End government arts funding now!

So I proposed in my [review of Japanese Story](http://benhourigan.com/archives/2005/02/25/japanese-story/). [Adam Ford](http://www.labyrinth.net.au/~adamford/) [commented](http://benhourigan.com/archives/2005/02/25/japanese-story/#comment-85):

This is a joke, right?

No, Adam, it’s no joke. Here’s why I’d like to see an immediate end to government arts funding:

Taxation is a form of coercion (which under normal circumstances I view as always being wrong). The government uses the threat of force (eventual imprisonment if you don’t pay) to extort money from you. One may argue that taxation allows us to provide necessary services, and even socially beneficial services, but since the coercion is wrong the government should tax only when absolutely necessary, and as little as possible.

Art is a luxury. This doesn’t mean to say I’d want to live without it, but it’s not so absolutely necessary that the government should extort money from people to pay for it. The wrong involved in taxation, for me, outweighs the limited benefits of funding the arts.

Creative work should be for audiences, unless it’s just your own self-indulgent catharsis that you keep in a drawer/shed/etc. One of the good things about subjecting artists to market pressures is that it forces them to really think about what their audience wants. Some artists might want to do something crazy that most people will never enjoy or understand, or some piece of political propaganda or nation-building that a government body would be happier to fund than audiences would be to consume. Such artists don’t _have_ to rely on taxation to fund their life and work: James Joyce, for instance, enjoyed private patronage, and despite Bloomsday, I would classify _Ulysses_ as one of those crazy pieces of work that most people don’t get (I slogged through it, though, and actually enjoyed most of it). Even in a more populist vein, work that doesn’t have an obvious potential for commercialisation can still be funded by private patronage. This is what [Jason Kottke](http://www.kottke.org), who recently quit his job to blog full-time, [is banking on](http://www.kottke.org/05/02/kottke-micropatron).

If an artist can’t get audiences to fund their work, though, either by buying it or donating to it, they obviously have to find other ways of making a living, unless they’re a wealthy dilettante (man, I wish that was me—I’m just another tax-funded leech). Under no circumstances should creative workers imagine that they are entitled to this support from the government, nor that it has a duty to support us. I can’t blame anyone from taking the money that gets dished out (after all, I take my government scholarship): you’d be mad to turn it down, since if you do it’ll only go to someone less worthy and less principled. But this doesn’t mean that the money should get dished out in the first place. I once read a quote from Mark Twain where he advised aspiring authors to “write for three years, and if no-one pays you, give up,” or something to that effect. I think that’s good advice. Surely there are people out there who are wasting their time on artistic pursuits that they’re just no good at, and that no-one (not even hyper-sophisticated private patrons) is interested in. If they find working another job for a living robs them of the energy they need to create, then it can’t be helped. _Shôganai, ne,_ as they say in Japan.

Just to make things perfectly clear, it’s not just government arts funding that I’m opposed to. It’s funding for _all_ things that are clearly luxuries. That includes sports, public swimming pools and so on, street parties, Christmas decorations in the CBD, tourist information centres, museums, art galleries, and maybe, even, public libraries. Yes, public libraries. I am a mad, evil bastard.

It would break my heart to get rid of public libraries, but should I be driven to advocate their end, to be consistent? I think perhaps I should. I am confident that people would find ways to share books, probably using the internet and tools like [Delicious Library](http://www.delicious-monster.com/) or [BookCrossing](http://www.bookcrossing.com/) to build private book-sharing networks that aren’t built on a foundation of coercion.

End government arts funding now!

Author: Ben Hourigan

Ben Hourigan is a novelist from Melbourne, Australia. His books Kiss Me, Genius Boy and My Generation’s Lament are Amazon category bestsellers, and are available wherever good books are sold online. Ben also works as an editor, copywriter, and self-publishing consultant at his own firm, Hourigan & Co. For news and book release updates, sign up to his email newsletter.

  • Christian McCrea

    Well, dude, I think you’ve been getting your wish for the past ten years. Art funding has been cut every year across the board, across all fields, for a decade. ACMI, while flashy, was a way to cut several departments into one place.

