In Arts Angst [Wat Tyler] presents a characteristically well-researched and witty appraisal of the current state of arts funding. Not a pretty picture. The trough is large, and many are feeding.
For once, though, Wat’s conclusion is wrong. He makes the classic mistake of “the false alternatives”.
Let us imagine that the Chancellor of the Exchequer of a country with no arts funding and no health care is down to his last £1 million and faced with a stark choice. Does he build a hospital or an art gallery? The answer is obvious, but the question is irrelevant in a country like the UK. We are not down to our last £1 million. We can do both.
Yes, we can. But why can we do both?
The simple answer is because we tax people far too highly. In fact, as a proportion of income, we tax the poor—those least likely to participate in said arts—rather more highly than the rich. Thus, we extort money from the poor in order to subsidise those activities enjoyed, to the greater degree, by the richer members of the population. In fact, Timmy sums it up rather well.
Let’s get this straight shall we? There shouldn’t be any taxpayer subsidy for the arts. You like it, you love it, great, get out there and do it. If you’re not good enough to draw a large enough paying crowd to make money out of it then you’re going to have to do it for free. There’s really no reason to tax the dustman and the nurse for this indoor relief for that part of the population that likes to show off.
And nor should nice, high-earning, middle-class GPs demand that the dustman or the nurse fund their opera.
Next, Wat will say, “Ah yes, but there are always better things upon which to spend tax payers’ money than theatre and opera.” More difficult to answer in specifics – how do you argue the relative merits of “The Marriage of Figaro” and a heart transplant? - but still the question is irrelevant in a county like the UK. We can do both. The NHS may be in poor shape, the army may be underfunded, MPs may be underpaid – pick your own cause – but all of these problems can be solved without stopping the funding of the arts. It would not be possible to maintain the cultural heritage of this country without some central funding.
First, since when was opera, or indeed, Mozart, part of "the cultural heritage of this country"? You might make that argument about Shakespeare, my dear Crippen, but not for the Marriage of Figaro; nor, indeed, for your Bauhaus architecture or your Kandinskys.
Second, I seriously doubt that the person who requires the heart transplant will see the question as an irrelevance. Of course, your humble Devil would also argue that the Chancellor of the Exchequer should never have to make the decision because the state should be neither building hospitals nor subsidising theatres.
Because you see, I am also fairly certain that even the most ardent Mozart fan would rather have that heart transplant than fund yet another production of Mozart's opus. How many more lives would the Arts Council's £600 million per annum save? What would these people's priorities be?
Central government cannot know, of course. It may indeed be that Mr Mozart-Fanatic-Heart-Transplant might chose to subsidise a performance of the deeply un-British opera over the saving of his life, but might I venture the opinion that he should choose for himself? Might I suggest that, if he wishes this to go ahead, he donates the money that he would have spent on his heart transplant to the National Opera?
Perhaps the good Doctor might consider this when next he has a patient in such a situation?
"I'm sorry, Mrs Miggins, but I am afraid that you are going to die because a performance of The Marriage of Figaro is far more important than your life."
But he does not have the authority—and nor does the damn state—to decide these priorities for people.
I say that we should substantially reduce taxation: if people wish to fund the arts, then they may freely do so. Indeed, I don't really have a problem with the £200 million that the Arts Council receives from the Lottery: these people know the deal and they are freely choosing to attempt to get rich and to fund "good causes". But it is "choice" that is the crucial and operative concept here.
There is another obvious fallacy in Crippen's argument and that is the idea that art would not exist without central funding; it is something that I addressed with, regard to the cut in the NSDF's funding, a few weeks back.
I am sure that the NSDF is a valuable institution: it has been going for 53 years, after all.
Which rather begs the question: since the Arts Council has only been funding them for the last 14 years, what did they do before that?
Art has been around rather longer than organised governments, and what we call "fine art" (as opposed to the daubs of Neanderthals) has been around considerably longer than governments have been funding it.
Or perhaps I am on the wrong side here? I like to think that some of the stuff that I produce—especially that which I do for my own amusement—is art. Would anyone be happy that their taxes were funding my ever bigger and better Macs, or perhaps the software that I use to create these pieces? After all, what is the difference between the art that I produce and that which Mozart produced?—mine is, at least, British.
No. I am quite sure that those who would be happy to fund my scribblings might choose to click on my Donate button; I am quite sure that I would never demand that those who do not wish to pay me to create fund my activities through that money that is extorted from them with menaces.