertoire, in order to raise money to send their gifted sister to ballet school in England.

The Sheffield family are not on the dole. They do not ride skateboards. They simply sit and ply their trade. And they do it exceptionally well. Their audience appreciates them. They show their appreciation by contributing directly to them.

I suspect that the Sheffield brothers do very well from their busking. A few months ago, I offered one of them a couple of hundred dollars to play at a client function we were holding in our boardroom for a couple of hours. He declined, on the basis that he would make more money playing the piano in rush hour.

Yet both the Council and the Police have tried several times to move these kids on. Why? Because they’re not state-sponsored. Aunty Helen—the great arts champion—does not support those who actually have a connection with their audience, and who tirelessly strive to make the most of their talent.

Instead, she’d much rather pay a group of skateboarders to claim creative merit outside the Civic Centre.

Stalin tried to silence Shostakovich, because he wouldn't follow the state-sanctioned cultural regime. The Sheffield brothers have Shostakovich--and very credibly so--in their repertoire. The Minister for Arts and Culture, and the Associate Minister for Auckland, who merrily swan their way through any media opportunity at chardonnay-swilling cultural gatherings, could do much to encourage the Sheffield brothers to continue to play for Auckland city-dwellers.

And then they might actually achieve something for Auckland's arts scene. And it won't cost a single taxpayer dollar.


libertyscott said...

You forget that Helen subsidising them buys their vote, and the vote of half of the people who like whatever they producer- then she convinces them they "can't live without" the state tit - they buy that lock stock and barrel, and then she has most of the arts in her back pocket, paid for by everyone else.

Mick said...


Where can we reach you to start a fund to take more artists to lunch.

The best show I ever heard was a baritone in Sutter Street in San Francisco. He had a tape deck with backing music and did not need a mike. He did requests of opera pieces and was doing the gigs to send him through his next year at Julliard in NY. I gave him money my wife would have otherwise eroded in her mentally deficient sport of shopping for shit we dont need. It was an investment in humanity. I listened, rapt for about half an hour. True talent, true guts, an experience of true worth. I got a deal.

Take the entire cast of TVNZ to MacDonalds, tell them what their true worth is.

Rob's Blockhead Blog said...


Must be somethign about San Fran. One of the best blues shows I've ever seen was by a couple of buskers near the cable car in central San Fran. These guys were good. I never thought I'd hear a better version of 'Hey Joe' than the Jimi Hendrix version but these guys pulled it off.

IP: I have a theory a lot of it is to do with snobbery. The modernist, and especially the post-modernist, movements...shit...I'm not going to put this in a comments box, I'll blog on it tonight.


Randominanity said...

"the successful artists have all worked their arses off to get there. They’ve had to understand their market. They battle on no matter what.”

Really ... Van Gogh sold bugger all when he was alive and died a relatively poor man. Yet he's regarded as a great artist.

Sometimes success is posthumous.

Insolent Prick said...

Van Gogh is a classic case in point: he slaved his life away for his creativity. He was prepared to sacrifice personal comfort to do what he wanted to do. He didn't rely on a state hand-out to become a great: he achieved it through self-sacrifice.

Which is the case of all human endeavours. The great achievers take personal responsibility for what they are doing.

Xavier said...

Maria von Trapp, as a trained pianist and singer, has some words about the alleged talent of the Queen St buskers...


Ed Snack said...

IP, taste is taste and there is no right answer, but I've listened to those buskers and they are, IMHO, ratshit. Perhaps if they tried some of the simpler pieces they would hit more than the occasional correct note.

You obviously hold a different opinion if you invited them to play at a function, but I must say if I had a shop and they played outside, I'd offer them significant money to move to my competitors location.

Cactus Kate said...

Where are you Prick?

Sort out your shit.

Anonymous said...

Actually I know the kids you are talking about, they have been a fixture on Queen Street for years now. In fact, I rang up and reported them to welfare authorities about 4 years ago when I noticed a very tired, very cold and very miserable looking little boy with his begging bowl out playing away on his keyboard at 10.30pm on a freezing winters Friday night in Queen Street.

After my complaint the kids disappeared for a bit, but returned some time later. I asked around my office and it emerged that I wasn't the only person who thought the time they spent on the sreets busking amounted to exploitation of a child and I wasn't the only one who had complained to the council/police/welfare organisations.

You might see a happy little capitalist busker. I saw child exploitation. Who is right? well lets just say it wasn't right wingers who outlawed happy and entrepreneurial child chimney sweeps.

Rob's Blockhead Blog said...

I've got to pull up the last poster on a couple of points:

Firstly,the chap who introduced the bill to outlaw chimney sweeps was Conservative politican and evangelical Christian Lord Shaftsbury.

Secondly, it's the height of hyperbole to compare a few hours singing in Queen Street to the hours, and the dangers, chimney sweeps, faced. Have a sense of proportion, for crying out loud.

Nichlemn said...

Even if this does greatly improve the artistic output in the country... why do I have to pay for it? What if I'm not interested in art? This is far different from any social security based thing such as education, health and welfare - it could never be called a "necessity". In fact it's more of a subsidy to the middle class and above who have enough time to appreciate it - and who do appreciate it in the first place.

And spare me the nationalist rhetoric. I really don't care if I'm listening to music that came from New Zealand or Scotland. In fact if I was, to be consistent I should demand Christchurch based music.

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