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Saturday, 15 June 2013

The Moral Framework of Copyright from 19th Century to the Present Day: challenges from changing ideologies of the self and creativity



The contemporary, and as some call it, ‘commonsense’[1] conception of the author is often argued to have been formed by the mutually consititutive relationship between Romanticism and copyright, culminating in the mid 19th century. Lee Marshall builds upon this, writing, ‘the ideas concerning subjectivity and the role of art that form the basis of Romanticism continue to the present day,’[2] as he delineates the role of the Romantic conception of the artist not only in copyright as law, but in situating copyright at the centre of a moral framework. Along with other theorists in his field, Marshall uses cotemporary musical artists to exemplify the continuation of Romantic conceptions of the artists as the moral framework-equivalent to the legal structure of copyright. In accordance with the arguments against which I set up my own case, the definition of Romanticism used tries to allude to a ‘worldview’ rather than ‘becoming paralysed by the stylistic diversity of Romantic artists’(Marshall, p.30). By interrogating the argument that that Romantic ideology forms the artistic side of the music industry, this essay seeks to understand the contemporary challenges which copyright faces on an ideological level, beyond the material advances of technology, particularly the internet, frequently seen as its nemesis. My entry into this argument is through the figure of Bob Dylan, a figure whose relation to copyright is controversial, but who nonetheless has regularly been used as a modern genius to hang arguments relating contemporary Romanticism to copyright on. Through Dylan my argument will introduce what I argue as the two central contemporary undermining issues for copyright; the defected, potentially Romantic figure of the copyright infringer, the pirate, as well as theories of an increasingly fragmented subject that have emerged since the 19th century amidst technologised society.  This essay seeks to investigate the possibility that contemporary culture understands the self in a way no longer compatible with the copyright movement begun alongside a Romantic ideology in the 19th century.
The basis of the conception of authorship as it is widely understood can be described as formed in the parallelism between Romanticism and copyright as it developed in the nineteenth century. This parallel of artistic and proto-capitalist ideologies serves to bring the two fields closer together, but also crucially, to seem to hold them apart. In some ways the development of Romanticism fits unproblematically with the centralisation of the author in copyright,  exhibited, for example, in what are now seen as Romantic manifestos, such as Wordsworth’s ‘Preface to Lyrical Ballads’, as well as by such literary figures’ direct lobbying for authors’ moral rights over their texts and the extension of copyright (Marshall pp40-43). Yet elements of Romanticism that valorise the natural as opposed to the industrial, for example, suggest that Romanticism constructs itself in opposition to the kind of legal institution of monetary worth that copyright is. Lee Marshall thus argues for a not only parallel, but also dialectical relationship between Romanticism and copyright which means that ‘the anti-capitalist ethos that posits great art as anathema to market rationality also serves to support the market mechanism that can secure the art work as a commodity’(p.55). Crucially for Marhsall, he is able to show a nuanced relationship between the Romantic principles of a figure like Wordsworth and his interest in making money from copyright. Marshall seeks to explain a chain of relation between an increasing notion of a singular genius, this being’s embodiment in their creative work, and the idea of therein being able to leave ‘an inheritable self to posterity’(p.41). This renders a Romantic’s interest in copyright not an interest in ‘a market mechanism but a literary gesture’(p.41), preoccupied with the notion of an epitaph and equating a creative work with a familial offspring. If the self lives on in its uniquely created expression, then the created work is not only the author’s property, but also more than property, it contains his very self. Whilst the moral and economic values of any text remained discernibly separate, they were interconnected sufficiently to be expressed in one law, the 1842 UK copyright extension act, whose authority was arguably both moral and legal.
It is the tensions between the Romantic artist and the capitalist-legal system of copyright, however, that have been focused on as the most lucrative. Jon Stratton twins Romanticism’s underpinning of copyright laws with its upholding of capitalist arts industries. He explains the central role that a continuation of the Romantic conceptions of the author takes, focusing on the record industry. He argues that ‘the Romantic ideology serves to distract the consumer from the commodification which has taken place. Without the aesthetic of the personal, which, in appearance, contradicts the practice of capitalism, records would appear merely variegated, formulaic rather than individual.’[3] The capitalist industry of selling records includes marketing that suggests an individual separate from the process of material production, who is the creator but not producer. This complicated relationship is sustained by key tenets of this understanding of Romanticism that, according to Marshall and Stratton, the artist behind the industry must appear to enact in order to sell records as well as sustain their not only legal but also moral right to copyright protection. These tenets are effectively subheadings to authenticity, which is described by Marshall as, ‘a characteristic of assumed genuineness or honesty that is understood to conflict with the inauthenticity, fakery and commercialism of the music industry’(p.56). Characteristics indicative of this trait and essential to fans buying a star in terms of believing them as well as spending their money on their work include, an attitude of anti-comercialism; an attitude that at least does not embrace if not derides technology; an emphasis upon individual expression and originality; an emphasis upon the instinctiveness or non-rational nature of music; an allegiance to the black roots of music and an emphasis on the personal nature of the relationship between performer and listener (Marshall, p.65).  Both Stratton and Marshall cite contemporary music stars to exemplify this tension-based lucrative relationship between Romanticism, selling records and maintaining the moral justification for copyright protection. Stratton mentions John Lydon, John Lennon and Bob Dylan (p.155) while Marshall mentions only the last of these, recalling Dylan’s 1996 words in favour of further extending copyright (p.43).
Examining the legitimacy of the claim that Dylan fits this role leads to a questioning of the validity of the claim that Romanticism still has currency in this contemporary moral market. Stratton highlights the relationship between artist, record company and audience as one of two halves; the artistic stage’s separation from the consumer stage is what ensures the artist can remain intact in accordance with their Romantic ideology, while the second half between company and audience ensures the economic success that this Romantic image generates and that will partially feed back to the artist. It is crucial, then, that the artist remains separated from the commodifying process of turning artistic utterance to marketable record (p147). Dylan is posited as a figurehead of such a relationship, but his autobiography suggests that even before gaining a recording contract he longed to be commodified and absorbed himself in his contemporary American comsumer culture. In Chronicles Dylan recalls, ‘Folksingers, jazz artists and classical musicians made LPs, long-playing records with heaps in the grooves – they forged identities and tipped the scales, gave more of the big picture. LPs were like the force of gravity. They had covers, back and front, that you could stare at for hours. Next to them, 45s were flimsy and uncrystallized. They just stacked up in piles and didn’t seem important.’[4] Dylan fused the creative process with the commodifing process of recording for sales, creating songs along with the session musicians and producers he worked with rather than arriving at the session with the finished article in mind and practiced. On the album Oh, Mercy,[5] for example, Dylan had only lyrics and no melodies and worked with musicians and producer Daniel Lanois on making up the songs whilst producing the object of the record itself (Chronicles, p.185). Not only were producers heavily involved in the creative process, Dylan reportedly took a keen interest in the technology of recording. In Chronicles, he expresses his detailed understanding of developments in recording technology (p.199), and he went on to produce his own albums, such as Modern Times,[6] albeit under a pseudonym.
Even in explicit terms, Dylan’s relationship to copyright has not been cohesive. While Dylan is keen to keep the songs he has written and recorded in his family and limit their availability for access without purchase, he has been accused of copyright infringement himself, from plagiarism to outright piracy. He admits that his song writing began from adapting older songs, writing, ‘Opportunities may come along for you to convert something – something that exists into something that didn’t yet’ (Chronicles, p.51); a legitimite act under copyright law, but one that treads a fine line with plagiarism. A 2012 interview with Rolling Stone magazine summed up some of the accusations as well as Dylan’s latest response to them. Mikal Gilmore asks Dylan about the accusations that his recent album parrots but does not credit the work of Civil War poet, Henry Timrod, and that he previously copied words from a Junicha Saga novel into songs. Dylan responds dismissively and remembers countless other accusations including that of his pirating the whole of ‘Times They Are a Changing’ which some people believe to have been written by a young boy in New Jersey. ‘Wussies and pussies complain about that stuff’, Dylan concludes; ‘All those evil motherfuckers can burn in hell.’[7] Rather than an economic manifestation of his preoccupation with his own mortality and the nature of a person’s creation as their inviolable moral possession, Dylan’s relationship to copyright seems to be largely opportunistic, a better fit for an example of the kind of counterculture Charles Reich describes wherein capitalism’s inconsistencies are exploited in an ironic fashion as I will argue later.[8] Dylan’s mercurial attitude to copyright undermines his potential to embody the notion of a contemporary Romantic artist, and points instead to alternative ways for an artist to relate to capitalism and self-commodification and philosophies of the self.
Chronicles details Dylan’s professed extreme discomfort at having been Romantically labelled ‘the Spokesperson of a Generation’ and describes his attempts to dodge the totalizing and moralizing epithet(p.115). Although in the same book Dylan tells Archibald MacLaeish that his boyhood heroes were indeed Romantic figures such as Robin Hood and St George the dragon slayer(p.113), Dylan is not keen to become seen as the people’s bandit. The titles he was labelled with he describes as ‘all code words for outlaw’(p.120) and recognises the uncomfortable proximity between outlaw status and conformity in the record industry, writing, ‘Semantics and labels could drive you crazy. The inside story on a man was that if he wanted to become successful, he must become a rugged individualist, but then he should make some adjustments. After that, he needed to conform. You could go from being a rugged individualist to a conformist in the blink of an eye’(pp88-9). Instead of assuming this identity, Dylan stressed the element to which he was controlled by a manager and thus the banality of the way in which live performances came about. In Don’t Look Back, a young group tell Dylan that they dislike some of their audience’s ignorance. Dylan retorts that he just shows up where he’s been booked to play, someone else books the gigs for him and he appears where he is instructed. The same film shows Albert Grossman, his manager, negotiating a TV network deal for a monopoly of Dylan appearance while he’s in the UK. Grossman plays the networks against one another and negotiates the deal he was looking for. This is included in an authorised film about Dylan alongside footage of him with his friends in hotel rooms, partying, playing music, and on stage. [9]
