The Dilemma of Patronage

Let us understand what has been happening in our societies for the past fifty years.

The decision to try to end the poverty status of many artists and support them with tax payers grants was, at its outset, a noble move. Patronage has always been a two edged sword and for every patron prepared to give Tchaikovsky a home and leave him to get on with his music secure from money worries there are twenty patrons who want the artist to produce the patron’s immortality.

But both rich patron and Government agency have the same problem. Which artists do I choose? For the rich patron the answer is a mix of what they like and those they know have been accepted by their society as worthy – in other words anyone who has made a name for themselves.

But government patronage has to come with a different level of awareness. Striving to make sure the tax payer sees money being spent wisely. And in so doing, over many years, the Arts Council and the National Endowment have become agencies of social engineering.

It is absolutely correct to say that rich patrons and the church were also agents of social engineering, also dictated what they thought the public should think, also made decisions behind closed doors on what art should be and where it should be shown. It is absolutely wrong to think for one moment that modern government grant agencies are any different. That they are not is something rich patrons have long known which is why they have fed their own collections with money harvested from tax payers. In the June 2015 issue of the New Art Examiner Dr Nizan Shaked writes:

The extremely inflated price of art at this moment has increasingly transferred control of content away from the hands of professionals and into the sway of laymen patrons, who unabashedly use the institution to increase the value of their private collections.”

Across Europe these institutions are publicly funded. So once collectors and patrons know they could increase their wealth through using public institutions and the grant system, they began to build bigger institutions. The public, coming from the religious world view where cathedrals meant greater religiosity, thought big buildings meant greater culture. In their imaginations the museums and art galleries, exertions and mini-empires like the Tate, meant a healthy culture not a capitalist enterprise manufacturing profits by merging public and private funds. The public have been mislead.

“…regarding the Tate¹s purchase in 2005 of its trustee Chris Ofili’s work The Upper Room The Guardian expounded,  The Tate has broken the law … By law, trustees cannot receive monetary benefit from their charity without express permission, usually from the commission. The Tate failed to seek permission … The Charity Commission¹s full recommendations and criticisms, laid out in a lengthy document, also said the Tate failed to manage conflicts of interest … Failed to seek independent valuation of works by artist-trustees … Had no defined policy relating to purchases from artist-trustees … Had insufficiently clear acquisition policies … Kept insufficient records of trustee meetings.”

The Daily Telegraph called this verdict one of the most serious indictments of the running of one of the nation¹s major cultural institutions in living memory.”

The man in charge of this is one of the most powerful men in the international art world, Nicholas Serota, soon to be head of the Arts Council and therefore in charge of policy and grant giving in the UK for years to come.

This behind-hand, self serving manipulation of the grant system for personal wealth creation is not new but the public seem largely unaware of it. As Brexit and Trump’s Presidential win have shown for decades people have thought of those who rule in our culture and rule our culture, are a law unto themselves, are distant and there is nothing the general public can do but let them get on with it. Revolts take a long time to mature. The is not only antagonism for the political status-quo there is a growing antagonism for the art that has been foisted upon the people through them. Contemporary art in the blue-chip art world has nothing more to do with our culture and everything to do with profits and thus is as corrupted as our banks became. Patrons sitting on millions of tax-payers money have power and are a new form of rich – able to play on the world stage, enjoying warm relations with billionaires, commuting between international galleries on a daily basis and doing deals worth millions. These Machiavellian manipulators of the art world will sell anything into a willing market place and it is this fact that has lead to the supremacy of the ‘everything is art’ movement and not any coherent philosophy on what art is or what art means or even the place and role of the artist in society.

What people long for in a little bit of honesty from their leaders. Sadly they won’t get it from Trump nor will they get it from the Conservative Party coup that has taken place in the UK. The making of money and the telling of truth are diametrically opposed and so has become the making and exhibiting of art.

Only voices, millions endless millions ever lonely
Voices, in history’s pale indifferent winds of no-rejoicing
Only deep black whirlpools suck and spin around a stoney
Joyless humanity trying in desperation to hoist
Their battered souls above their votes, trying to care -
The world’s song is a marching-song against the wise -
Bare are the breasts of dying dreams and where
Skies are storm-torn and cruel, men tell lies -...”
(Shänne Sands 'Power')

Daniel Nanavati UK Editor

Volume 31 number 3, January / February 2017 pp 6-7

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