01 June 2006

The State as arbiter of taste

You may have heard on the news about Creative New Zealand’s recently commissioned report on its support for the ‘et al’ installation as its entry in the Venice Biennale 2005. Creative NZ is the government’s main arts funding body, and this was its 3rd entry to the Biennale. The Venice Biennale is easily the world’s most significant international art exhibition. Et al is an anonymous artist (though it’s now well known who she is) and her installation caused a great deal of controversy. Why should the government have spent $500,000 on this? And is it the best use of scarce arts funding? The report mentioned above generally endorses the involvement of Creative NZ, and the presence of an NZ pavilion, at the Biennale. It does, however, recommend that more be done to proactively manage media and political reaction to the choice of artist. The negative publicity was not helped by ‘et al’ choosing to remain anonymous and hence refusing to talk to the media. Having attended the Biennale 2005 myself and seen the et al installation, I’d have to say that I did not particularly like it, nor did I find it intellectually challenging – though I don’t mind if Creative NZ takes a risk or two. Nonetheless, the whole issue highlights some interesting public policy questions. How do we ‘value’ the arts and their role in social and economic life? How does an agency of the state decide, on behalf of the taxpayer, who is to be shown at an event like the Biennale? Is the state effectively acting as an arbiter of taste on behalf of the rest of us? I am reminded of Pierre Bourdieu’s famous dictum: ‘Taste classifies, and it classifies the classifier’. Perhaps I’ll explain that another time, though.


At 4:30 PM, Blogger alberto said...

It seems like my country Brazil. But there the government resources are even scarcer.
Thank you again,


At 10:47 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes, there would have been little controversy if a private sponsor had put the work up, but to pick a work which is 'out there' in terms of the safe tastes of the majority does highlight the question of what the state's role should be in the arts at all. Could we draw a comparison with the criticisms of farm subsidies (back up to 1984) where the government had decided on which was an economic winner for the country to support financially. Interestingly, working for a Council as I do, it seems that nationally, it is OK to support tourism as an industry which we seem to have picked as a winner, but I think it will be a long day before I see a council investing in support for dairy farming.

At 10:49 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sorry, I meant to put my name at the bottom of that last comment - Mark V

At 9:13 AM, Anonymous Culture Snob said...

Well, yes, Mark - why do artists get subsidies and farmers not? The value to the economy of 'cultural industries' is often used to justify it, but what about the value to the economy of 'agri-cultural industries'? I consider myself to be a reasonably literate reader, and I would have to say that the state has been subsidising some very mediocre poetry and fiction over the years.


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