As Marshall stresses and as Dylan experienced, it is not easy to rid oneself of the image of a Romantic. Marshall writes, ‘the rejection of Romanticism is itself a Romantic gesture’(p.60) and Dylan describes how, as he tried to explode this public image of himself, newspapers ran frustrating stories such as, ‘Spokesperson denies he’s a spokesperson’(p.119). Dylan expressed his frustration as well as the desperate preoccupation of the music industry and music fans with Romantic notions of identity in a 2012 Rolling Stone Interview, saying, ‘Why is it that when people talk about me they have to go crazy? What the fuck is the matter with them? Sure, I had a motorcycle accident. Sure, I played with the Band. Yeah, I made a record called John Wesley Harding. And sure, I sounded different. So fucking what? They want to know what can't be known. They are searching – they are seekers’(p.6). In the liner notes of Biograph Dylan describes even trying to make bad albums to detract from this kind of seeking the creative genius.[10] Beginning as a folk artist, Dylan moved to an electric sound in the 60s, tried gospel and 80s style riffs, appeared like a cowboy, a Mexican-style bandit and a gangster, singing in different-sounding voices and exuding different values and attitudes along the way. In Chronicles he hints that the change in musical (as well as clothing) style that came after his 1966 motorcycle crash may have had something to do with the death of Hell’s Angel Bobby Zimmerman five years earlier, who died in a similar accident(p.79). In the 2012 Rolling Stone interview, Dylan makes the connection explicit, saying he was transfigured from the person he was to someone else during the period between these two motorcycle incidents(p.2). In a strong sense, thus, Dylan claims he is quite literally not the same person as the one who wrote and performed his earlier songs, yet he still claims copyright on them.
While Marhsall attempts to discuss the period of the 1960s during which Dylan rose to fame, he does so without full detail, arguing that the period was analogous to the Romantic 19th century because ‘both emerge in response to changing cultural audiences’(p.61). Crucially, however, Marshall does not engage with the values of a young musical audience such as Dylan’s at that time of change. Charles Reich, ideologue of the American counterculture summated, ‘A new generation came along and can say we’re going to take all these thing, the stereo, the motorcycles, the things in the supermarkets and the music above all, and we’ll command them. Now we’ll use them as we wish’(On Record, p.433). The relationship between counterculture and capitalism had shifted in an important way from the 19th century to the 1960s. The hero was no longer to stand in complete contrast to capitalism and city life, but was to be immersed in both, to subvert systems from within rather than offering a separated (whether falsely so or not) rural way of life. Bob Neuwirth, for example, describes how Dylan persuaded him to join the 1966 tour of the UK by offering to buy him a leather jacket.[11] It was not enough, however, to simply buy products and use them as advertised. The film of Dylan’s infamous 1965 San Diego conference shows a moment at which the singer seems to warm to a strangely dressed member of the audience in shades, an anorak and a hat with flowers in it, standing out from the suited journalists. ‘Who are you?’ Dylan asks, looking delighted, ‘get the camera on this person here’.[12] At this point, the counterculture was to subvert capitalism by embodying its irrationalities, by using products strangely, placing them in juxtaposition to prove that, whilst buying a product can dictate how much less money a person has, it cannot dictate how they must use it and what values they live their life by. Counterculturalists set about robbing capitalism of internal logic and a stable ideology and filling products with meanings contrary to powerful institutions, holding up a distorted mirror to American consumer life.
There is still one epithet suitably mercurial and suggestive of changeability, a type of non-label with hints of Romanticism that Dylan might be accurately labelled with and which might illuminate ideological challenges to copyright. Discussing the Romantic tradition of bandit and outlaw figures, Martin Parker brings pirates into the same tradition, describing a ‘sparkly eyed villain who does bad things for good reasons.’[13] Yet the relation of Romanticism to copyright and the description of copyright infringers as pirates challenges the possibility of fitting the latter into this generalised bracket without creating a tension too great to overcome in the internal logic of the dialectic. As early as 1603 the term pirate referred to those illegally challenging copyright and stationers’ monopolies.[14] In a wider sense, the term referred to a challenge on monopoly or unique authority as pirates refused the authority of fixed landed monarchies in favour of the fluidity of the barely policeable seas. Like Dylan, these pirates moved in and out of legality or operated on its margins as opportunities arose. As early as 1295 in England, the King was able to grant permission for normally piratical acts to become considered the work of privateers, for the illegal to become legal and for the crew of one ship to board another ship, forcibly and violently taking the spoils to be found thereon.[15] The definition of piracy was about how an action was perceived not the inherent nature of the act or the ideology of a particular person, and is another semantic way in which the disjuncture between an artist’s subversive qualities and their entrenched position in the industries which produce and sell their work can be accounted for. Rather than arguing that a recording artist is subversive and supportive of institutions such as copyright due to the fusion of Romanticism with the economic-legal category of intellectual property, one could argue that an artist like Dylan is sometimes a pirate, sometimes a privateer, adapting old songs or even taking over texts, but safeguarding his own work within the legal system. In the same way, Dylan exploits Romantic visions of himself in order to excuse criminal behaviour. In No Direction Home, the interviewer talks to Dylan about his having stolen a large number of records from a fellow folk music fan before he was famous. Dylan responds ‘those records were like ants’ teeth…being a musical expeditionary like myself…one would have to take them and immerse oneself in them’(footnote 11), dodging the title of thief with the justification of ‘musical expeditionary’ and playing on the fact that it is possible to justify an action not by obscuring it but by changing the terminology used to describe it. Dylan is an extreme example, having been accused of plagiarism, but there is a question as to whether copyrighting music frames every artist in a similar piratical position. Dylan, alongside many others, argues that everybody adapts older songs, takes lines, adds their own or changes chords to create their work. Just as in language there are a finite number of words to reassemble, there are a finite number of musical notes and chords, which makes every song or text, in one sense, a version of other songs and texts. Artists must tread the fine line between creativity and piracy which will either render them Romantic supports for copyright or accidental piratical challenges to its moral ideology.
Such analysis of the connotations of piracy reveals the development of fluidity of character that ideologically challenges the Romanticism behind copyright in a parallel way to the challenging actions of pirates, suggesting that the contemporary threat to copyright is not simply due to easier access to pirated goods through technological advancement. As Martha Woodmansee notes, ‘while legal theory participated in the construction of the modern ‘author’, it has yet to be affected by the structuralist and poststructuralist critique of authorship’(Towse,p.2). Woodmansee refers to redescriptions of authorship, such as ‘The Death of the Author’, by Roland Barthes.[16] Here, Barthes stresses the limitations that a notion of a definitive author create for a text, and offers instead the understanding of a text as free of its creator and belonging, in interpretation, to those who then read the text. In such a reading, the author is decentralised from his Romantic position and the creative process has never definitively finished. Barthes might be seen to represent a theorised version of the anger Dylan expressed at a Time magazine interviewer who asked what his songs were about. Dylan responded by asking the interviewer if he would be at his concert and hear the songs(Don’t Look Back), suggesting that he couldn’t supply an answer to the question of what the definitive subject matter of the songs was, but that the meaning would be produced with equal validity in each listener. Such a denial of ownership over a song undermines claims of financial ownership which depict Dylan as the sole proprietor, ignoring his own professed sentiments on who could lay claim to such a work.
The internet offers a contemporary technological parallel that cements the understandings of creative endeavour as open and incomplete. Not only has the development of the internet seen a rise in the availability of pirated goods and made piracy easier, the ‘information age’ that its development represents is seen to constitute a wider ‘radical decentralisation.’[17] David M Berry premises his argument on a rejection of the Romantic ideals of creativity, offering instead the notion that ‘creativity requires a social environment to flourish’(p.xi) and discussing the network of the internet’s effect on cultural conceptions of authorship and economic-legal ideas of production, consumption and ownership. He describes, ‘the internet is built upon a constellation of technologies that were written under free software licences that expressly allow the copying and reproduction of their code (for example, BIND, TCP/IP, DNS, HTTP, etc)’(p.14). The ‘overt inertextuality’(p.14) that the open standards of the internet, predominantly HTML, have resulted in, changes the way in which intellectual property and authorship is thought of more widely, rather than simply challenging copyright by making piracy easier. Pages can be amended, added to, commented on and although copyright is extending into code and internet domains, the premise on which its development is built does not seem compatible with the notions of authorship that provide the moral framework for Romantic ideas of intellectual property.
Simultaneously, however, thinking has emerged that is capable of taking into account modern networked society and decentralisation in order to create a centralised subject. Jean-Paul Sartre’s Existentialism stresses ‘being-in-the-world’ and ‘being-with-others’ as crucial relationships that create being itself, arguing that there is no essence that precedes existence.[18] A central tenet for such thought, as for Romanticism, is authenticity, but Sartre posits that ‘In introspection I try to determine exactly what I am, to make up my mind to be my true  self without delay – even though it means consequently to set about searching for ways to change myself’(p.63). The notion of sincerity ignores the parallax within being constituted by reflexive thought, but authenticity can overcome this by instead dwelling on this gap. Sartre explains, ‘One cannot say that I am here or that I am not here…Nor that I am standing, nor that I am seated; this would be to confuse my body with the idiosyncratic totality of which it is only one of the structures. On all sides I escape being and yet – I am.’ To say ‘I am…’(p.60) points to too static a position, but the self is constituted instead by the unfolding matrix of actions he performs and relationships he builds. The ‘idiosyncratic totality’ that constitutes the existentialist self, applicable to the pirate/privateer attitude of Dylan for example, could be a new ideology of the self to morally underpin copyright.
Whilst the arguments that describe the twin emergence of Romanticism and copyright in the 19th century are persuasive, the notion that Romanticism has continued to morally underpin copyright extension in the 20th and 21st century is a contentious one. It is possible to argue counter to this that the dual position of the artist and their industry (including copyright) is that of the pirate and the state capable of turning the pirate into the privateer. The fluidity of the piratical position, rather than being defined ideologically as either for or against capitalism (or previous economic systems), shows that piracy is not merely a material and legal challenge to copyright, but also an ideological challenge to its Romantic moral framework, characterizing the rebel as changeable and insincere rather than staunchly authentic. Crucially, however, piracy is not anathema to capitalism, but rather represents an even more extreme individualism than that of Romanticism, legitimizing the fulfilment of the desires of the subject even to the point at which the subject becomes incoherent from adopting conflicting positions in order to achieve its ends. The fragmentation of subjectivity as well as the importance of the notion of network as trumping the individual is embodied in the rise of the internet. The internet has not merely acted as a tool to make illegal downloading and file sharing easier, it embodies the technological form of 20th and 21st century ideologies that radically decentralise and fragment the subject, let alone the author. While this essay cannot offer a definitive answer for how copyright could reframe its legitimacy in the light of contemporary culture, it seeks to show the depth of the challenges which copyright faces, as opposed to the frequent conception that its regular infringement is merely due to the development of better technological means. The moral framework of copyright has been challenged, but may be restated through a better understanding of its contemporary challenges.




