Tuesday, 5 January 2016

Okay, some Vile Commentary on The Glasgow Effect.

An appropriate critical response to The Glasgow Effect might involve waiting until the artist has made or done something concrete, assessing its intentions and commenting on its strategies and success. 

Public discussion has, however, raced ahead. The Glasgow Effect conjured a storm of protest. While I dislike any abuse aimed at the personality of the artist, I remain a pretentious old bore who regards all interpretation as valid. I respect it as opinion that has a right to expression. I'd prefer to read commentary without heavy use of the word 'cunt', though. 

Never let it be said that I refuse to jump onto bandwagons, though. Here comes a selection of my usual obsessions, tangentially connected to The Glasgow Effect.

All art is bourgeois

Throughout history, art has been used by the dominant sections of society to establish its values and culture. In fifth century Athens, tragedies were performed during a state supported festival: the absolute monarchy of France before the revolution staged ballets, and the Soviet Union invested in the development of The Bolshoi and The Kirov. In Artificial Hells, Claire Bishop argues that the conflation of political and artistic language has encouraged a participatory art that supports the state's agenda. Even the gentrification of hip-hop, for all its gangster lean, echoes a very capitalist morality.

I've banged on about this before, but the structure of art funding, because it comes from the state (or philanthropic individuals), supports certain bourgeois values. I'd do further: modern ideas about the function of art, the nature of the artist or genius, having been defined by Diderot, represent bourgeois conceptions and were designed to be used as weapons against feudal understanding of society.

The idea of the bourgeoisie - which Marx regarded as the class who held the means of production - has been confused with a wider 'middle-class', denoting a certain set of financial and cultural interests. It's usually those people who stand to gain from various forms of capitalism. Both doctors and playwrights, who don't actually own the means of production, could be within this group.

The Glasgow Effect offers a flash-point for the resentment of those who feel excluded by the arts. It's not unique.

Community orientated art is bourgeois

The argument that the money would be better spent on social amenities or food-banks has been wheeled out in the recent past against any art that transgresses popular ideas about what art's supposed to do or be. I'm suspicious of it: The Rite of Spring caused a riot (allegedly) because it transgressed, yet has become an icon of contemporary composition and choreography. But I'm equally suspicious of socially useful art. To take an example - free music lessons for children.

I support free music lessons but, beneath any subsidy lies the assumption that 'music soothes the savage beast': performing art reveals a quality in the human that has more value than, say, frying chips. Community art is sometimes about introducing culture to a group, as if they are bereft without it.

To take an example: remember The Choir? When Gareth Malone rolled up in South Oxhey, the programme presented an area that was culturally deprived. Funnily enough, my mother has run a ballet school on the estate since the 1960s. They interviewed her for the show, but her vision of a South Oxhey that had plenty of culture - her school sent a student to The Bolshoi School, something rare and wonderful - did not follow the narrative of how the working classes didn't get art. So they cut it from broadcast.

Nothing exists in isolation

The Glasgow Effect, whether or not it turns out to be amazing or rubbish, is part of a wider issue. If Creative Scotland handed over fifteen grand to a project that everyone loved, the problem would still be: what are the assumptions upon which they decide? With a bit of research, it's probably easy to find half a dozen grants that seem pointless or trivial. Certain art forms - such as comic books - are mostly excluded from consideration.

Every system has faults. As Loki points out, one of the problems with the current art culture is the exclusion of certain voices. The debate around this one piece is unfair if it refuses to challenge the underlying values of funding, or engages with Creative Scotland as if it has no integrity or honour. 

Pointing out Flaws is a Form of Respect

I have been rude about my fellow critics and, most recently, The Scotsman. I don't do it because I hate them, but because my fantasy is a dialogue with them. I probably go too far. 

It's the same thing, I think, with this debate. All the opinions are valid, intriguing and deserve to be heard. The Glasgow Effect is a starting point, perhaps. 

Note: not all art is bourgeois, but I like to say this as a corrective to the idea that art is, in some way, leftist and radical.

1 comment :

  1. Didn't we have similar problems with certain works in 2013 (I can point at specifics, if you really want me to...) where artists were naively (or consciously, we'll never know) 'borrowing' someone else's story and turning it into performance art? That is, instead of actually getting the person who had the experience to produce the art itself. Of course, it could be said that in that situation, if left to their own devices (because of the way the capitalist and art funding systems work), people involved may never have access to the right "outlets" (if we're talking about art as a commodity under production) to produce it and thus leave the story untold.

    Then again, isn't it one of the fundamental problems that the "consumer" (in this case, I suppose that would be the person who 'enjoys' the art) is generally assumed to be able to afford to see it, and hence usually a person from the very bourgeoisie that the artist may be trying to break away from? I guess what I'm trying to say is, it's like an ouroboros, a snake eating its own tail, feeding the end result back into the system, regardless of how rebellious the content is - capitalism is very smart that way. After all, looking at it from an economic standpoint, if the content became too challenging, disruptive, or 'problematic' in the way it engages with the system, the performer wouldn't make a profit, or even cover basic costs, so the art might exist, but not be seen due to limited resources.

    And let's not forget... if the funds were withdrawn from such a project, would that not be akin to censorship? (For the record, I don't support this project - I'm just being difficult)

    I can't say if this is