Make Good Art (even if it doesn’t pay)

There have been two highly distressing anti-arts news stories this week: one from the US and one from the UK.

The first came two days ago in the form of an interview with two married artists (one poet, one musician) from Minnesota, who are under investigation by their state’s tax authorities. The argument boils down to: you can’t be a serious artist, because you’re not making enough money, so this must be a hobby, and your expenses are therefore not tax deductible. Art is only art if it makes a profit after a certain amount of time, and if it doesn’t you must stop and go and get a job in a biscuit factory.

The second one was a speech given by the UK Culture Secretary of all people, Maria Miller, who insists that culture must contribute to the economy. Sam West, Chair of the National Campaign for the Arts wrote eloquently about this here. Miller said government funding for the arts is less than 1% of total government spending in the UK. In fact it’s 0.01%.

The thing about arts funding from the government is that arts that are in themselves profitable and of direct economic benefit don’t need funding. The arts that need funding are the ones that don’t make a profit. The ones that inspire the children. The ones that benefit mental health. The ones that enable people to make sense of their lives. Art is valuable for what it is for us, what it does for us, and how it sits inside us. It’s a statement about what the world should be like. It might not pay. But it makes the world a better place in ways which money can’t buy. Because value is not the same as price (and I think I pinched that from Sam West, so apologies).

There’s only one response to make to either of these stories, once you’ve ruled out weeping in a corner and rioting in the streets. Watch this. And: Make. Good. Art.

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