[1] Jacqueline Rhodes, ‘Coyright, Authorship and the Professional Writer’, Cardiff Corvery,Issue IIX,Vol.I,(June 2002), p 1
[2] Lee Marshall, Bootlegging: Romanticism and Copyright in the Music Industry, (London 2005), p.30
[3] Jon Stratton, ‘Capitalism and Romantic Ideology in the record business’, Popular Music, Vol.III, (January 1983), p.148
[4] Bob Dylan, Chronicles: Volume One, (London 2004), p.34
[5] Bob Dylan, Oh, Mercy, prod. Daniel Lanois, (Columbia Records, 1989)
[6] Bob Dylan, Modern Times, prod. Jack Frost, (Columbia Records, 2006)
[7] http://www.rollingstone.com/music/news/bob-dylan-unleashed-a-wild-ride-on-his-new-lp-and-striking-back-at-critics-20120927
[8] Quoted in On Record, ed. Simon Frith, Andrew Goodwin, (London 1990), p.433
[9] Don’t Look Back, director D. A. Pennebaker, (Leacock-Pennebacker 1967)
[10] Bob Dylan, Biograph, (Columbia, 1985)
[11] No Direction Home, Dir. Martin Scorcese,(PBS 2005)
[12] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DcPoZZVm3Dk
[13] http://www.taylorandfrancis.com/articles/robin_hood_pirates_and_occupy_protests-_inside_the_world_of_alternative_bus/
[14] John Simpson, OED,(London 1884)
[15] Daniel Heller-Roazen, The Enemy of All,(New York 2009), p.82
[16] Roland Barthes, Image, Music Text, trans. Stephen Heath,(London, 1977)
[17] David M. Berry, Copy, Rip, Burn, (London 2008), p11
[18] Jean-Paul Sartre, Being and Nothingness, trans. Hazel Barnes, (London 1969)