    I have several points of disagreement.

    – You’ve already got what you wanted.
    – Art is not a luxury, it is a necessity.
    – Art can make the government lots of money. Plenty, in fact. The Dutch fund million-dollar programs for the poor through smart gallery sales.
    – Art funding is negligible. Very few, if any, artists live off the government. (Well, excluding the dole, I suppose.)
    – I think there’s places to go before arts funding, such as government dinners and fact-finding missions.
    – “Creative work should be for audiences” – this, by the way, is why many international art critics say is wrong with Austrlian art, and why we don’t make more money from it.
    – When there is a successful Australian artist, everybody benefits from their sales, which go not only to the artist, but local curatorial groups, galleries, which fund more exhibits. In fact, many art bodies are completely self-sufficient already.
    – The philosophy of low taxation has never once worked anyway, but when arts funding has been cut with this reason (to mind, Italy in the late 40s, England in the early 80s, across central europe in the middle of the 90s), nobody benefitted, and the government found it invariably cost them more money. If the art scene dissapears overseas, you’ve got a lot more problems than empty galleries. I suggest looking at some innovative government funding models for the arts – for example, Brazil (whose economy is totally fucked) heavily fund exhibitions and events, not artists, taking the pressure off artists for costs. So an artist can tax-deduct materials and show for almost nothing. The boom has meant millions more are buying art, and thousands more are making it. Is it all good art? Shit no, but it is *all good*.
    – Dude, c’mon.

    You ain’t no conservative yet, my man!

    I do think that those involved in the production of the highly racist and intellectually demoralising Japanese Story need a devastating kick to the solar plexus.

  • I think we’ll have to agree to disagree on some of those points.
    * Art is not a necessity the way freedom from coercion is a necessity.
    * Even if the government and other people make money from arts funding, it doesn’t change that fact that the funding was obtained by coercion. Liberal economists like Friedrich von Hayek, Ludwig von Mises, and Milton Friedman would probably argue that in any case the net effect of taxation is negative: that a centralised authority taking money from some sections of the economy to others doesn’t have the local knowledge of people’s needs that individual actors do, and that as a result the allocation of resources becomes less efficient and the entire economy is either stifled or contracts.

    But I can agree on others:

    * I’m getting more of what I want than I might be. Having said this we still seem to spend an awful lot of public money on sport, which is just as much a luxury as art (and with less redeeming features).
    * Tax deducting art materials is only fair. I don’t believe in taxes anyway, so why not?

    Remaining points of possible contention:
    * I’m not sure what the spin is on the international critics saying our art being for audiences is what diminishes its earning capacity. I dare say that the critics have got it wrong: buyers are an audience, and if they want un-populist art that looks like it wasn’t designed for an audience, then artists can make such art, while chuckling inwardly at the irony and counting the loot. Or they can just do their own ideosyncratic thing and count their lucky stars that the money still rolls in because their self-indulgent experimentation coincides exactly with what the buyers want.
    * Is all art good? I venture to say not. One deleterious effect of bad art is that it makes us put in more effort to sort out what we should spend our time consuming from what we shouldn’t waste our time on. It’s like spam. Fortunately us cutting-edge geeks have wonderful electronic tools to help us do the sorting.

    My objections to arts funding are also about the proper scope of government: I just think it shouldn’t be involved in anything it can avoid. That’s for everyone’s benefit, since even when the government tries to help, the power it wields has a kind of gravitational force that warps everything around it. This isn’t me being a conservative. If anything, it’s me being a (minarchist) libertarian, and that’s just a step away from the anarchist position I used to hold.

    If we team up, we can give those involved in the production of _Japanese Story_ *two* devastating kicks to the solar plexus. Each. Anyone who wants to join the raiding party is also welcome.

  • Christian McCrea

    I don’t agree to that!

    “Art is not a necessity the way freedom from coercion is a necessity.”

    I’m not so sure. Well, neither art or freedom from coercion are valued very highly at the moment in our society. I’d say that one increases the likelihood of the other.

