Culture is one of the most important fields in the struggle for a more democratic, egalitarian and free society. If the changes currently proposed to this field by the Polish authorities are not subject to a wide social debate, consultation and criticism, they will bring catastrophic results for both the producers of culture and society as a whole. Culture should be perceived as a public good, not a privilege for a selected group of citizens. The dangers embedded in the governmental proposals for reforms in the domain of culture have already been discussed by artists, theorists, cultural and social activists. All agree that culture is a very specific field of production, and that it would be endangered by an exclusively market-oriented strategy of organizing it.
WHAT ARE WE AGAINST?
Against bureaucrats and economists governing the domain of culture
The economists tend to misunderstand the distinctive character of culture as a domain of the common social life of the multiplicity of people and their activities. They employ the same theoretical tools to speak about culture as they would to growing potatoes or manufacturing vacuum cleaners. Culture is not subject to the simple calculations of investments and profits. A much more appropriate set of descriptive tools might be provided by concepts such as potlatch, carnival, excess, transgression or generosity. Terms apparently unknown to economists, who not only would not understand them, but tend to seriously misunderstand their power. At this very moment the same hedge fund management and financial specialists, who in the current financial crisis have proven their incompetence, short-sightedness, arrogance, self-interest and greed, are beginning to „reform” and „restructure” another domain: culture.
Against the commercialization of culture
The application the laws of supply and demand combined with an introduction of concepts such as „market value” into the sphere of culture will certainly have a negative impact on its quality. In our opinion Jenny Holzer’s slogan “Protect Me from What I Want” undoubtedly constitutes a better principle for culture than „free” market values. For the development of democracy, equality an open access to culture is crucial. It provides the society with tools to transform itself and encourages participation in politics too. The ‘free’ market restricts these forms of participation to the economically privileged. We will not hand over our power of collective cultural decision making to finance. We shall not let money be the ultimate condition of the development of culture and society.
“Art now is no longer just an intellectual safari for philosophers but also a political safari for politicians and the local administration. It seems that rather than working on the base level the politicians of today would prefer to »work on the superstructure,« where the outcome is faster and easier to take advantage of in the media, even if it is a wave of protests. This is how one can make a name for oneself as a politician who is unafraid of controversies—a mark of real courage in politics. Fragmented and weak, the Berlin community of artists, curators, and directors of institutions failed to face up to the cynical policy effectively. As usual, it is depoliticized culture that falls prey to those who are more efficient in playing the game of power. Made into individuals, by the art world and by themselves, artists did not create a pressure group capable of resisting the manipulation. Those artists who have often been critical of capitalism, the heralds of the critique of the system, have lost the argument because, paradoxical as it is, they have yielded to the logic of neoliberal exploitation. They are not a politically oriented collective, but a dispersed network of individuals, a host of smaller individual groups that cater to their own economic or symbolic interests rather than to the interest of all »art workers.”
Clair Bishop argues that the cuts to culture cannot be seen as separate from an assault on welfare, education, and social equality “The rhetoric of an “age of austerity” is being used as a cloak for the privatization of all public services and a reinstatement of class privilege: a sad retreat from the most civilized Keynesian initiatives of the post-war period, in which education, healthcare, and culture were understood to be a democratic right freely available to all.
Bishop explains how Thatcher enforced a populist, profit-making model, how New Labour also viewed culture as an economic generator, while recognizing the role of creativity and culture in commerce. The age of “creative economy” and “knowledge economy” has started.
The slogan was “everyone is creative,” presenting the government’s mission as one that aims to “free the creative potential of individuals.”
“However, it is important to recognize that this aim of unleashing creativity was not designed to foster greater social happiness, the authentic realization of human potential, or the utopian imagination of alternatives, but rather to accelerate the processes of neoliberalism.” -…-
“It became important to develop creativity in schools, not so that everyone could be an artist (as Joseph Beuys declared), but because the population is increasingly required to assume the individualization associated with creativity: to be entrepreneurial, embrace risk, look after their own self-interest, be their own brands, and be free of dependence on the state.”
One of the Arts Council’s new goals is to promote private philanthropy—“a new culture of voluntarism, philanthropy, social action.” She argues on how experimental projects rarely receive support, while private sponsorship encourages self-censorship and the triumph of market imperatives.
The new moto is: Sacrifice=Volontear
Bishop explains the shift in education towards the shrinking of Arts and Humanities and the sponsoring of un-political, market oriented research. (Just see also what Phds are sponsored in Switzerland!)
“Under neoliberalism, the university is no longer tied to the production of culture and moral values, but to the profit motive (or what has been called “academic capitalism”)”
Now it is the free market that will organize education.