Saturday, 13 April 2013

LIVE STREAM OF THAT TRAFALGAR SQUARE PROTEST/PARTY IN HONOUR/CONTEMPT OF MARGARET THATCHER

http://www.ustream.tv/channel/occupynewsnetwork?utm_campaign=t.co&utm_source=11808409&utm_medium=social watch the live stream of the party/protest in Trafalgar Square - whatever you think of the protests, they are happening and the news channels should provide good coverage of them. So far only the Guardian holding up the standards of impartial journalism and giving people live coverage...and the Occupy News Network are doing their own live stream too.

Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Margaret Thatcher - what’s left to say if we shouldn’t speak ill of the dead; a fact-based eulogy and a warning to contemporary politics



I thought I would be one of those celebrating the death of Thatcher. I was brought up to hate her politics, as my family left the country under her premiership, my father, having completed his PhD, dissatisfied with the kind of job security that temporary contracts afforded, a phenomena in universities at the time. As I challenged my prejudices about Thatcher, and looked into her time in office and the legacy she left, I found rational affirmation of the anti-Thatcher opinions I had been surrounded by. The most emotive evidence I came across was footage of the heavy-handed out of control policing of miners’ strikes as well as documents on the unfair trials received by men who had been protesting for their right to work, peacefully, and who had been wrongfully accused of riot. It was also Thatcher, I found, who had deregulated the banks, who had set the economy on a trajectory that foreshadowed a kind of apocalypse even in its supporters – this was ‘the end of history’. Stop and search laws targeted black people and other ethnic minorities as well as those like my father, with long hair, or who could look Irish. Thatcher’s economic policies were reckless and short-termist while her social policies echoed this irrationality, targeting the working class, ethnic minorities and anybody who couldn’t or wouldn’t be swept along on a tidal wave of greed that has once again crashed into economic recession just recently. I thought that the day Thatcher died, I would be remorselessly gleeful. But the parties held to celebrate the event have seemed both pointless and tasteless to me. I’m not sure what I thought was going to happen on Thatcher’s death – perhaps all her harmful policies would be reversed and I’d be able to catch a train on time that wouldn’t cost the earth and the same working class whose jobs were once taken would not now be accused of sponging off the welfare state (yes, I know it’s not that simple) – but as it turned out, it didn’t change anything. It was a bit of a non-event and, though I wouldn’t go so far as saying I wish she’d never been born, I certainly wish she’d had less success in her political career.



It is hard to offer the respect appropriate for any human being who has come to the end of their life to someone who the public are not being allowed to see as a private individual distinct from a politician. Her state subsidised ceremonial funeral takes her death as a point from which to reflect back on her life as a statesman and public figure. Not only does it jar that Thatcher should receive a government subsidy for her own burial when she championed privatisation, but it encourages the public to think on what she did in her controversial political career rather than to remember that death is the great leveller, and now as never before, she is just another human being who deserves the minimum of respect to be allowed to rest in peace. The government and her family having agreed, however, to politicize her death and funeral in accord with the political life she led, protests at her funeral should not be frowned upon or judged as inappropriate. I hope, however, that people will be able to express the rational objections that her legacy deserves rather than holding signs that say ‘rejoice rejoice rejoice, the bitch is dead’.

Sticking to the moral high ground of how to react to a person’s death is difficult in the case of Thatcher. There is a lot of well deserved ill to speak of this lady. Famously opening her premiership with the prayer of St Francis – ‘Where there is discord, may we bring harmony. Where there is error, may we bring truth. Where there is doubt, may we bring faith. And where there is despair, may we bring hope’ – it is arguable that Thatcher achieved the opposite of the sentiments she spoke.

Starting with the economy, Cameron said upon her death that Thatcher ‘saved the country.’ Coming into power in an economic slump, one of her key aims was to pick up the economy. Contrary to popular belief, however, economic growth in the 1980s was below par even discounting the deep recession of the first year of the decade. When Thatcher did pull the economy into activity, she did it via the unstable model that just plunged Britain into an impending triple dip recession. While precarious aggressive capitalism was followed in the City, Thatcher also oversaw a 24% cut in British Industry, meaning that the country had less of value to offset the risky deals being brokered in the financial district. Between 1979 and 1989 the tax burden rose by 4%. Those who argue that Thatcher cut taxes can only be speaking for the very rich – the top rate of tax saw a cut of over 40% during her time in office, while VAT, which hits the poorest hardest rose to 15% where it had previously been only 8%. On Newsnight, Ken Livingstone was keen to argue that the ‘legacy’ left by Thatcher must be seen to include also the current bleak financial situation. It was Thatcher who first deregulated the banks which led directly, though over a number of years, to the collapse of the financial sector which had been running on borrowed time as well as money. To even speak of a ‘legacy’ for Thatcher sits uneasily with her short-termism. Livingstone is right, Thatcher’s impact can still be felt today, but perhaps it would be better to call it a hangover; an unintended, unthought of, unwanted morning after perhaps the most reckless financial binge in UK history. ‘The end of history’ came, the economy’s bubble burst, and now the country lives in a kind of post-event state, unsure how to proceed after the explosion at the end of a trajectory that was never supposed to crash back down. Politicans today have still not solved the social housing crisis caused by Thatcher.

What is key about Thatcher, and what is implied by talking about her in relation to thinkers such as Fukuyama, is that she changed the way, or harnessed and encouraged aspects of the ways, in which people thought. Economic hangover aside, Thatcher ushered in a kind of emptied out existentialism. The up-tight values of the 1950s swept away by the 60s and 70s, Thatcher didn’t reverse the freedoms that movements like free love had brought in. Instead, she converted them. Love was no longer to be free, in fact nothing was to be free, except financial regulation and consciences. Thatcher somehow combined the twinset and pearls of earlier decades, regressive values of, for example, being a housewife, with a modern lack of moral regulation used to encourage greed, as well as envy, that said anything goes to get more capital. As Žižek noted in his The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology, capitalism is the new God though that’s not to say that there are fixed guidelines as to the morality that capitalism demands. The kind of god that Thatcher’s aggressive capitalism constituted, and the God she worked at creating, was the one Kierkegaard identified in Fear and Trembling; a God who actually has no morality other than the demand to follow his rule, whether that means killing your son, nearly killing your son, hating everyone other than Jesus, loving everyone like Jesus did or any of the many other contradictory edicts the Bible contains.


