Thursday, November 25, 2004

Is the horse dead yet?


[update - May 27, 2005: If you would like to see where the discussion has gone since this was initially posted, click here.]

It occurred to me this morning that the inherent difference between Visual Artists and the rest of the cultural world could be shown by the reactions to these proposed changes to the way the Canada Council fund the visual arts.

CARFAC (the national organization for artists) is against them.
RCAAQ (the Quebec organization of Artist Run Centers) is against them.
RAAV (the Quebec organization for artists) is against them.
PAARC (the West Coast organization for artists) is against them. [currently the link doesn't work]
ARCCO (the Ontario organization of Artist Run Centers) is against them.

I don't know if there is a West Coast organization for Artist Run Centers, or if there an Ontario organization for artists, nor do I know what the heck is happening out east - but my best guess would be that they are against the proposed changes, too.

[For those of you late to the discussion, the proposed changes to the Canada Council's funding for Visual Artists are a turn towards getting Canadian Art exhibited and seen by as many people as possible. As of now, they give out money to big thinkers who, if they chose, can keep their thoughts to themselves. And for the record, I'm all in favor of the changes.]

Now if we shuffle off to a slightly different cultural idiom, namely music. How is it that Denise Donlon, Fiona Smith and Grant Dexter got to speak before the House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance yesterday, and according to CBC Radio (nothing on line as of now) they were successful in convincing Liza Frulla to keep the "Canada Music Fund" and the "Tomorrow something" fund, despite Paul Martin's decision to tell every government department that it needs to cut 5% of it's budget.

The only people on the visual arts side that were there were from the Canadian Museums Association, and the Canadian Conference of the Arts (and they do more than just visual arts).

Sorry to break the news to you here folks, but the biggest selling singer in the world is Canadian, the biggest selling visual artist? Most likely German. OK, so you don't like the "populist" nature of the comparison? Glenn Gould's various recordings or the Goldberg Variations are critically and academically considered to be the bestest ever (and as an aside, they aren't exactly gathering dust on the shelves, either). The Montreal Symphony Orchestra is academically and critically considered to be one of the top five orchestras in the world (psst, they can sell out Carnegie Hall, even with a b-grade replacement conductor).

What Canadian Visual Artist can compare with the reputations that Céline, Gould or the OSM have on an international level? The past two Canadian representatives to the Venice Biennale have done really bad electro-acoustic music and appropriated George W. Bush's Christmas Card to the American public as what they thought was "cutting edge Canadian Art."

From this seat, if the visual artists out there would stop worrying about the chump change doled out by the Canada Council, get their acts together and set up a meeting with Liza Frulla (or better still, Paul Martin) then perhaps they'd be able to convince the holders of the purse strings that the Canada Council should be giving out scads of cash.

As I don't see that happening, ever. The only other way that I can see visual artists making the money that they deserve is by selling it. Part and parcel of the process of selling it, is displaying it, marketing it, promoting it, etc.

Two days ago something called "Ragazza Che Cammina" by Michelangelo Pistoletto sold for almost $259,000 (cdn). It had been exhibited in Venezia, XXXIII Biennale Internazionale d'Arte, 1966 and San Paolo, IX Biennale di San Paolo - Sezione Italiana, 1967. Is there anybody out there who truly believes that somebody would have spent more than a quarter of a million dollars on something that had been sitting in a broom closet for 40 years?

Glenn Could toured and recorded his fanny off at the begining of his career. Dutoit got the OSM playing in front of an audience, something like 250 days a year in the 1980s (and when they weren't playing in front of an audience they were recording yet another CD), Sony Music paid about $10 per CD sold, in order to market and promote Céline Dion's first English CD.

And none of them (ok, Céline excepted) were doing the aural equivalent of a painting of kids playing hockey.

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