    “My objections to arts funding are also about the proper scope of government.” It sounds like this is really what you are talking about, the central nub of your argumentation. I don’t really agree about taxation; my philosophy is that where capital gathers, the state should apportion appropriately, because it is under the state that the capital has been allowed to gather. So corporations and companies should be taxed first, and individuals second, proportionally lower the less they have. Since no-one has ever actually tried this method, I’ll think I’ll bow out of economic arguments. People who struggle to feed themselves should be taxed lowly or not at all, while a uranium mine should have its rights strangled, its ability to defend itself against slander destroyed, and as much wealth as possible drained from its coffers to secure the public good. This is my utopian fascist state.

    Frankly, and I mean this in a challenging-but-not-aggressive way, it doesn’t sound like you’ve seen a lot of local art. It is constantly about the audience response – that is the entire milieu of contemporary art; there is precious little dealing with formal or aesthetic issues – in fact, I’d be hard pressed to think of any art in the past 20 years that does. And please don’t bring up ‘art for art’s sake’, we’re both smarter than that.

    Bad art is an interesting one, but I almost kicked you in the solar plexus (though not devastatingly) when you compared art to our cutting-edge geek tools. I didn’t want to ask, but since we’re here – “what is it that you think art does?” Bad art is not cultural spam anymore than a badly written book is spam, or a crap band is spam. Bad art is always needed and always has been, because as Beavis and Butthead said, “if everything was cool, how would you know what sucked?”. You realise you’re arguing for the installation of the Patriot’s GW engine into the art scene? I say let a thousand flowers bloom. The only way you get to sort the good from the bad is to spend time with both, and know the context. For me, good art is that which struggles to define something that was previously obvious – as it always has been. Today good art is political art, aesthetically hopeful art, deviant art – because the context is a politicised, degenerate and homogenising culture. That is not to say ‘resistance’, but simply ‘Art’ – a pause, a break, a friction.

    Some of the most popular artists are utter shite; stencil art by well-funded unkicked solar plexus types sells tremendously while interesting formal developments in new media struggle and struggle. Government funding allows experimentation in these new media, often not through cash prizes, but by bodies that loan equipment, subsidise production in government facilities and increasing competition at the gallery level.

    In an otherwise crap exhibition, I saw a piece that effectively rebutted Keith Windschuttle’s claims about Australian history. This was bad art made good by context. Perhaps we should also cut government funding of academics if they ‘do nothing’ for the community?

  • myst

    I’ll have to say that being the ‘typical’ arts student I am, I have to disagree with cutting off the govt funding for the arts.

    I’d also like to point out that Asia’s daughters you have dated (from what you’ve told me) certainly aren’t the “typical” daughters of Asia. Far too hybrid, although whether there is a pure asian or Asia for that matter, and in fact, whether there really is a point in trying to segment them as such is another question altogether.

  • Free Trade Crusader

    This is just a short post, but the other day I was talking to a friend about Government arts funding and he insisted that the arts had to be funded by Government, primarily because it is unsustainable if it is open to market forces.

    I made a simple point that the arts is only unsustainable when open to market forces if artists produce stuff that people do not want. Everything is unsustainable if people do not want it without Government prop ups. He then pointed out that attendance at many arts events is low and that is why it needs Government funding, I then simply pointed out again that if attendance is low it is becuase people are not producing stuff people want. Believe it or not most people are prepared to pay for things if they have a sense of value, but we, in the process of funding the arts with Government money, effectively attach no value to art.

    If you want the arts to thrive and prosper you need to engage people on the basis of their interest, not based on how fat the Government cheque is … and don’t even start me on ranting about how it is very convenient how Government funding for the arts always seems to go predominantly to socialists and pushing agendas that suit socialists how then build a dependency and special interest in ensuring socialist governments to continue funding their arts projects!!!

  • No need to reply to Free Trade Crusader, since we’ve already talked to each other plenty about these things in RL, and we agree. Thanks for the back-up, dude.

    myst/uncunninglinguist, I’m putting my comment to you re: Japanese story back under the Japanese Story post.