As a conviction politician, therefore, Thatcher was able to play fast and loose with morality in the UK. The kind of moral philosophy that had dominated Europe through the 60s and 70s spoke of a perhaps lonely life, but one whose value was always in relation to personal conscience and responsibility. The kind of ego that existentialism depicted was one that was simultaneously the ultimate, the centre of responsibility, but also a nothing, extant only due to its relation with society. Thatcher thought to capitalise on the social breakthroughs in thought from the preceding decades, morphing existential loneliness into individualistic selfishness. ‘There is no such thing as society’, Thatcher said to Women’s Own magazine in 1987. Thatcher sought to change a whole country’s way of understanding themselves and their relationship to others. Now the ego was everything, its desires to be followed, but the person was nothing without material possessions, status, financial success. Social glue was to be paranoia that your neighbour had a better car and subsequent competition to better him. Thus the bonds of communities were not only broken, Thatcher put negative relations in their place, binding people together in mutual suspicion, envy and competition.

In relation to her leadership style, this negative value structure called her irrationality and stubbornness conviction and strength. The understanding that Thatcher led by conviction meant that she could refuse to answer important questions, launching personal attacks on her opponents or seaking to belittle them, rather than meeting their questions seriously. Perhaps the most toe-curlingly unpleasant of such incidents occurred when Diana Gould, a UK citizen, had a chance to ask Thatcher why she took the decision to attack the Belgrano in 1982. Gould presented Thatcher with the facts of the situation that the ship was sailing away and outside the exclusion zone. Thatcher responds with patriotic emphasis that this ship was a danger to ‘our ships and our people’, trying to acquiesce the public by manipulating their fear and patriotism. When Diana Gould persisted, Thatcher slipped ‘I’m sorry I forgot your name’ into her answer, attempting to humiliate and undermine her questioner. Thatcher’s conclusion is like a chastising mother; ‘I’m sorry you must accept that.’ One day, Thatcher said, the facts will come out, implying that the Belgrano had not been sailing away and that London had not received Peruvian peace plans before the sinking, none of which turned out to be the case. Thatcher used the weight of her personality to try to overcome situations that she herself had created, not only difficult situations which came her way as her fans would have it.


Many went so far as accusing Thatcher of being a racist as stop and search laws saw more black people stopped on suspicion than whites. Thatcher fought for an ‘end to immigration’ all together, beginning in 1978 in an interview discussing commonwealth and Pakistani immigrants. Even the comparatively right wing Telegraph newspaper has reported that Thatcher was far less than positive about immigrants to the UK. In 2009 Jon Swaine reported, ‘Files released to the National Archives show that soon after becoming prime minister, Thatcher privately complained that too many Asian immigrants were being allowed into Britain.’ According to the minutes, which describe Thatcher listening to a vivid account of refugee camps in Hong Kong, she suggested that anybody who sympathised with their plight should have to take a refugee into their own home to cope with the influx into Britain. She compared the situation to the possibility impending that an exodus of white population from Rhodesia might then come to the UK. Tempering the comparison, Thatcher added that she had ‘less objection to refugees such as Rhodesians, Poles and Hungarians, since they could more easily be assimilated into British Society’. Australia’s Foreign Minister, Bob Carr, has recently spoken out about Thatcher’s overt racism in the presence of his Malaysian-born wife. In her retirement, Thatcher warned him of the dangers of letting too many Asians into the country.

Her public comments on race and immigration are widely attributed to have caused a collapse in support of the National Front. Perhaps some might argue that this is because Thatcher allayed popular social fears about immigration. I would argue, however, that Thatcher stole National Front support because her policies on race and immigration were extreme enough to capture the imaginations of racist voters. With current renewed vigour in political debate on immigration and a need for the mainstream political parties to draw support away from extreme parties such as the BNP, political leaders would do well to remember that there is no social good in drawing voters away from extreme parties by offering your own extreme policies. Boris Johnson was criticized by Eddie Mair for his promotion of immigration policies merely to satisfy an ill informed electorate, and as policians squabble over who can be toughest on immigration rather than educating the public about its many benefits, it looks like Thatcher’s hangover remains in this area too.
There is no point, in my opinion, in prefacing a discussion of Thatcher’s action against unions with a statement that the unions did need to be controlled etc. This qualifies the brutal and personal attack that Thatcher made upon, particularly, mining communities. Brutal policing aside and totally self-evident in photographs and footage from the time, Thatcher put nothing in place to replace the jobs lost in mining communities where pits were closed. The result was that the government had to fork out more and more unemployment benefits to people who wanted to work but who had been offered no alternative to the lifestyle as well as job opportunity that Thatcher brought to an abrupt end.  Arguably, Thatcher disengaged the working-class as it was from politics, by not only closing pits and ending careers, but by doing so with the full force of the state used without proper legal guidelines. She would not criticize police for their action at Orgreave which saw men (and women) attacked as they fled or stood peacefully by policemen using batons to hit people around the head. Even the head of police operations on that day said that he had not told his men not to use to baton against those trying to get away or to hit anybody around the head because it was not allowed on any occasion, not because he sanctioned it. Still Thatcher would not criticize the police. Men were charged with riot and imprisoned who had been peacefully protesting their right to work, in trials that took place in the middle of the night after their arrest on site. Thatcher refused an investigation into the Hillsborough disaster in 1989. Subsequently, in 2012, the Hillsborough Independent Panel found that fans had been in no way to blame for the events of 1989 and the subsequent death of 96 people. Instead the Panel found that the police had no control on the day, that emergency services reacted slowly, and that warnings of overcrowding from the preceding two years had been ignored. Thatcher, though espousing a love of democracy, operated a militarised police force who were untouchable by the law themselves but often violently out of control. Thatcher conducted war against 'the enemy within', against her own country, supporting those who shared her values for Britain, and violently opposing those who disagreed even if this agreement was evinced largely by a reverence for important parts of British history and culture, as was the case with mining communities.


Despite Thatcher’s belief in individualism, she did not come to power as a merit of her personal insular success. Part of her success was also the failing of the preceding Labour government, and the Labour party in opposition. Tony Blair’s election in 1997 should have marked a sea-changed in British politics. Instead, no attempts were made to renationalize services, or to monitor the banks more stringently as the economic policy of a neo-liberalist ideology prevailed. Out-doing the memory of the Falklands war for controversy, Blair took the UK to war in Iraq despite protests on the streets of London. Brown subsequently invited Thatcher to tea at number 10. If the left were to take any advice from Thatcher it should be to stick to their metaphorical guns, not their real ones. As the party with socialist roots, the Labour party should be offering a radically different solution to the current economic situation than the coalition, rather than simply quibbling over how much more to borrow. The electorate could also be warned about falling for the personality of politicians. With Boris Johnson being touted as the next Conservative leader, the electorate would do well to remember that having enough personality to skirt around difficult questions is not a good quality in a leader who needs to be accountable for their actions. Taking tough decisions is, of course, important in a political leader, but decisions aren’t really tough if the one taking them has no intention of shouldering the responsibility of the consequences. For Thatcher, the decision to attack the Belgrano did not have as tough consequences as it did for those who were on the ship as it sunk. Blair lives with the guilt of the Iraq war, but at least he lives at all unlike the civilians, enemy and allied forces who lost their lives in the conflict begun on unsound ground. Johnson’s affable lack of memory of his time in the Bullingdon club, his professedly selfless desire not to discuss his private life because ‘nobody is interested’ should serve as warning signs for a politician who, like Thatcher, is only tough when it suits, and sly when responsibility comes back to his door.