Bishop argues on the fact that those who support the cuts in the arts they say that in this crisis arts are a luxury. She argues on how this “actually creates and perpetuates this lie: without public subsidies, culture and the humanities are actually transformed from human necessities into luxuries, becoming the preserve of a wealthy few. The fight against cuts to arts and humanities funding is not a question of defending a luxury, but should be seen as part of a broader opposition to the destruction of the welfare state and the whole principle of austerity measures in general, in which the working and lower middle classes have to bear the brunt of the bank bailout to sustain the status quo. The “age of austerity” is only a screen for the further dismantlement all public services in the UK (from the NHS to free education to public funding for the arts), the most civilized of Britain’s accomplishments in the twentieth century. The end of public funding is the end of the public sphere, our most progressive institutions, and their commitment to non-commercial activity as a good in its own right”.
“DESTE’s Project Space on the island of Hydra was inaugurated with Blood of Two, a joint performance and exhibition by Matthew Barney & Elizabeth Peyton. The components of the installation were realized together on-site and were exhibited afterwards as one work.” (June 2009)
“They’re going to bring it up now,” said Gavin Brown director Corinna Durland, declining to say what “it” might be. “It’s been down there for two months.” After an indeterminate pause, we could see one diver pulling on a rope attached to a winch on the boat. (…) Eventually, what looked like a table emerged from the water and was placed on the boat, which then put into shore. Ten Greek laborers in T-shirts and jeans roped the table –actually a bronze display case weighing 750 pounds– as if it were a calf and lifted it onto land, hauling it up a zigzagging stone staircase to the road. (…) Two of the men appeared carrying a smallish dead shark (a dogfish) and placed it on top.(…) With the glass removed, the drawings became more legible as they dried. By evening, when Joannou’s organization set a single long table for three hundred in the road above the slaughterhouse, they took on a beautiful glow. Dinner went on for a few hours as the shark roasted on a spit till the flesh fell from its bones. (Artforum, 2009)
“Dakis, nobody does it better. Big applause.”
“Στις 15 Ιουνίου 2009, στις 6 η ώρα το πρωί, μαζεμένοι όλοι οι σημαντικοί άνθρωποι του κόσμου των τεχνών από όλο τον κόσμο, παρακολούθησαν την “τελετή” performance της ανέλκυσης ενός κουτιού από τον βυθό της θάλασσας, το οποίο είχε σχεδιάσει και τοποθετήσει ο Matthew Barney στην θάλασσα του Αιγαίου. ” Επάνω στο κουτί υπήρχε ένας καρχαρίας. Με το άνοιγμα του κουτιού αποκαλύφθηκαν τα ιδιαίτερα σχέδια που περιείχε, που είχαν γίνει από κοινού από την Elisabeth Peyton και τον Matthew Barney. “Ο καρχαρίας ψήθηκε μέχρι τέλους ώσπου εξαϋλώθηκε, αλλά τελικά δεν αποτέλεσε μενού για το φαγητό όλων αυτών που το ίδρυμα ΔΕΣΤΕ είχε καλέσει σε ένα μεγάλο τραπέζι.”
“Η μοναδική αυτή σύλληψη μεταφοράς αλλά και εύστοχου συνδυασμού και σχεδιασμού παίρνει και άλλες προεκτάσεις σε ένα νησί όπως η Υδρα. Η συμφιλίωση των λαών και των τάξεων (sic) επιτυγχάνεται και η όλη διαδικασία κορυφώνεται σε ένα είδος μυστικού δείπνου με πολλά τραπέζια, όπου όλο το κοινό συμμετέχει σαν ένα σώμα. Χωρίς ιδιαίτερες τάσεις επίδειξης (sic) διατηρεί έναν μυστικιστικό χαρακτήρα με πολλαπλές αναφορές, ενώνοντας χώρες και ανθρώπους μέσω της τέχνης.” (sic). Όλο το άρθρο!
A standard way of relating politics to art assumes that art represents political issues in one way or another. But there is a much more interesting perspective: the politics of the field of art as a place of work. Simply look at what it does—not what it shows.
Amongst all other forms of art, fine art has been most closely linked to post-Fordist speculation, with bling, boom, and bust. Contemporary art is no unworldly discipline nestled away in some remote ivory tower. On the contrary, it is squarely placed in the neoliberal thick of things. We cannot dissociate the hype around contemporary art from the shock policies used to defibrillate slowing economies. Such hype embodies the affective dimension of global economies tied to ponzi schemes, credit addiction, and bygone bull markets. Contemporary art is a brand name without a brand, ready to be slapped onto almost anything, a quick face-lift touting the new creative imperative for places in need of an extreme makeover, the suspense of gambling combined with the stern pleasures of upper-class boarding school education, a licensed playground for a world confused and collapsed by dizzying deregulation. If contemporary art is the answer, the question is: How can capitalism be made more beautiful?