No Job for a Grown Man (part three) – Whereby the Artist Screams Poverty.

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Which is not to suggest that any of this is easy, nor that I now have a particular formula for success after four years.  There is still the chasm of indifference to cross, and as yet I still have no indication of how to cross it.  I said, two years ago, that nobody is ever going to care about anything I have to say, and I stand by this today.  Without sounding overly dramatic, society by-and-large doesn’t often care for anything for too long: there are far too many factors and trivialities vying for attention at any given time, and for an artist to believe that they have the power to stop people in their tracks is nothing short of hubris.

The often-repeated apothegm concerning history being recorded by the victors can much more effectively be broken down by swapping the term “victor” with “dominant ideology.”  That is to say (and at the risk of my ever-present working class Pharisee yet again bubbling to the surface), the West still – perhaps now more than ever over the preceding half-century – affords the neo-liberal middle with the monopoly on art production and knowledge.  One thing I did partake in over the Summer was another entry into the Frieze Writer’s Prize, which left me in no state of surprise when I was met with thunderous indifference (and which was yet again won by someone of higher social standing than myself).  Overall, this is news to nobody, and any real or imagined outrage can just as easily be attributed to sour grapes.  What has struck me as a hard truth this year, however, is how biased the art education system becomes the higher one develops.  Universities do not grant their student bodies access to art supplies in the same way that FE colleges do (although, in all fairness, HE colleges themselves are starting to phase out their provisions, if my last year at Bromsgrove is any indicator).  This means that the student must submit to one of two alienations: contiguous employment, or a lesser opportunity for progression and growth.  Naturally, the former automatically impinges on the potential of the work, whilst the latter adds financial concerns.

How the working class can ever hope to thrive in such an environment is key to the attitudes prevalent among art produced by said class.  Such art carries a sometimes-explicit anger which can be traced back to the anger found in British literature during the mid-Twentieth Century (and here I take no small pride in citing fellow Nottingham writer Alan Sillitoe).  This anger is filtered in the modern age through a crisis of identity analogous (indirectly) to de Certeau and Lefebvre and (more tacitly) to an instinctual knowledge of the bracketing tactics employed by our modern knowledge owners.  This is the exact juncture where youthful anger becomes misdirected, because rather than blame the true culprits of identity crises – which are the corporate bodies who ultimately plan and author the conduits of rebellion – the young are still identifying the same traditional scapegoats as the dominant offices of a repressive status quo.  To wit: anybody who has any measure of power greater than themselves.

It would be folly – not to mention conceit – to suggest that any previous generation were any different.  My decade-long tenure as a chef, not to mention the preceding years working as a dogsbody in hospitality made me ever-distrustful of the false camaraderie and manipulation tactics of middle-management, whilst my education previous to and after that saw an automatic feeling of being considerably lesser than my tutors.  Two perfect scenarios for (if not outright rebellion, then a species of) recalcitrance, regardless of their grounding in reality.

But the class warrior stance is not just old hat, it is now utterly threadbare, especially in an age when ninety percent of this country’s populace are being disgracefully short-changed.  With the best will in the world, I could never say anything remotely revelatory about the haves and the have-nots.  Perhaps an artist’s political stance, or more specifically artists who choose not to overtly politicise their output, operates in a tacitly Wittgensteinian manner, in that the only thing worth saying are said in silence.  Ideology has little to do with this once one accepts a starting point of all art being political, and if one approaches the plastic arts with this in mind, one can almost forget that politics is involved – because for much of the time, the artist has done the same.

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