It does not good just to be unkind to somebody and in the case of Thatcher, there is no need to be. I hope that Thatcher’s funeral sees sensible protest against a political career with much to dislike in it, without recourse to crass celebration and name-calling. This is not for the sake of Thatcher, or even really for her family, or so as not to speak ill of the dead, but simply for the sake of the credentials of the political points that there are to be made. There is no doubt, furthermore, that with military as well as police presence at the funeral, protesters will be dealt with in a less than sympathetic manner. 

Thatcher’s mortal body may be gone, but her ideology lurks over British politics, un-dead, and as open to criticism as ever.


Saturday, 6 April 2013

In the UK the state subsidises contemporary art. It is treated as a public good. Is this the case and should it continue?



 When Labour came to power in 1997 they increased funding to the arts, and in 2003 showed their ostensible commitment to contemporary art, doubling the funding for individual artists to a total of £25 million, and making entry to institutions such as Tate Modern free.[1] These new policies, however, were described in language that described contemporary art, amongst culture more generally, as instrumental in a chain that lead to economic growth or social well-being and inclusion. The Labour government’s descriptions of art’s value to the public arguably set a precedent of managerialism and instrumentalism which, despite the current recession, still dominate the relationship between state, art and public. Although funding for the arts has diminished under the current coalition, it has not disappeared altogether in a time where drastic financial measures have seen tuition fees triple and the benefits system overhauled. The question is whether the government values art on its own terms (ambiguous as they might be), or for what art can do for other policies relatively cheaply; cynics accuse governments of creating an image of concern about inclusion and social equality, but putting too little money into policy areas that are expensive but directly effective such as education and the welfare state.[2] Art faculties of education facilities have been cut more radically than funding for one-off contemporary art projects such as Anish Kapoor’s ArcelorMittal Orbit in the Olympic Park, or for institutions whose assessment objectives lean increasingly toward encouraging specific demographics to visit or extending outreach or education programmes to these groups. This suggests that art is being appropriated out of its own setting and history and into the political domain and I will be assessing the successes and shortcomings of this attitude. While certain communities, such as the Sceaux estate which is now associated with the South London Gallery, have benefited from socially minded gallery policies, it is not clear that these policies have been causally linked to interaction with art itself, or how the success in particular instances can justify the spending of tax payers’ money from the whole of the UK. The work of the South London Gallery is a focus in this essay. Quantifying qualitative effects has been problematic for governments seeking to use art to promote social inclusion, and it is possible to argue that contemporary art could alienate a less educated, lower social class audience by confrontational displays and thematics entrenched in art history as well as articulate understanding of contemporary politics and culture. I will be examining and advancing the case for the cynical point of view, discussing particularly the ‘ontoligical conflict’[3] between the discourses of policy and artistic values, that results in publicly subsidised art institutions being pulled between two distinct modes of valuation of art in their running.
The official government justification of arts funding from the Department of Culture, Media and Sport expresses an instrumental approach to the arts; ‘The arts can help individuals and communities by bringing people together and removing social barriers. The UK government is working to support the arts community to give access to all, improve wellbeing in the UK and boost the UK’s economy.’[4] This approach can be problematized as similar mission statements from the Labour government were in the 2006 publication of Culture Vultures, which included essays and policy suggestions from leading figures in the art world. Munira Mirza, who edited the collection, introduced it by arguing that ‘The Arts Council and DCMS tell us that the arts are now not only good in themselves, but are valued for their contribution to the economy, urban regeneration and social inclusion’(p.15). She marked the Labour government’s approach as, although increasing financial support to the arts and culture, actually devaluing its worth in terms of how it might be valued by its own internal logic of aesthetic excellence and intellectual elements. Mirza describes a governmental translation of the value of art for the public from its own field, towards other policy areas such as urban regeneration. The Lowry’s funded development in Salford, or the BALTIC (centre for contemporary arts) in Gateshead were championed as socially focused projects, rather than projects primarily designed to offer the intrinsic value of art to the public. The Tate Modern, funded directly by the DCMS, was also developed as part of urban regeneration projects in London(pp15-16). In the same publication, Eleonora Belfiore describes this translation of aims from art itself to other policy areas as a process of ‘attachment’, by which art institutions sought to prove their relevance to policies and sectors that were better funded, and sought to prove their beneficial effect upon ‘the cultural and social dimensions of socio-economic disadvantage’(p.22).
This issue continues under the current coalition government whose previously quoted mission statement echoes the same understanding of the arts as an area that is beneficial in terms of what it can do for other policy areas. Anish Kapoor’s art, for example, has been showcased and undervalued at different points of time in David Cameron’s premiership. The London Development Agency subsidised the building of Anish Kapoor’s ArcelorMittal Orbit, an observation tower in the Olympic Park, by £3.1 million.[5] Boris Johnson hoped the tower would act as a reason for people to visit East London beyond the brief duration of the games. To his more cynical critics, however, he elaborated on these hopes and justified governmental funding by calling the commissioning of the work of art ‘a corporate money-making venture’, promising that a dining experience to be opened at the top of the structure after the games would be likely to recoup the spending.[6] In March 2011, however, Kapoor had been treated less favourably. A government select committee suggested that the Arts Council England had displayed ‘a gross waste of public money’ in spending its funding too selfishly. It was suggested that, to free some capital to pass on to the organisations it supported, the Council could sell some of its masterpieces in the collection comprising 7,500 works which it had started in 1946. At the same as an Anish Kapoor exhibition was occurring and being subsidised in Manchester, the committee suggested that Her Blood, one of Anish Kapoor’s works, often thought of as a masterpiece, could be one of those up for sale to free capital for the Council.[7] Currently, Anish Kapoor is working in conjunction with the Labour Party to raise awareness for their proposed cultural funding policies and he has donated an untitled painting to be auctioned at their forthcoming arts dinner.[8] Anish Kapoor has acted opportunistically to grasp chances of funding extended to him which have led to the creation of arguably great works of art. Political treatment of Kapoor, however, has shown that, as an artist, he is not valuable, but as an artist whose work can be used to generate tourism or revenue, he can been tapped into.
In February 2011, in light of proposed Higher Education funding cuts for the arts and humanities, Professor Stefan Collini, speaking at an academic conference, problematized this perception that art matters if it contributes positively to something that matters more.[9] In terms of contemporary visual art, the main priorities expected from the Tate in return for government funding are the protection and maintenance of the collection and no charge for entry to view it. Strangely, however, the ‘performance indicators’ do not focus on these priorities being achieved. The focus here is on the number of visitors from less educated, less wealthy or disabled demographics, or those from an ‘ethnic minority background’. Also important is the number of people who took part in educational or outreach schemes and the demographic to which they belong, while visitor satisfaction and generated income are ranked lower on the list of indicators.[10] The funding agreement does not demand that curators seek aesthetic excellence in their choices for exhibitions, perhaps because the government does not want to interfere with professional judgements in this area. The lack of mention of this vital criterion, however, means that it is not made explicitly intrinsic to the securing of funding for such institutions.
For Andrew Brighton, however, the lack of focus on aesthetic merit in funding agreements does not show a governmental desire not to interfere. Brighton details the history of Arts Council England and the gradual erosion of the ‘arm’s length’ lack of political interference that the government was to exert on how its allocated budget was spent (pp112-113). The council, like the DCMS, sets out objectives that render the display of art primarily valuable as instrumental in the completion of social missions. The South London Gallery received an 107% increase to funding from the body in 2011,[11] an increase achieved during a time where the Council completely cut funding to some organisations it had supported, had to downscale funding to other institutions and turn many new applicants away. While the gallery has put on internationally acclaimed shows, the granting of funding is still seemingly primarily for what the gallery has done for the deprived local communities of Peckham. From the website it is clear that the gallery has an only somewhat integrated dual purpose. The gallery has forged connections with the local community, offering activities for families, children, young adults, or miscellaneous groupings of people from five local council estates. The website details the prowess of this engagement in terms of awards won; the Clore Award for Museum Learning, for example, or an Arts and Business Young People Award.[12] As a guest speaker on the Curating Theory and Practice course, director Margot Hellor argued that the young people from the surrounding estates might well, due to these outreach and education programmes, now know of major contemporary artists and have seen shows at the gallery. As the director, she must speak as much of the art her gallery shows as the social intentions behind it in order to increase chances of receiving funding.
            Despite Heller’s assertions, however, it is unclear how such projects, commendable as they may be, can make recompense for gaps in formal education amongst those who partake in them. The part of the website which advertises shows at the gallery has a shifted focus and language from that of the section on educational programmes. Pae White who is currently showing at the gallery, for example, is described as creating works for the space which ‘defy our expectations of a variety of techniques and media’, indicating that a certain understanding of what works have been created before using which media is a prerequisite for a full grasp of the exhibition. The works are described as having been ‘inspired by a period of insomnia and consequent reflection on the transience of our existence’, in a manner that is reminiscent again of Brighton’s description of what an understanding of the value of art might entail.[13] As well as a prerequisite need for a degree of knowledge in the area of art and art history, also necessary is a value in the transient itself. As Brighton summates, ‘the kind of culture that claims universality is made by and for people who value context-free knowledge’(p.117). The socially minded works created for the South London Gallery constitute heterotopic objects which reflect the un-synthesized nature of the value systems operative on contemporary art as a result of public funding policies. In 2011, Tue Greenfort designed a gate as an artwork, but also as a gateway for the estates which back onto the South London Gallery to gain easy access. For some, the gate would be viewed as a purely socially minded enterprise, a gate like any other, designed for access rather than art. Only those who followed the art world could detect that the object was more complex and speaking into the discourse of art. In its worst light this could be seen as a private joke by those in the know, in its best, it provides access to a community less likely to otherwise engage in contemporary art. One could go further to argue that, upon interrogation, the gate could teach the possibilities that art is not so different from commonplace objects which those not educated in its history come into contact with regularly. It allows for the notion of thinking artistically about spaces and objects that have other functions and could provide a less intimidating route into appreciating art for those not fluent in its discourse.
