Sunday, 23 October 2011

Oxfam would not take this tat. Why should we?

I was intrigued, and even encouraged, by a small piece of graffiti I saw in Douglas yesterday.
On the wall outside the multi-storey car park, beneath a crude image of (presumably) a hammer or axe, someone wrote: “Art isn’t always well fought out”.
Someone else then crossed out “fought” inserted “thought” and scribbled “idiot!” beside the original graffiti. But I think they missed the pun, and the point.
As a cultural academic and veteran of numerous serious (if also playful) attempts to question the point of art (and in particular if all art inevitably gets commodified eventually, so we might as well give up and do something else) it was at least encouraging that someone thinks such questions might still matter. Especially on the Isle of Man, where – to be blunt – the local Arts Council was always run by water-colouring fossils under the thumb of small town politicos who were proud to know nothing about art but know what they like and things have now hit a sub-YBA low (YBA being ‘Young British Artist’, for anyone who still cares).
In the 1980’s I probably knew three Manx artists (at most) with some sort of internationally recognisable talent, social conscience or knowledge of contemporary art history – mostly gained from being around politicised punk like Rock Against Racism. By the late 1990’s, when I returned here tooled up by direct contact in Leeds with most of the original art theorists and armed with the opportunity to explore such stuff in a local newspaper column, even they had been replaced by a new generation of dull conformists. Younger, nominally qualified but more terrifying than the ‘ladies who paint’ one still meets at Manx art gallery openings.
Yes, there is public and private money being thrown at local art world hacks to prettify awful and socially pointless new buildings and shopping complexes, generally thrown up like a bad curry after a drunken Friday night out in the vain hope some gullible tourist will splash their disposable income around. But would any sane and socially responsible artist take it?
Are there any anyway? And why is there no public engagement or debate about the arts? Sorry, but ‘government surveys’ which filter out all attempts to comment on a pre-decided policy do not count.
Real questions need to be asked. We could start with basic ones, like would you rather have a concrete seagull stuck next to some harbour-side cafes or a home help? But we could ask better ones, like would you rather pay some spawn of a banker with an art degree to come up with ‘public art’ or plan something better with your neighbours........ or just not bother?
Off hand, I cannot think of one piece of art in the Manx public domain which actually contributes to a sense of well being or pride in a community. Honestly, I just cannot, and I am actually interested in art and the regeneration of community!
These days walking through Manx towns is like walking through a surreal scene in which the family of some recently deceased person, rather than donate the stuff to a charity shop, has dumped giant versions of 50p store paintings and ornaments out in the street, where they clutter pavements or lean against walls.
Oxfam would not take this tat. Why should the rest of us?

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