    Back to Christian’s comments. You’re absolutely right that what I’m really talking about is the proper scope of government. I could get stuck into sports funding, but most of the people I know think sporting culture is a complete waste of time, so it doesn’t make for very interesting discussion. I’m not against art, even art that I don’t like, but just because we love something or think it’s valuable doesn’t mean that it’s permissible to involve the state in fostering it.

    I wonder who is either valuing or not valuing freedom from coercion or art in our society? I imagine that everyone likes some kind of art, even if it’s just television or popular music. Similarly, I imagine that everyone takes for granted and appreciates their own freedom from coercion, but when they see others doing things they merely don’t like (not things that harm others), they’re not generous or intelligent enough to see that they ought to let others be free as well. I agree with you though, that art has a tendency to inspire people to value freedom. However, I think it’s noteworthy that the most powerful work for me, in this respect, is Ursula Le Guin’s _The Dispossessed,_ which introduced me to anarchism. Despite favouring anarcho-communist property relations over anarcho-capitalist (extreme libertarian) ones, _The Dispossessed_ came from an author who was at least popular enough not to need government funding. Strike up another mark on the tally of commercially successful, freedom-loving authors with Robert Heinlein. The list, no doubt, goes on. So do we need government arts funding to ensure freedom is promoted? Absolutely not.

    As for taxation, well, the pseudo-liberal state that Australia is has as its primary aims to protect the rights of its citizens to be free from others’ use of force against them, to own property, and not to be stolen from or defrauded. Beyond that, interventionist politicians have expanded the scope of government to further regulate personal and economic activity. Sure, capital has been “allowed” to gather and it requires protection of property rights for this to occur, but why should the government prevent it? It does so naturally when one leaves the economy alone. It doesn’t help everyone, but it doesn’t _harm_ many people either (and when it does, this isn’t a problem with capitalism, it’s the ethical responsibility of the people who caused the harm). Problems begin when the state intervenes to _help_ capital gather or stop it from dispersing, as when the Australian government legislated to keep competitors to existing networks out of digital television, or when it offers tax breaks or subsidies to lure investment to an area. This is unfair, and it advantages businesses at the expense of income-tax- and GST-payers. I’m not entirely sure whether we have a positive moral obligation to help the poor or projects of public benefit, but if we do, it falls on individuals, and not on the state. I’m quite happy to give $5 to a beggar on the street, especially if he tells me straight up, as one guy did, that he’s going “to buy some cheap booze,” or to give $10 to “Wikipedia”:http://en.wikipedia.org, but I resent it if the government makes such choices for me, even if they also give the money to boozehounds and online encyclopedias.

    As for local art, you’re wrong in one way, and right in another.

    Here’s where you’re wrong:

    Both my parents are visual artists. For a while they made their money teaching at secondary schools. Mum’s done visual art in various media my whole life, and sold some of it. She’s worked as an illustrator, too, recently doing a project for the National Trust, which as far as I know is her only government-funded gig ever, aside from teaching. Dad focused more concertedly on trying to make money, by printing and selling cards, t-shirts, and teatowels featuring his and Mum’s work, after he had to quit teaching because his improperly-ventilated, government-run workplace (a state secondary school) made him permanently unable to expose himself to the glazes and wood-dust that came with his teaching practice. Even before that, he used to make money on the side of his teaching selling bromeliads and woodwork. My parents mostly live on Dad’s government superannuation now, though in the private sector, Dad would have sued the cunts who ignored his warnings about the poor conditions. Even my maternal grandmother ended her life as an accomplished painter in oils, though she never made it a profession.