The example of this gate might, however, exemplify Brighton’s description of an ‘ontological conflict.’ He argues that ‘to make art the object of policy is to consume it within political discourse’(p.116) in a way that again evinces the pertinence of Collini’s description of an ‘artillery exchange of catergory mistakes’. The outreach programmes of the South London Gallery have been proclaimed to be successful by, for example, community leaders from the Sceaux estate.[14] The success described, however, is not characterized by a description of an invigorated understanding and appreciation for art by those in the local community, but by the fact that the estate has become a better place to live since artist interventions and group activities brought the community together in shared experiences. The problems of collecting evidence of this qualitative sort aside, and assuming that art can be made to serve the social functions that state funding demands of it, it is arguable that this results in a misunderstanding of art by those who are brought into contact with it by receiving outreach opportunities from galleries. In the 20th century, philosophers such as Roland Barthes interrogated the way in which an image might relate to a wider notion of reality. Before a work of art, he believed, ‘image and reality implode in a disintegrative process’.[15] In terms of governmental policy on funding for contemporary arts, there are no philosophical questions raised about the way in which art interacts with reality, and art is lifted out of its own history and discourse and into a strangely grouped bracket that includes ‘culture, media and sport’ and ramifies outwards towards effecting policy areas more important to the government.
It seems impossible to view art from a perspective that unites political use and understanding of art from within its own history and discourse. Slavoj Žižek opens The Parallax View writing, ‘a Spanish art-historian uncovered the first use of modern art as a deliberate form of torture; Kandinsky and Klee as well as Bunuel and Dali, were the inspiration behind a series of secret cells and torture chambers built in Barcelona in 1938.’ The cells incorporated disorientating uses of geometric shapes and an understanding of the possible psychological effects of the use of colour. Žižek draws in a second example, suggesting that Walter Benjamin did not commit suicide but was killed by an agent of Stalin, desperate to avoid the publication of Benjamin’s manuscript on the failings of Marxism. The strange delineation of connection between high culture and the most brutal politics can be seen as a more polarized version of the distinction that always exists between, for example, contemporary art and political discourse and the motives of any government. As Žižek concludes on these examples, ‘the link that they establish is an impossible short circuit of levels which, for structural reasons, can never meet.’ The impossible linkage between discourses that are structurally incompatible with one another can be read in Kantian terms as a ‘transcendental illusion’, or as Žižek writes it, ‘the illusion of being able to use the same language for phenomena which are mutually untranslatable, and can be grasped only in a kind of parallax view, constantly shifting perspective between two points between which no synthesis or mediation is possible.’[16] By using art as a social policy, the art in its own depth is lost sight of and the discourse of art is no replacement for government funding spent on education and social welfare.
The professed move towards factoring the unquantifiable yet valuable into judgement of social inclusion is a commendable one. There is more to life than a person’s economic situation. As Mirza notes, however, the movement to incorporating access to the arts into an understanding of socio-economic stratification came at a time when the justification of policy direction and public spending was increasingly demanded to be evidence based (p.15). For this reason, the value of art has not been left as a qualitative rather than quantitative element, but governments have needed to show that they are collecting evidence to justify the attachment of support to the arts to other policy areas. Brighton’s idea that art represents a value of transcendence or its possibility, becomes shackled to questions of what effects contemporary art or outreach programmes are having immediately. The philosophical tradition of discussing the value of art, has been replaced in the discourse of art funding by the proposition that a restaurant could be put at the top of a work of art to get some capital back and attract tourists. From one perspective, it could be said that, as the arts gain material value and become increasingly entrenched in a discourse that incorporates constant pleas to find a way to call them useful, they lose their transcendent quality. They begin to falter in allowing people the possibility to transcend their worldly position when immersed before a work of visual art and remind them constantly of their status as a statistic trapped in governmental policy as they might be asked upon leaving or entering a gallery what their ethnicity, income and education is and what the gallery could do to attract them to visit again.
It is questionable whether the socially minded goals of state subsidised contemporary art are even successful. The evidence still bears the ambiguity of qualitative information turned into assumptions or statistics with weak links between funding to contemporary art and increased social wellbeing (Belfiore, p.25). Francois Matarasso’s list of 50 benefits the arts could offer society, although suggested tentatively, became the template for arts funding policy justification and often offered as fact. Some of the vagaries included the suggestion that access to art improves the confidence of lower income and less educated people, or that access to art brings generations closer together and promotes health.[17] Questionnaires for gallery visitors, counting the number of different races who visit an institution, looking for change in underprivileged communities that have been brought onto educational or outreach programmes by galleries; the means of collecting evidence on the social impact of the arts are flawed. There is also a bias towards London and large cities with major public art institutions in assessing the social impact of public access to art or education schemes. The money spent on, for example, maintaining the possibility for free entry to major galleries in London is also money from taxpayers in small towns who may never get the chance to be enriched by visiting the institutions.
Furthermore, there is a possibility that art may actually be having a negative impact on the society that the government wishes to build. As Belfiore notes, the idea that pupils who took one arts subject did better in their GCSEs overall, that was argued by the last Labour government, relied on the selective representation of data collected. There was no mention of the fact that those pupils who took more than one arts subject actually did worse overall(p.28). This finding can be applied to the issue of publicly funded contemporary art.  An engagement with contemporary art such as Michael Landy’s Scrapheap Services, especially in a time of recession, is unlikely to prompt anybody to feel like participating obediently in an economic system portrayed as undervaluing the worth of human beings. An engagement with the plethora of surrealist art in the Tate Modern’s permanent collection might inspire somebody to become less involved in society, to withdraw to a socially critical realm of imagination and to value critical culture in their contemporary society. Giorgio de Chirico’s The Uncertain Poet on display at the Tate Modern, for example, is not likely to inspire confidence in a viewer, especially one with little education who may well be stumped before a painting which speaks into a tradition of creating art and the feelings that accompany this endeavour. Art such as this was not intended to make people feel better and the subject matters of such pieces make it difficult to incorporate them into governmental social missions.
There are, however, some policy areas where even slight changes in funding make a measurably quantitive as well as qualitative difference to lives. As Paola Merli argues, ‘social deprivation and exclusion arguably can be removed only by fighting the structure of conditions which cause them. Such conditions will not be removed by benevolent arts programmes’(quoted by Belfiore,p.32). Spending on contemporary art, or culture more generally, can be seen as a way by which governments can appear to be acting to limit the differences between rich and poor, educated and less educated, white people and ethnic minority groups, without spending more on education or welfare funding directly. Funding for contemporary art, and the claims of success in terms of social inclusion that governments argue as a result, constitutes an equation of minimum input maximum output. As the ‘bedroom tax’ carves into the capital of the UK’s poorest at the same time as benefits are capped and Incapacity Benefit is transformed into the diminished EDS, while the interests of the richest are protected for fear they will leave the UK and a hole in its economy, the government widens the gap between the richest and the poorest and increases social stratification. In 2011, riots occurred in major cities throughout the UK. Many of those who took part were inarticulate about their rationale, but the events took place at the trough of the first of the dips in the UK’s recession, after tuition fees were tripled and public sector workers faced pay freezes and job cuts alongside many private sector unskilled labourers. The culture sector cannot fill the holes in the pockets of the poorest or take away the resentment that many feel at the way in which the deficit is being handled by the coalition. As Nick Clegg suggests the necessity for immigrants to pay a deposit upon entering the country, and as the government outlines prospective plans to discourage immigration by extending the duration an immigrant must be in the UK before they are allowed to be placed on the list for social housing, the most pressing question is not whether ethnic minorities feel welcome in galleries, but whether they feel welcome in the country itself.[18] Outreach or education programmes do a lot for local communities, exemplified by the work that the South London Gallery has done, but, while the focus of such endeavours is often social at the expense of coming from the discourse and value axis of art itself, there is no cultural compensation for the short comings of government action on social issues, welfare and education.
This is not to say that galleries are engaging with their funding criteria uncritically. Contemporary art has a tradition of social engagement or intervention, from Michael Heizer’s literally ground breaking destruction ball in Bern in 1969, to Michael Landy’s Breakdown on Oxford Street, or the 2002 show, KaBoom! in Detroit. Lauren Willis, children and families coordinator at the South London Gallery, sees the education and outreach schemes as promoting a ‘discursive environment’ which actively engages with the relationship between art and social setups as opposed to constituting an ‘ontological conflict’.[19] To suggest a parallax relation between the discourses of art and politics is not to suggest that neither have fluidity as an element of their structure. I would maintain, however, that art which seeks to engage socially or politically, still emerges from a tradition of making art as well as taking inspiration from other discourses. The political discourse which surrounds contemporary art, or art funding more generally, speaks openly of art as a ‘tool’[20] for other policy objectives. While the government slashes funding for academic art departments, it seems to seek to neutralise the internal rationale of artists and galleries, and to replace this with its own managerial style. As Žižek put it, however, if a meteor were about to hit Earth we would not need philosophy, we would need good science, quickly.[21] The same can be said of art. Art is not going to act on behalf of the government to appease dissatisfied communities, make up for an education system which leaves 5.2 million adults with a literacy level of an 11 year old, or for a welfare system taking the pressure of an impending triple dip recession. The arts are good, in themselves, for those who already have a predisposition to appreciate them, for the educated and those who have time for thoughts beyond short term survival. They do not constitute the public good that goverments since 1997 Labour have claimed. For institutions, however, there may be no escape from adherence to the offered funding terms. In fierce competition for funding from the Arts Council England, for example, any institution that would challenge the government’s criteria would lose opportunities to further their artistic endeavours. For arts institutions it is a case of balancing the discourses and taking opportunities given to display or commission great art, or to make a difference, however small, socially. The arts can go some way in promoting an understanding that there is more to life than material possessions and the immediate. This message, however, is more accessible to those who have enough material possessions to be in a position to transcend constant recourse to thinking or worrying about them. The worst dimensions of governmental policy on contemporary art funding take this facet of art as useful therapy, guiding the underprivileged and excluded to forget their worries and not to challenge their position. The arts should continue to receive governmental funding, but the UK should spend the necessary money on education to allow more people to engage with art on its own terms and put the weight of social inclusion on more directly effective policy areas.





