an open letter to a few young friends of mine
in a week when an ex serving Special Forces Major in the Parachute Regiment - who, by his own admission, knows absolutely fuckall about the arts - is appointed to be the new shadow minister of culture, it feels like time either to die of an apoplexy-induced aneurysm or, rolling around in the warm puddle of one's own uncontrollably evacuated bladder, of hysterical laughter.
it's patently been the case for a very long time that the value of the arts to our benighted cultural community has become defined only in its material sense. the fact that the arts do, indeed, provide a significant contribution to the economy, is entirely secondary to their true function, and is, indeed, fundamentally irrelevant.
the arts are valuable in the sense that our minds are valuable. we can point at all the material bits of us - from metacarpals to amygdala - and say that this is this and that does that, but it's actually our minds that matter, in the end. and you can neither locate nor put a price on a mind. (I'm avoiding saying 'the soul', because I'm one of those odd atheists who actually believes we have one, but that's another thread, even if it applies in just the same way.)
one of the lasting legacies of The Bitch was to engage all subsequent politics with the appalling notion that the commodification of everything was a desirable and necessary condition to the achievement of a properly run society, and that everything - everything - needs must become material grist to the free market mill of capitalism.
let us never, ever forget that the one man who, more than any other, has dictated the UK fine art agenda for the last thirty-odd years is an ex-advertising troll who, with his brother, devised and ran the campaign that helped get The Bitch into office. he's The Bitch's bitch - always was, always will be, with no more capability to discriminate between good and bad art than a deaf and blind axolotl. he's just rich. if Richard Branson (god forbid, but he probably will!) were to set up an art gallery of his own and stock it with a commissioned artist's assembly of his flash-fried turds, they would immediately be hailed as great art and sell for lots and lots of money.
so it goes.
miracles do happen.
the nation's art education has become epitomised as the failing struggle between the attempts of a few dedicated teachers - all, without exception, now either broken or on the threshold of breakdowns - and an education establishment that's determined to mould its 'clients' - and the international students whose higher fees merit their prioritisation over the natives - into nothing more nor less than a set of compliant debt-management social units.
the rector and chief executive of one prominent arts-based university (quite telling, that title - they used to be called simply 'chancellors') which shall remain nameless was heard explaining recently, off the record, to a dumbfounded teaching colleague of my own acquaintance that their function now was primarily 'to enable their students to support capitalism' (sic).
despite all this - despite everything - there keeps emerging, generation upon generation, a steady stream of young artists whose passion to make art is fuelled, not by the desire to make money, but by the need - I'd almost call it an instinct specific to a very particular grouping in our species if that didn't sound élitist - which it is - but what the heck - to follow in the footsteps of those artists whose work has preceded and inspired them, and to run with that inspiration, to make work of their own, to express themselves as only they, uniquely, can.
at risk of sounding disturbingly saccharine, I do consider myself extraordinarily fortunate to have encountered, in the course of my own working life, so many young artists (not 'aspiring artists', because all true artists are aspiring - the path's the thing, not the getting there - some are just newer to it than others). some of them I've known for many years, some have long since drifted away over our mutual horizons, and some have only recently hove into view. it's profoundly exhilarating to realise that this need - the heat generated by this eternal flame - is never going to be extinguished, that it's going to continue to be passed on, from generation to generation, for as long as there are fellow humans around who need what it is that only they can provide, in the face of and despite the political predisposition to smother it.
so - my New Years message to Charlotte, Jahouli, Julie, Jessica, Linas, Neringa, Chippy, Sophie, Sorcha, Todd, and anyone else who cares to listen - whichever discipline you're working in, regardless of whether you think you're succeeding or failing, regardless of whether you think you know where you're going or whether you think you're losing your way, regardless of whether you're pleased with how it's going or desperate that it doesn't appear to be going anywhere in particular, regardless of whether they like it or I like it or even whether you like it yourself:
JUST - KEEP GOING .
JUST - KEEP GOING!
you'll never get where you think you might be going, but as long as you JUST KEEP GOING you will - I promise you - discover some unimaginably amazing stuff on the way which, hopefully, will feed into your own practice and thereby get shared with the rest of us. because we deserve it.
oh - one other thing.
never listen to a word of advice anyone like me offers you.
go and get a proper job. you'll end up much happier.