    I’ve been to plenty of galleries in my life, mostly around the Mornington Peninsula, where I grew up, but also to some in the inner city. I lived with a fine art student (actually, that’s “Free Trade Crusader”:http://benhourigan.com/archives/2005/02/28/end-government-arts-funding/#comment-93) from my high school for two years, and got to know some of his fellow students pretty well. One of them, “Dave Blumenstein”:http://www.nakedfella.com, does independent comics and animated films when he’s not being underpaid by a place he does freelance illustrating for. Others are highly competent painters. “One”:http://littleblue.mindsay.com/ can sell her work easily, but doesn’t pursue sales opportunities because she doesn’t want to become “too commercial,” which saddens me, because it robs her of opportunities to put her art in public places. Another sold out most of his first independent show, in the back of a café in Melbourne’s south, where one of the most popular features was a series of Magritte-esque paintings of famous literary monsters (Frankenstein, etc.) I’ve visited the home studio of a guy who made a small fortune in the 1990s selling airbrush pictures of boats and seascapes (which I honestly find crushingly banal). I could go on and on… Few of these people have ever taken a direct government subsidy, but many would have sold their work to institutions receiving public funding (such as the Medicine faculty at Melbourne Uni).

    So you’re mostly wrong.

    Here’s where you’re right:

    I don’t frequent the gallery scene in the immediate north of the city. Frankly, if it’s anything most people teaching English or Cultural Studies at Melbourne Uni profess to like, I’m sure I’d hate it. Self-aware, “theoretically informed” installations usually bore me even before I read the nonsense written on their plaque. Even when people I know and like do that kind of stuff I hate it. Digital artists like Anne-Marie Schleiner (I know they’re not all like her), and half the people at DAC, and at the Independent Game Developers’ conference in Melbourne last year, just plain shit me. I can forgive someone any amount of bullshitting if their work is just mind-blowingly awesome, as I think Noah Wardrup-Fruin’s is.

    I still disagree with you that bad art isn’t like spam. I’m ambivalent about the proliferation of cultural production in the late 20th century, even though I’m a part of it. I suppose it’s because I am a culture worker, and my job is to sift through the stuff, but I feel very fatigued by the sheer amount. My geek tools help me a lot to do this work, and I’m really grateful. There’s no need to suggest applying the GW engine to the cultural sphere: _we_ are our own GW engine, or Google is our GW engine, or the blogosphere is, or our friends are. (For those who haven’t played _Metal Gear Solid 2_ all the way through, I’m sorry, I can’t be bothered explaining).

    Yes, we should start cutting academics’ funding if they do nothing for the community. Even if they do something, we should still find ways to fund it privately if we can. Hell, _we_ could even donate some of our _own_ money. Do you value your discipline enough to do it? Unfortunately, I don’t. Even so, humanities academics should try to publish more work in the popular press, and get money that way. Why are so many humanities books only found in university libraries? I’m sure most of us could do better work, that people outside university would want to buy and read, if we tried. I know people who don’t think this is a valuable enterprise, that it’s too populist. Well why the hell should anyone pay for people to do work that they themselves are willing to describe as something they do purely for themselves?

  • Christian McCrea

    Well, I have to write a lecture today, but I did read everything you said, and this has been a good discussion. I’ve never seen free market enterprise help the arts, you have and that speaks of different experiences. Neither do I know any artists who’ve ever got government funding.

    What I do see are the people I see exhibit struggle to pay the rent even though they do accessible work, because the government currently gives grants to artists that promote a positive vision of Australia.

    I don’t think the current system works, but I’ve seen the system you suggest fail before. Art has changed tremendously, and a system of open patronage just wouldn’t cut it.

    The whole argument of ‘if artists were really good, they’d be able to support themselves’ is arguing with a catagory error. The conflation between art the commodity market is one we’re happy to assume, but considering none of us are artists, art workers, curators, we are speaking out of our collective arses, because we know fuck all about the systems we are critiquing.

    Generally, though, many artists feel their work is comprimised if they have to engage with commercial forces too much. These people are already up shit creek without a paddle.

    My solution, and one that the video arts seems to have cottoned onto, is the working of small government agencies that own production equipment, and artists can share public resources, such as education, studio space, cameras, print rooms, etc – all at low costs. This costs the government far less money, keeps it liquid, open to members of the public, benefits the artists themselves, and often the community area. North carlton’s primary schools are regularly decorated for free by artist groups working with the kids, for example. A friend runs an artist work-for-the-dole scheme where young jobseekers make public murals outside parks and public commons to make connections, get skills and push back their energy into the community. These programs, decades old in some circumstances, are a good example how arts funding can be kept low and broadly benefit communities. The government can own radio transmitters and get community non-profit tenders so that people gain skills they need to work in public radio – but also provide a valuable community service.

