Neoliberalism as an economic ideology is based on promoting “rational self-interest” through policies such as pivatisation, deregulation, globalisation and tax cuts, in which we now see the widest gulf between rich and poor in modern history.
Culture and the arts have not been spared- artists have steadily fallen into the trap that has meant that art-working is at worst impossibly precarious, at best neurotic, always-on, freelance and wired, an existence that figures quite neatly with the demands of the neoliberal agenda. As Liam Gillick has said: “Artists are people who behave, communicate, and innovate in the same manner as those who spend their days trying to capitalize every moment and exchange of daily life. They offer no alternative to this.” In many ways we have what we always dreamed of art and life have become one, except it has materialised in a de-regulated nightmare, a “continually mutating capitalism of the moment.” (Gillick). The results for creative arts education are apparent. We see the results of government cuts to creative subjects, by now well-rehearsed in the media, with shrinking provision for anything outside of the sciences in schools. Philanthropy and private funders are meant to pick up the slack. Politicians and ministers, often with cultured and educated backgrounds themselves, are responsible for a diminishing of the arts for generations of young people.
But I believe some of the responsibility has to be shared by creative arts education itself. We have been guilty of a lack of vision in two ways: firstly that we have argued very successfully for creativity as a cross-disciplinary tool in education, uncoupling it from the study of the Arts as discrete subjects. Secondly we have found it hard to argue for the outcomes and benefits of creativity in a convincing way that has not had to use the language of the market and its metrics. This first point has led to the closure of the art-room, as the government has been made to see how creativity is present in all subjects: we now have sci-art in schools, we write creatively about geography and this has been a gift to the market-forces that see the spaces and resources of arts in education as wasteful. But the second statement is more worrying and has more to do with a wholesale marketization of creativity. If artists are the ultimate capitalist workers, then the failure of the arts education to adequately describe its benefits even to itself means that the gap is closing from both directions- corporate models of creative strategies play out in education settings and the prevailing narrative is of innovators and design thinkers who service the miracle of the £84 billion creative economy.
What we have perhaps forgotten is the transformational potential of art for its own sake. This is the ability of a painting or art object to change everything, completely, in the life of its beholder. An outcome that may take twenty, or fifty years to manifest but is nonetheless that of the collective human project. But history is passing us by now. We had better get our message across, and fast, to make the case for the intrinsic worth of art to society before we find it becoming the province of only the wealthy.
Stephen Felminham is Programme Leader: BA (Hons) Painting, Drawing & Printmaking Plymouth College of Art. He gained his doctoral thesis at the University of Leeds. His areas of research interest are landscape, drawing, place and the contemporary sublime. He studied MA Drawing at Wimbledon School of Art where he won the Postgraduate Drawing Prize and was shortlisted for the Jerwood Drawing Prize in 2009.
Volume 31 no. 4 March / April 2017 p 9