I've just overheard, via Twitter, someone at a conference telling artists and/or the creative industries not to whinge about the impending cuts because, remember, necessity fosters creativity. Now, he might have been paraphrased inaccurately, or misquoted, but the truth is I've heard this so much recently that it hit a nerve for me in a rather clumsy-dentist kind of way. I was just about to start a rant on Twitter in response, but then realised that I would have to paraphrase the argument, clumsily, so much that it would not make sense.
So, here I am.
Do some people really think that artists are unaware that a lack of funding doesn't mean they can't be creative? How do they think artists get started? For the first few years of their careers most artists work for nothing. The biggest subsidisers of the arts are artists. And later into - probably throughout, in fact - their careers, most artists will do work they don't get paid for.
Rest assured - there is plenty of necessity in the creative process. Our imaginations always outstrip our budgets. We would all rather have more time on pretty much everything we do, more money to spend on materials, facilities, space. Great art comes from ideas and from craft. Both require time. Early in our careers artists are willing, and able, to put in lots of unpaid time - because we want to. Don't get me wrong - we really want to - being an artist is a great occupation. And an important one; but let's not get into the hospitals and schools argument here, suffice it to say I want to live in a world with free healthcare, free education and art - and I don't believe it's an either/or choice.
But another reason that we put a lot of hours (weeks, months) in for free is because we have the ambition that when we get into our 30s and 40s, and maybe have families, we will actually be able make a living making art. I got asked once, "So, is the goal to get onto TV?" No, the goal is to carry on doing it - just a bit more comfortably.
"Comfortably." The enemy of creativity? No. It doesn't help me make a show to be worrying about paying the rent for the home my children live in. It helps my creativity to know I've actually only got two weeks left to make the show, and I have a formal device and some text that I like individually but that don't seem to work together; that helps my creativity if I have time to think about it and work on it. That problem does not help me, though, if I am having to work another job at the same time as making a show.
When I wrote the post last year about VAT on art contributing more to the economy than the arts receive in subsidy, a few people told me that we shouldn't be fighting that fight - that we shouldn't recognise the argument. Art's job isn't to create income for the government or society. But I think that it is not so binary. I think the arguments are intertwined.
I believe art is essential. Culture is the way we communicate, the way we dream, the way we argue, as a society. Therefore I believe we should support it. Some art - because of its form - finds it easier to be self sustaining - because it is reproducible, for example. Some art doesn't. But all of it is important. Some art (and yes, I'm thinking specifically about live performance now, but it applies to other forms, too) becomes unaffordable to a large portion of the potential audience if the full cost of making and showing it (and telling people it is on) is passed on to the audience. That's not about whether it's any good or not. Live performance that is created for an audience of just a couple of hundred people a night, or fifty people a night, is not going to be affordable if the cost is divided between 200 or 50 each night. But that doesn't mean it shouldn't be being made. Quite the opposite in fact.
And so I want to live in a society where the funding of art from government is greater than the amount of tax that art gives back to the state. It's a principal, and for me, the two arguments are intertwined. Culture is essential. So it should be funded. Cut funding to it, and you cut it. There will be less of the art, less of the culture, that needs subsidy, in the next four years, because we, as a society, are giving it less money. So artists, with years of experience, expertise and insight, will stop being artists. Some younger artists who would have gone on to be great artists, to have created great work, will stop making art before we see those great pieces.
And I can't help but think that these cuts are being made by, and because of, people who can very comfortably afford non-subsidised culture. People who will not experience the damage they have done.
Rant, written in haste: over.
Crisis: just beginning.