    In closing, I think this argument treads very close to left/right finger-pointing if we’re not careful, so if I call you a cunt, know that I still love you at the end of the day.

    Free Trade Consumer – Economist rationalism isn’t an ideology that is terribly suited to the visual arts, but socialism has a visual and aesthetic history, so don’t be surprised by the connection. The phrase ‘socialist governments’ made me giggle.

  • Christian:

    bq. if I call you a cunt, know that I still love you at the end of the day.

    That’s exactly the kind of sentiment I wish I saw more of. My father often used to tell me, when I was a kid, the story about how Saladin and Richard III (the Lionheart) used to respect and admire each other despite being on opposite sides of the relevant Crusade. Evidently it made an impression on me.

    And with that, I think you and I can wrap it up.

    Anyone else?

  • Christian McCrea

    See all the fighting on CSAA? Once people get their heads around affective logical argument, (I mean where an illusion of logic is set up, fuelled by affective economies), I really believe contemporary conservatism is fucked. Because the conservative thinkers that see the public eye are woefully driven by affective economies, the emporer tearing off what little he has left on. Both sides of political discussion in this country have slid down the intellectual scale in the last ten years. It has hurt the left a lot more, I think, but nobody has really gained.

    So I for one am glad you’ve joined the Liberal party, I think you could probably do them some good if you keep your head. I agree with you about low taxation in principle, but disagree in execution. I disagree with you about arts funding because I see culture in a different way, and yet we probably agree on ways to fix it.

    The left now is trying to get its head around deep ideological failures that are manifesting in not a jot of proper political representation, save for local councils.

    Neither political economy thinks it has anything to gain by making gestures to the other side at the moment, which is fucking us up. I said in my anti-Bolt rant that the first thing the left should do is consider if and when Bolt may have said something useful. Because it happens. He once demanded an intellectual (Catherine Lumby, I think) be *more* critical of the Howard Government.

    I think aggressive gestures and affective logic are the root of the problem, and when we identify it in each other and political opponents, we should be careful in how we respond. Any cyclical movement can be dispersed with counter-motion.

    Hence my focus on a ‘Saccharin Metric’, gestures of sweetness.

  • Playing _World of Warcraft_ at the moment, but you’ve got the wrong party. I didn’t join the *Liberal Party*, I joined the *Liberal Democratic Party*. To avoid such confusion, I’m hoping I can convince them to change their name to *the Libertarian Party*.

  • Free Trade Crusader

    Another short post, but felt it needed to be noted, my feeling is that much of the debate is fixated on a world we live in now rather than the world of possibility we would have if we had reduced Government control and influence over our lives.

    When I, at least, talk about reducing Government people are normally horrified about the fact that all the money that Government currently spends will disappear when it fact it does not, it gets redirected and used for other purposes. A friend of mine wrote a book called “Seize the Future” (about how Australia can prosper in the 21st century) and made the very simple point that in the second half of the 20th century Australia subsidised many of its industries to maintain their competitiveness and in the process redirected capital from efficient activities to inefficient ones. If you remove the money to the inefficient ones they may not survive, but the capital does not disappear, it just gets redirected to another enterprise that will deliver a better return and in the process probably contribute to increasing the pie. This could seem like an attack on firms and individuals funding the arts as there is no significant financial return, not so.

