Monday, 20 July 2015

Why I Am No Longer An Artist

I know some might say — ‘Well I never considered you to be an artist!” or “Who cares?”
My concern here is with what it means to be an artist today, and how that has changed for the worse.
Unfortunately, art has become just another way to sell things in our mega-world. I rarely meet an artist anymore — just smiley, cheery, happy, upbeat people who earnestly yearn to become part of the entertainment industry — while singing a positive song or sending cute youtube vids.
This is especially tragic for young people, who are no longer taught what art is.
How did this happen?
I blame Richard Florida, a nincompoop who has somehow become a widely respected academic — despite the foolishness of his theories. (Richard Florida is — for some unknown reason — The Director of the Martin Prosperity Institute and Professor of Business and Creativity at The Rotman School of Management at The University of Toronto!)
The Rise of the Creative Class was published in 2002 and changed the way we think about art.
It was the perfect moment. Florida’s silly, badly argued theories changed the western world. The time was ripe, for the 19th century had seen the fall of communism, and the worldwide web had gradually morphed from a mechanism for creative dissent to a effective means of delivering advertising — through Google, Amazon, and iTunes. 
Also, the ultra-capitalist Reagan and Thatcher regimes effectively wiped out lefty radicalism. In the 60s (when I grew up) we learned that there was a secular human spirit. We learned that that individual human growth was cultivated through nurturing fellow humans -- advantaged or not, privileged or not -- through play, art and radical thought. When the 80s, came, with AIDS, the 60s not only ended with a dull thud, but ideas about self-realization and the importance of art were rejected as having led to promiscuity and, ultimately death.  AIDS was the perfect argument against 60s self-realization.
In the ultra-capitalist post 80s climate it was no longer possible for government or foundation funders to justify the arts on the basis of man's secular spiritual needs, since life was now all about making money and buying things  — not something as old-fashioned, silly, and laughable as the growth of the human soul.
So, arts funders, city planners (and finally sadly, today artists themselves) have come to embrace mantras such as ‘arts create jobs’ ‘arts create world-class cities; and ‘arts boost the economy.’
The result is a tragic one, for those of us who once loved art and artists. Young playwrights used to ask me “How do I write a great play?” Now they ask me “How do I write a commercial hit?” Actors don’t care about a ‘the method’ anymore, they care about becoming triple threats. Young theatre companies have learned that bigger is better and want to reach a mass audience as soon as possible.
Of course most contemporary artists are pleased to get humungous grants and create giant spectacles as part of city festivals to promote Toronto. Everywhere you see pretty pictures, ‘audience involvement’ dance experiences, light shows — contentless, unchallenging self-confirming, narcissistic displays. And hey — bring the kids! After all, there’s nothing upsetting going on here!
Whatever happened to vision, challenge, inspiration, confrontation, experimentation, soul-searching, despair, anarchism, socialism, nihilism, skepticism, nakedness, risk, blasphemy, obscenity and the breathtakingly precarious expression of scarifying beauty?

So — just in case you are interested — that’s why I don’t use the term ‘artist’ to describe myself anymore.