Lecture by Pascal Gielen next Monday (7/7)

July 3, 2008 at 1:27 pm Leave a comment

Manifestare Potenza

Fresh Air and Full Lungs

Make way for an art of the full horizon

Pascal Gielen and Paul De Bruyne

Since the wall that separated us from our eastern neighbours came down in 1989, nearly the whole world has been living in the triumphant grasp of neo-liberalism. Like any victorious ideology, it presents itself as the only possible, imaginable way, an ineluctable, logical and positive realism in which the manager is the key protagonist.

We would be the last to deny that the freedom of neo-liberalism opens up marvellous opportunities for the arts. But we are just as convinced that this ideology also curtails the horizon of opportunities for the arts. We consider it our task to continually name that cultural horizon and to poke holes in the mask of the horse that have been placed on our heads, in order to let in some fresh air with which to fill our lungs.

There is a tendency sometimes to deny the ideological character of the contemporary climate. We see this, for instance, in the cultural policy of the Netherlands. It makes no difference whether the minister of culture is of white or black political colouring, the policy is solidly neo-liberal. The effects of this can be seen in the increasing number of commercial productions in theatres, the demand that museums be self-supporting, the obsessive boosting of artistic and cultural entrepreneurship. It is also visible in the thorough restructuring of the Dutch broadcasting foundation (NOS) budget and the auctioning off of radio frequencies to the highest bidder.

The debate about culture has no political signature whatsoever, but exhibits all the characteristics of a bureaucratic and technocratic dispute. The discussion of the cultural planning system is deemed more important than a debate on the content of cultural policy.

What strikes us is that the discourse on policy simply adopts the neo-liberal logic unquestioningly. In the recent publication Cultuurbeleid in Nederland (Cultural policy in the Netherlands – 2008), published by OC&W and the Boekman Foundation, expressions such as ‘government infiltration’, ‘commercialisation’ and ‘cultural entrepreneurship’ circulate as if they were neutral and self-evident terms that present the current situation objectively.
That the official apparatus meekly or unthinkingly reproduces the reigning ideology may seem obvious. Bureaucrats have a reputation (and a political stance) to protect in this regard. But this should not apply to the Boekman Foundation, where in recent years the intellectual and ideological debate has systematically been traded in for a technocratic discourse. We are thinking here, for example, of the recent issue dealing with professional arts education, a subject that is close to our hearts as art professors. In that issue, a disproportionate amount of attention was paid to the position of directors and organisers of the training programmes. The Boekman Foundation considers itself exonerated from the task of looking at the policy of an educational programme from the perspective of the student as well, or from portraying the social horizon apart from neo-liberalism. That is very odd, and frightening.

The limitations of neo-liberal ideology are often invisible in discussions on policy. Its blessings, by contrast, are loudly trumpeted. Above all its potential blessings.
The entire art world has ended up being a cheerleader for the creative industries, a notion eloquently developed by Richard Florida.
Biennials and arts festivals are springing up like mushrooms around the world, in the context of a constantly expanding network of city marketing projects. Professional arts education programmes are quickly redefined as production units in which (artistic) competencies are developed in order to be directly applied within an entrepreneurial climate.
Our critique of these developments is not so much that the quality of the artworks as such declines within a context of neo-liberalism. That is simply not the case. There is no lack of beautiful art being created in all the various disciplines, as well as in the mixed forms being stimulated through the creative industries and political contexts.
But what we are apprehensive about is that Florida’s optimistic account, precisely because it exudes and generates positive energy, will not be evaluated critically. Will artists become better for it? Will their art be better? Can the artist’s creative sources still be explored freely if the surrounding environment has very clear conceptions of the finality of art (social cohesion, tolerance and economically productive open spaces).

The answer to these questions will be nuanced. But the nuance will have to come from the social critics, because the majority of politicians, arts mediators and cultural entrepreneurs are not interested in a precise and therefore contradictory observation of the state of affairs.

Our potential critique of the growing symbiosis between artistic tradition and creative industries does not imply that we automatically agree with the strategies that are developing an open critique of the existing neo-liberal artistic situation. The so-called new commitment in the visual arts, architecture and performance arts in a sense fit perfectly into Florida’s strategy. Many committed artists strive for the same goals as the economists and politicians, with whom they at first sight seem to be in conflict. That is, the so-called NGO artists run the same risks as the development cooperation NGOs, for instance. Do their interventions not lead to a certain laziness and addiction that are more a hindrance than a help to development?
Other, so-called revolutionary artistic strategies that stand outside the neo-liberal discourse are also subjected to a critical approach, since the actual art trajectories do not fully measure up to the revolutionary pretentions of their precursors.

Finally, the ecological Jeremiahs seem to be trapped in a paradox according to which the certainty of the approaching ecological decline renders every artistic achievement futile, or even counter-productive.

We are not advocating a weak-kneed critique of all that is and will be. But we do want to seek out new or overlooked possibilities. It is precisely by bringing these to the surface that we hope to find some ways at least of escaping the reigning hegemony. Such an undertaking is called a vitalistic, critical trajectory that draws playfully on the many possibilities which neo-liberalism offers us, at times even subverting them in order to pursue different paths. What it comes down to is fresh air, full lungs, a cry of revolt against branding and a longing for a full, 360 degree horizon. We believe this is the attitude that will enable us to make the least meaningless contribution to the wonderful world of the highly fluid political and artistic meanderings which we are given to experience at this juncture.


Entry filed under: unidee.

Lecture by Yona Friedmann at Ratti Foundation this Thursday (7/3) Economics of Art or What’s the value of a blue sky?

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