    If Government stops funding the arts, the arts will not fall over, it will just require private sector and support from individuals to continue, noting that both should have more available capital because they will not be funding Government to do things like funding the arts and in fact will probably have more money for such activities because the cost of funding the bureaucrats to administer arts funding will also be removed. It will also require, more importantly, artists produce quality artwork. We went through this debate during the passage of the Australia US FTA. Despite the fact that the debate was more a big lie run by groups like the Australian Film Commission re local content laws which have not been undermined, though I am close to believing they should have been, local content laws wouldn’t actually be necessary if what was produced in Australia was of value to consumers. Instead we subsidise television heavily, they produce crap (which is frustrating with my taxpayer dollars) and then … then we are forced to watch their crap. This debate is actually more complex than this, I recognise this. However so much of the problems related to television production and its cost in comparison to US produced television (and in the process why US television is cheaper) is because the audio visual sector has always fought against being open to market forces to their detriment. By excluding themselves from trade agreements under the WTO the Australian audio visual industry is unable to claim ‘dumping’ (the process where a product is sold cheaper in one market than it costs to produce and is sold in another market) for US based tv programs that are effectively dumped in Australia making Australia’s audio visual sector uncompetitive. If the audio visual sector actually allowed itself to be covered by WTO agreements the cost of selling US television to Australian broadcasters would have to reflect the production cost, not the syndicated cost, and in the process would lift the cost of the product substantially and make Australia’s audio visual sector so much more competitive and would neither need Government subsidies or local content laws, unless what they continued to produce was crap.

    At the end of the day people actually like art, they like it a lot, when you consider how much art is a part of our lives, thinking outside of sculpture and paintings, people watch tv, go see movies, go to exhibitions and enjoy architecture all the time. People will pay for it when their finances are liberated from the cost of Government.

    As Ben H noted I am a former Fine Arts (Painting) Student myself, though it should be noted that involuntarily I received a Government subsidy to study that under the way higher education is funded. However I feel strongly that Government subsidies for the arts actually strongly undermines the arts, both by discouraging individuals to be engaged, encouraging artists to produce what they want and not what people want and by simply saying that without our support what you produce is of no worth to anyone, which is not the case. As a proud owner of two Dedic paintings they bring me great joy, but their worth and value to me is significant because of the joy they bring and did not need to be funded by Government to be produced, it was because I, as a consumer, liked them.

    Ok, maybe not such a short post ;-)

  • Free Trade Crusader

    BTW Ben H, the official title for the Liberal Party is not the “Liberal Party” it is actually “The Liberal Party of Australia” and since you are Victorian based should be more correctly noted as “The Liberal Party of Australia (Victorian Division)” as the Liberal Party is actually a decentralised political party built on State branches who have all the power with only a Federal Division responsible for running the macro component of Federal Election campaigns.

  • Darshana

    I agree with Walter Benjamin that the form of art in the past is different from that of today, and will likely be different in the future. Economically speaking, government funding is a modern phenomenon, if we compare it to the patronage systems of the medievals (something similar was advocated here I think, only under the assumption that private enterprise would fill the church’s role) or the religious and historicising functions of artists among the Greeks, we can see that current models are just that: current, not eternal or unchangeable.

    That said, I think your analysis of the function of government in terms of ‘intervention’ in some state of affairs external to it is a bit too neat. Governments don’t just intervene – that is executive power – they also regulate through other branches. They can be very important in retarding the formation of oligarchies that belie the formulation of capital as a neutral medium of exchange.

    Certain groups need voice – such as art – more than others. These tend to be sections of the community who don’t have much capital, as rich groups often have other means of influencing the public agenda (groups who may have legitimate need for governmental assistance range from ethnic or other marginalised groups within Australia, to the Australian context measured as a whole against the export muscle of the US or Europe). Until this changes (and it will, and for the better if we do it right!), in my opinion government funding for the arts retains an important place.

  • I agree with you that the form of art has changed and will change. That’s why I don’t worry too much about what would happen if public arts funding disappeared. I get the impression that some people think there would be no art without public funding, but there’s no cause for alarm: some people have such a drive to produce art that they would continue to do so in any circumstances.

    Perhaps my analysis of the function of government is too neat, but when you posit “regulation” as a non-executive use of state power, well, isn’t that intervention, too. I don’t like oligarchies any more than I imagine you do, but if the state can’t retard their formation without infringing individuals’ equal freedoms, then I’d rather resign myself to oligarchy.

    On the last point, I have to disagree with you absolutely. The very idea that the state should be an advocate or helper of some groups, be they disadvantaged or not, is precisely one of the problems with socialism, broadly defined. The liberal idea of the just scope of government is that it should provide only the most basic frameworks a society and economy needs to flourish (individual freedom and property rights), and frame all its edicts in purely negaitve terms. There may be prohibitions from doing harm, but no compulsions to do good. By taxing people and then spending their money on giving certain groups a voice, a government breaks out of its just scope.

