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Aesthetics and Politics (some thoughts on art insitutions)

I wanted to raise a few points that I’m concerned about in terms of artist’s relationships to institutions and funding that I found difficult to find space for in the CVAN meeting as it was concerned with how to represent content and identities more than the bigger question about the function of art itself. It has become increasingly the case that art funding has been shaped in a way to fill a gap in the need to address social political issues that often seem to be preaching to the converted. The real work to be done on these pressing social issues is through mass media and strong documentary formats with production at realistic levels of investment and expertise that the commercial world operates with. Workshops and outreach are important for institutions but serious mental health, marginalisation etc are being passed into art where clear social care services are what is needed. It is a much cheaper and aesthetic driven fix to use art.

There are clearly serious political concerns that need comprehensive attention from political sources. It seems clear, to me at least, that the government has no clear achievable plan to really change things, in relation to Covid and financial imperatives, climate change and also in social care and issues around racial hatred.

The isolation of artists (particularly those on very low incomes) can be profound and the struggle to get work exhibited is exacerbated by the enormous amount of artists coming out of art schools, many who now no longer fit the target groups for funding/exposure. This specific kind discrimination may make redress but non-the-less is another move to a different kind of exclusion. The system remains governed by unaddressed hierarchical systems.

To position myself in these thoughts I am far more interested in extraordinary minds and believe arts function is to extend complex thought - it is complexity in understanding that is missing from public opinion, particularly to the interpretations of “History”. Perhaps wrongly I believe that no amount of art on the subject will change the horrific actions that have happened and which continue to happen. Even in their infrastructure the works about climate change often use systems that are exacerbating climate change.

I would like to focus on the barbarism of these times rather than versions of the past, with situations that are being largely ignored, such as the war in Yemen. I believe that direct political action can change things. Art is too bound to aesthetics and capital to have any agency to change regimes. (What I say here will be very unpopular I am sure).

I am possibly alone in this opinion - that it is human consciousness that needs raising. If we can think about thought itself we can understand more deeply and act more coherently.  

But in relation to the role of art I would like address the power structures and economic structures used by institutions in relation to artists.

Firstly to enhance a feeling of community for artists by ensuring that the funded galleries include a platform for artists in group shows to meet throughout the process, to share knowledge and form bonds.

To ensure that artists are paid in the same way as the contracted gallery staff and not in a universal simple figure that has no relationship to the work load.

That administration and installation work is paid at the same rate as technicians.

That full budgets are made transparent and detailed to all involved.

That art/film and video production companies working with AC funding are actually paying the artist’s proportionally. In my limited experience they take huge amount of the budget for their own producers and infrastructure, and provide little actual labour beyond promotion and a venue, with fees that do not cover the artist’s endeavour.

That in open submissions galleries give a very clear definition of what is being looked for rather than suggesting a vague list of themes that become singular in selection. It is very time consuming applying to things that it seems often in the selection process switch to a singular theme that the artist was not appropriate for.

There is, I think, an underlying sense of doom amongst artist’s without capital, family connections to the arts, resources .. and now to positive discrimination based on identity. Globally discrimination is absolutely pervasive and often linked to poverty. The current global situations remain remote. Little action is taken (i,e Yemen). This is due to limited action potential of humanity who often sees themselves as individuals and all that matters in an ever expanding miasma of unfounded opinions.

Art should be difficult and challenging in its form - it does not need to be entirely content driven and should not be delivered in formats that are tired and familiar.