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2015 is not left: 5 reasons why art is becoming more exclusive

Art ends its 70th anniversary as a 'Leftist Hobby' in 2015. There is not much more to predict for this year. Art goes back to the bourgeois-status it held since the start of the industrial revolution.

1: Art was never on the left

Art, of course, has never been 'left'. Subsidy may have come from the thinking tubes of social and Christian democrats, but art in itself was therefore not automatically leftist. There have of course been quite a few artists over the centuries who cared about the little man, but very often this was also a purely aesthetic concern. From Breughel, Caravaggio and Van Gogh to the Novib calendar: poverty just looks fantastic.

From a distance.

Nor is it true that arts other than visual arts care about the worker. Even the musical, the most popular of all arts, attracts an audience of citizens, not of the lowest social classes. And to come straight to Les Misérables: in that, The People was mainly a reason for pretty pictures and sentimental bleating. Pretty, but leftist? Nope.

Give artists the choice and they will best often commit to the biggest audience, or the best paying one. After all, not many people make art with the main purpose of dying of poverty and hunger. And for a long time, of course, the best-paying audience has been the government. Whether it was commissions for art in public spaces or grants for theatre companies: you had to answer to government officials and the peers in the grant allocation committees. If those were left-wing, well ahead, so was the arts. Or concerned with minorities, youth, diversity and entrepreneurship, as the arts plan dictated.

2: Art was free for 70 years

One thing we can say about the past 70 years is that art was relatively 'free'. Within the margins of the arts plan and the policy boundaries of press and peers in the art world, an artist - whether writing, claying, making music or acting - was free to make what he or she felt was important, without having to die of hunger immediately.

With that formal artist freedom under pressure with the reduction of subsidies, artists, as entrepreneurs, must increasingly submit to the laws of the market and the economy. Something that entire generations have not been brought up with. This makes many artists very poor, which should make them a great friend of the other poor in this world. Only, who are these other poor? Not the workers, because they are all in the union and have a solid social safety net.

3: Artists do not have a business plan

The new poor are presumably increasingly self-employed entrepreneurs who, like the artist, yearn for freedom and independence but have no real business plan to get rich quick. And even though the government, together with the once leftist trade unions, is threatening to launch a major offensive on that freedom-seeking modern poor, the highly educated juicer with an entrepreneurial dream is the artist's new peer group, his natural habitat.

4: Art seeks small space

And that leads to a new character of art. The poor entrepreneur is often a bit liberal and a bit socially-motivated. And voila: most of the art we see in recent years, in galleries, libraries and on stages, is a bit liberal and quite socially moved. Besides, it is no longer a mass movement. Theatres may be relatively unaffected by the crisis, but for real art you increasingly don't need to be in such large public buildings. Galleries are seeing their customers disappear to the internet. Museums opt for the safety of international hits.

Over the past year, I have been getting more and more invitations to art gatherings in private settings. That small domain for the arts can range from the living room theatre with which groups like Matzer and Aluin score high marks, to private galleries, salons and living room concerts. And although these are sometimes expensive to organise and therefore automatically become something for the rich, the price is often not so high that an average middle-class family can easily finance such an event instead of the band you used to have perform once a year.

Art can be made and distributed reasonably cheaply that way. Thanks to the internet, books already don't cost a fortune to spend either, and in small circles, sharing art and giving money is less strange than in the big bad outside world where it is all becoming increasingly anonymous, while we are starting to get the anxious feeling that we are no longer ruled by our government, but by Google and Facebook.

5: Art is dichotomy

Art flees to the private domain: personal contact is nice, small is hip and happening. Excluding the new big. And then, who knows, maybe a few will join the global premier league of the arts where money no longer plays any role: at art fairs in Asia where a painted napkin goes out the door for at least a million, and in obscure little theatres in New York where people will easily plunk down a few hundred euros for a ticket to see stars play Shakespeare. The dichotomy grows between that big, rich world closed off to mere mortals for the 1 per cent and the small, safe and private world of the living room of the 99% below. And who hoped that art is mainly anarchy? They can go to the world of computer games. GTA is art. Of the raw, nasty and addictive kind. Also very exclusive, by the way.

Does that make all art right-wing? Any more than all art is left-wing.

It does become more and more of a hobby.

You can respond, but only if you member are.

Wijbrand Schaap

Cultural journalist since 1996. Worked as theatre critic, columnist and reporter for Algemeen Dagblad, Utrechts Nieuwsblad, Rotterdams Dagblad, Parool and regional newspapers through Associated Press Services. Interviews for TheaterMaker, Theatererkrant Magazine, Ons Erfdeel, Boekman. Podcast maker, likes to experiment with new media. Culture Press is called the brainchild I gave birth to in 2009. Life partner of Suzanne Brink roommate of Edje, Fonzie and Rufus. Search and find me on Mastodon.View Author posts

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