    How are we to decide which group needs a voice? One person may feel that immigrants need more of a say, another may think the disabled do, another heterosexual white men, another ultra-nationalists. Allowing the government to involve itself in bestowing favours on particular groups whom our representatives and public service deem to be in need of them encourages everyone to jockey for control of the state to use it to fulfil their ambitions and force their will upon others who don’t share their goals. This, indeed, is the present situation. I vastly prefer the idea of a government restricted to the provision of basic law and order, which is constitutionally forbidden from handing out favours and which no one group could take control of to use or misuse.

  • Darshana

    I’m uncertain how you conflate intervention and regulation on one hand while promoting governmental ‘provision of basic law and order’ on the other. I certianly don’t think that jockeying over the means of production is essentially better than jockeying over control of the state. You could argue for cutting out the middleman, but the private sector is hardly renowned for its efficiency, frugality or astute distribution of material resources. Anything can be used or misused, I don’t see that as a particularly compelling argument against its existence as such.

    Anyway, it’s certain that our premises are far too divergent for anything to come out over this medium. Perhaps we can discuss political economy at another date. As far as art goes, yes, it has survived far harsher environments than an Australia without government funding. I’m not worried about institutionalised art so much as that of people who have far fewer avenues than most. If you think it will all come out in the wash of laissez-faire exchange, good luck to you. I think some people start behind the starting line, and others aren’t even running the same *race*.

    Hope things are well with you! See you around.

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  • “How are we to decide which group needs a voice? One person may feel that immigrants need more of a say, another may think the disabled do, another heterosexual white men, another ultra-nationalists. Allowing the government to involve itself in bestowing favours on particular groups whom our representatives and public service deem to be in need of them encourages everyone to jockey for control of the state to use it to fulfil their ambitions and force their will upon others who don’t share their goals.”

    (comes with previous love-you-anyway proviso)

    Good lord, Ben. The whole premise of redress is vital to the sustinence of civilisation – to produce a system which redresses in one of the only positive reasons we can say a government exists. It is absurd to suggest that this ‘jockeying’ for control of the state isn’t a positive force for the formation of cultural voice for people whose rights are less than others – Those for whom there needs to be a form of redress, if equality is a goal of the governing force over a people. Working out how to divide what little money the government gives to the arts is a vital and sometimes fraught process, but it gets done, not always effectively or fairly, but the alternative, to end Arts funding now, does nothing at all to further the stated goals of equality and non-interference in people’s liberties. Arts funding helps to redress inequalities that already exist – to give a voice to aboriginal artists over white male middle class artists – to redress an inequality. To take it away is to further return to a state of interference and inequality.

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  • Band_Geek

    i’d have to entirely disagree with you. art gives kids all across America a chance to express themselves in positives ways instead of with a spray paint can on the side of a building. music has been benefitial to my life in many ways, through band i have met many friends whom i can depend on and who i know are responsible and reliable. in marching band, we have practice that lasts a few hours after school, thus keeping kids off the streets and out of trouble. when it comes down to it, it’s not about if we have enough money or not, it’s about my future. it’s about all kids’ future, if you wanna screw us over go ahead and take away what most of us live for. take away our goals to be great musicians that are known across the world. or possibly artists who’s work is recognized for many years to come. Maybe i’m in over my head on this, but i know i’d rather die than live in a world where music isn’t avialable to all kids across the united states.

  • Sorry, Band_Geek, but what exactly are you disagreeing with? There have been a lot of points put forward in this discussion, but the main one I’ve been espousing is just that government shouldn’t fund the arts.

    In no way would this bring about a world “where music isn’t available to all kids across the United States.” I’d hate to see that as much as you would. The USA is founded on private enterprise, and the reason that music is available to kids is because of the music _industry,_ not because of government funding.

    People can and will make, distribute, and sell art without government funding. That’s precisely why there’s no need for our taxes to subsidise the arts.

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