Thanks to the occupy movement, a common theme in political discussion lately has been entitlement. The complainers squatting in our city park and the keyboard quarterbacks who support and enable the squatters regularly display an astonishing level of entitlement and an almost complete lack of any sense of personal responsibility for anything. Those two traits often go hand in hand of course.
Few can demonstrate a sense of entitlement better than some elements of Canada’s arts community. The lobbying is endless and it is essentially implied that all forms of art will simply wither and die without massive subsidies from taxpayers.
I contend that the over-subsidization of forms of art actually reduces the quality of the art itself. I blogged on this a few years ago and detailed some of the wonderful productions we have seen with tax-funded art.
To go further, I can demonstrate first hand that art can and does exist without a dime of tax funding.
I spent three winters in Canada’s Arctic working on oil and gas exploration programs. I was always impressed by some of the fine carvings produced by the Inuit and Inuvialuit people up there. One season I decided to try my own hand at carving upon returning home. I already had some means for stonework due to having done some fossil restoration work and gem cutting so aside from some more specialized rasps and some rough material, my investment was little.
With a great deal of dust, countless failed efforts and many pounds of wasted rock I began to produce some reasonably acceptable sculptures. I generally stuck to wildlife and native themes as they were what I was familiar with and they were what were popular sellers at the outlet in Canmore that began to carry my pieces. Sales were sporadic but carvings did sell for a modest price and I was simply happy to see that some people were willing to spend a few bucks to own some work done by a middling artist like myself.
The last few years have not left me much time for carving. I sold all but the carving pictured below so that is all that I can display here.
I decided one weekend to let go with a large piece of stone and to simply see where it took me. I clearly had something on my mind that weekend but I simply could not put my finger on it. Either way, my imagination produced the freeform abstract piece pictured below. I felt that Jane was my inspiration for this one so instead of selling it like all the others I kept it and gave it to Jane.
Jane muttered something about Freud and gave the carving a spot of prominence in her office.
Now as can be seen, I am not going to be a master sculptor. I sold some carvings and made a few bucks and I am happy with that. There is simply a combination of a lack of demand and a lack of skill on my part to make a living through the carving. I can accept that. Sure I would rather spend my days working on my own schedule and carving what I please. That simply isn’t in the cards for me so I make my living in the energy sector while I enjoy myself carving and making a few extra bucks now and then.
I like to think I am no less an artist than any other. I create for my own enjoyment and I hope that some others enjoy what I have created. Is that not what it is all about? Well, this sort of creation is clearly quite possible without government subsidy.
Now for contrast, let me introduce you to a Calgarian artist named Len Cochrane. There are countless artists in Calgary of course. The reason I am singling out Len here is that Len has been a prominent, belligerent and abrasive supporter of the “occupy” Calgary squatters on social media. Len is one of those who attacks all who question the squatters, yet can’t be bothered to put his own butt on the line and camp down there himself as far as I can tell.
Len also displays that great sense of victimhood, entitlement and bitterness that our local squatters and some of the arts community hold in such a clear manner that I could not find a better example to demonstrate just who is demanding tax funding for arts. Below is a snap from Len’s website where in a couple sentences we pretty much see what it is all about.
OK, in the first part of his FAQ Len advises all starting artists to quit while they are ahead and implies that Canada does not support artists. I am not sure how much support it will take for artists to feel supported but clearly it has not been enough for poor Len here.
According to Stats Canada, governments on all levels spent a cumulative total of almost $10 billion on culture in 2008-2009. It has only gone up since. Culture covers a broad range of things of course. As the site points out, much of it is in parks and broadcasting. Broadcasting has been used a great deal in the promotion and display of our arts of course particularly through our $1.2 billion per year behemoth called the CBC. Museums, galleries and events are all promoted through the culture department. Rest assured, billions are being spent on the arts.
On the private level a similar level is directed at Canadian arts. Many large corporations sponsor countless events and venues. The squatters may note that they are camped next to the Epcor center for performing arts. Large corporations commission and purchase millions in art every year too. Then there are the millions and millions of dollars spent by individual Canadians purchasing everything from $10 handmade keychains to seven figure paintings and everything in between.
So how much would it take before poor Len feels that the arts are supported in Canada? $15 billion? $20 billion?
Is it really a case that the arts are not supported in Canada or is it simply a case that Len’s art has not seen any direct support?
From what can be gathered from the website, it looks like Len has been a victim of the police and health services due to an apparent basement tattoo parlour. Of course Len feels he has done nothing wrong and claims that police and health services corruption are what got him. It was all a conspiracy to shut him down.
There are reasons for health regulations Len. Tattooing involves piercing people’s flesh repeatedly with a needle. If somebody is going to charge for that service, yes I expect a degree of regulation to be involved. Were you claiming the revenues from that operation by the way? One wouldn’t like to think that you were withholding income taxes that should go towards other starving artists.
Every self-styled starving artist has a story to tell and excuses to be made. Art like everything else requires dedication and hard work for success in most cases. That is the true hurdle that holds back many of these entitled artists.
The world does not owe us a living in whatever endeavor that we choose. So you want to make a living painting? Good for you. I hope it all works out. In the meantime instead of whining and blaming the world for your woes how about getting a job and paying your own way until your art blossoms?
I met an unlikely sort of fellow last year who was pumping gas at a Medicine Hat gas station. He was an interesting little fellow and was always practicing on his well-worn violin when cars were not about. He had travelled the year before to Montreal where he met some other kindred souls. They formed a group, all chipped in and had a CD pressed with some of their music. A local artist designed a very funky jacket for it too. He sold me a copy for $15 and then went on to the next gas customer. The music was interesting but not to my taste. All the same, I have no regrets on that small purchase. That fellow was overjoyed with the sale of the CD. I could tell that his joy was not so much for the $15, but simply that somebody would listen to what he and his friends produced.
That man is an artist and I have nothing but respect for him. Instead of sitting, begging and making excuses he went out and had his product produced. He works to pay his bills and works to spread his art at the same time. He is a true artist in every sense.
To the other artists who do nothing but complain and expect success handed to them I say the same thing that I always do when I encounter them: “No thank you. I don’t want fries with that.”