[1] Munira Mirza, Culture Vultures: Is UK arts policy damaging the arts?,policy exchange (2006),p.13  
[2] Eleanora Belfiore, ‘The Social impacts of the arts – myth or reality?’,Cultures Vultures,p.32
[3] Andrew Brighton, ‘Consumed by the political: the ruination of the Arts Council’,Culture Vultures,p.116
[4] www.gove.uk/government/topics/art-and-culture
[5] http://www.arcelormittalorbit.com/about-us
[6] John Hall,31 March 2010, ‘'Mind boggling' artwork that will tower over London’,The Independent.
[7] www.guardian.co.uk/culture/2011/mar/28/arts-council-report-select-committee
[8] www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2013/mar/20/anish-kepoor-antony-gormley-labour
[9] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6uSo3OPGKWw
[10] http://www.tate.org.uk/download/file/fid/11109
[11] www.guardian.co.uk/culture/2011/mar/30/arts-council-funding-cuts
[12] http://www.southlondongallery.org/page/participation
[13] http://www.southlondongallery.org/page/144/Pae-White-Too-much-night-again/826
[14] http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=ZyzpInRsF1s#!
[15] Christopher Kul-Want, Philosophers on Art from Kant to the Postmodernists,(Colombia,2010),p.1
[16] Slavoj Žižek, The Parallax View,(Massachusetts,2006),pp3-4
[17] http://mediation-danse.ch/fileadmin/dokumente/Vermittlung_ressources/Matarasso_Use_or_Ornament.pdf
[18] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-21884415
[19] http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=ZyzpInRsF1s#!
[20] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uI7gBrLn-Xk
[21] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0zjfTQTnte8