For The Sake Of Art

One of the most common complaints that a number of ‘artists’ have (or seem to always be carrying on about) is that they don’t get enough recognition nor funding for their craft. It always appears as if their only impediment to renown and financial success is lack of taxpayer money to support their artistic future. Now I’ve been a follower of art for a very long time, becoming interested perhaps by the fact that my mother was into art and was a pretty good painter in her own right. She loved oil painting but unfortunately had to give it up after becoming allergic to whatever was in the oil paints. I never became interested in painting, but certainly liked such artwork and have our walls lined with oil paintings, water colours, photographs etc. We also have a lot of other artwork about such as ceramics and similar. I think a home that has no artwork is a pretty barren place.

Mother's painting from around 50 years ago (50cm x 60cm oil on canvas)

Mother’s painting from around 50 years ago (50cm x 60cm oil on canvas)

Now while I’m not into painting, I do enjoy other forms of art such as photography and crafting things from all manner of bits and pieces that I come across one way or the other. I’m not sure that my wife considers some of my hand crafted stuff art, but art is always in the eye of the beholder. While most of my photography is more of a record of events, documentary work and similar, I do like to think of some of my work as being art and, having sold a number of pieces, maybe others have also thought of these as art. And I think when others are prepared to pay for what you produce, then that’s an indication that you’re doing something that people appreciate and thus are prepared to pay to own your work. And that’s something I’ll talk about shortly.

Abandoned Water Tanks and Sheep

Abandoned Water Tanks and Sheep



Gum Tree

Gum Tree

There’s also the ‘craft’ style of art that I like producing, though I’ve never attempted to sell any of this. This is stuff that I like to do for myself and it keeps the creative juices flowing for other types of work. I think that by always looking for something to make out of even the most unlikely objects, I keep the brain active and imagination stirring. Even practical things such as my microscope perhaps became a piece of artwork once it was completed. The same applies to the planter stand that I made from an old Singer sewing machine. Then there are things that have no practical value in themselves, but I just enjoyed making something out of stuff I found on bush trips (a sort of reminder of where I’ve been). Who is to say that practical objects can’t be works of art? In fact, it’s often the combination of something that has practical value as well as artistic value that can become more a work of art than something that is purely an object for viewing.

Steampunk Microscope - Olympus Electric Macroscope

Steampunk Microscope – Olympus Electric Macroscope

Steampunk (?) Planter Stand

Steampunk (?) Planter Stand

Red Gum, Tree Root and Railway Spikes - Memories of the Past

Red Gum, Tree Root and Railway Spikes – Memories of the Past

This brings me to why I’m writing about art in the first place. Recently I came across an article in The Age about despondent ‘artists’ lamenting how difficult it is to earn a living from their art, ‘‘It’s dog eat dog’: Creatives find permanent work hard to come by‘. The gist of the article is that the artists concerned are angry that they aren’t getting what they consider to be a fair share of grant money. They feel that too much is being given to major producers and companies, rather than those depicted in The Age article. And then there’s an associated article claiming, ‘Artists ‘likely to feel grief, anger and fear’ over funding announcements‘. These artists are pushing for ‘fair pay’, yet from whom are they demanding fair pay? The taxpayer, you and I. This all harks back to my earlier comment about creating artwork that people want. Those who are ostensibly self-employed have to look after themselves and produce goods and/or services that others are willing to part with their hard earned. No one owes anyone a living.

Hard Done By Artists - (source: The Age)

Hard Done By Artists – (source: The Age)

No one has ever forced anyone to become a poverty stricken artist, it’s a personal lifestyle choice. If you want to be an artist, then produce artwork that people actually want and are prepared to pay for and there’s a good chance that you won’t become a struggling artist. I’ve know many successful artists who treat their artistic endeavours like a business; they assess what will be saleable and profitable and produce that type of artwork. It doesn’t mean that they have to produce art that they don’t like or have an interest in, but they cater to what others like and have an interest in as well. It also pays to consider the message that you are trying to send. Extremely controversial artwork may get the thumbs up from your peers, but if it’s just your peers that you’re trying to impress, then expect to remain poor.

Update 1. And they never stop complaining ”Fighting for scraps’: authors push for more tax-free literary prizes‘. Not only should the state, but also the Prime Minister’s award be taxed. These writers are writing books as a business, these awards are not like a lottery win. The writer in the article even admits that their writing is an income earning venture (or tries to be). And always complaining about lack of taxpayer funding:

Authors are urging the government to give all major literary prizes tax-exempt status after last week’s Prime Minister’s Literary Awards.

Asked why writers should be given special treatment over other artists or any award winner, Ms Rogers says the average writer earns less than $13,000 a year from their craft. She also argues there is a government funding gap between literature, which has a relatively high public participation rate thanks to libraries and writers’ festivals, and art forms such as ballet, which attract a smaller percentage of the population.

Update 1. And no sooner had I written this post than another whinge appeared over the lack of taxpayer funding that’s ‘‘Devastating’: Fewer than quarter of arts funding applicants to succeed‘. It seems that the ‘arts’ industry is akin to the renewables industry, unable to sustain itself without vast taxpayer funding. With $28 million provided each year, plus more given state funding, it’s never enough. If you’re an arts company, operate like one and run it like a business, not a charity. It’s also strange that the list of arts grants is no longer publicly available on the Australia Council website. But how about telling stories about Australia that Australians want to see and hear, not weird progressive pap ‘Unbelievable things your tax dollars are funding‘.

“One of the most important ways to honour taxpayers’ money is to make sure it’s invested in ways that are strategic, that are long-term, investing in companies themselves, where we take that dollar and turn it into five, six, 10 and build an entire industry,” she said.

Opposition arts spokesman Tony Burke said: “Every cut to the Australia Council is a direct cut to the telling of Australian stories.

Update 2.  It never ceases to amaze me at how much time Australian ‘artists’ expend complaining about how they are eternally unappreciated and under-funded. I’ve been watching various videos from film producers in the US, Norway and other places following their journey to become a film maker and how they can spend years getting to where they are on their own steam, not government funding. But because Australia seems to be the land of handouts, there’s always this wailing every time that the ‘arts’ community feels the grands flow might be interrupted, ‘The Australian Government has an arts problem that starts with the word itself‘:

National arts funder the Australia Council for the Arts was recently re-launched with a new headquarters and a fresh strategy: “Creativity Connects Us”.

The strategy is designed to show how vital “creativity” is to our lives, but in doing so it deliberately downplays any reference to the “arts” the Australia Council funds.

Artists spooked by this delicate wordplay felt another backhander last week with the announcement the federal Department of Communications and the Arts will be rolled into a new super department in February.