Wednesday, July 02, 2008

The arts are too important to state subsidise

An excellent article in the Daily Telegraph by conservative columnist Simon Heffer (who is regularly disagree with) today argues forcefully for the arts, but equally so that state subsidies are corrosive not conducive to civilising society.

He talks of the view of composer James Macmillan:

"He observed that we are trapped in "a cultural regime which adjudicates artists and their work on the basis of how they contribute to the remodelling, indeed the overthrow of society's core institutions and ethics"; or, in sum, the view that "anything that is not Left-wing is intrinsically and irredeemably evil".

Furthermore: "He would tell me how he would attend meetings of the Society of Composers and sit aghast as profoundly untalented people sat around complaining about the lack of state funding for their "jobs". (George) Lloyd, who had hardly ever received a penny in public subsidy in his life, could not grasp this mentality."

If people wrote music that others wanted to listen to, they would not need a cultural welfare state. As Mr MacMillan has found, they go out and buy CDs, they attend public performances, and reward excellence by patronage.

Lloyd went further: he always argued that if the state paid composers to write what they liked, they would write self-indulgent rubbish."

So state subsidies can fund rubbish, no surprise there - you are forced to pay for what you don't like, as if it is "good for you".

However Heffer argues that while the moral case for ending state subsidies is clear, the arts do need money:

"I cannot, to use an old cliché, see why bus drivers should pay taxes so that I can have a subsidised seat at Covent Garden. However, I am equally convinced that, if the arts are not subsidised in some way, we shall career ever more quickly down the path to being a nation of philistines."

By that he means tax credits, I'd argue that it would be better simply to lower taxes generally so that the arts, like all other activities would be better able to thrive as people would have more money to spend on what they enjoy.

It is always curious how those who despise elitism and business success are all too keen to force elitism onto taxpayers in the form of the subsidised arts. It is a vile concept that someone who is an "artist" deserves to be paid money by force from those who simply don't like what they produce. Why can't artists that produce what nobody is willing to pay for simply be allowed to fall by the wayside?

"Those "artists" who feel the state owes them a living, and who in return embark on the destructive project Mr MacMillan so rightly identified, would have to learn the difficulty of having no merit. State funding in its present form encourages this poison in our culture and in our society. One day, we might have a Culture Secretary with the sense, and the moral vision, to reform it."

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