I may be wrong about this, but it seems to me that what I think of as the official “art establishment”, in Britain, is primarily geared toward encouragement of the consumption of art, not its creation. If you try to start a band and get some gigs or a rehearsal space you can afford, get your paintings or pictures into a gallery, make a film, start a computer games software company or attempt to set up as a designer of some stripe, it’s damned hard to get a break. Many doors are summarily slammed shut in your face. Nobody wants to know. The infrastructure to support the artists just starting out is impoverished at best and non-existent at worst. We don’t seem to be very good at seeding and nurturing our creative industries, yet they have consistently been a major source of earnings, both domestic and export, for the nation. Why do we leave the creation of creative enterprises to chance? It makes no sense. Things are probably no brighter for artists in America, Canada or Australia. They are definitely more sterile in countries that traditionally do not export their artistic output successfully.
You can reel off a long list of globally famous bands and musicians, such as Pink Floyd, the Beatles, Queen, Cream, Led Zeppelin, The Who, David Bowie, The Kinks, and hundreds more that all originated in Britain and who went on to do significant business worldwide, while advancing the state of the art and creating innovative musical movements that are still popular today. All were highly original. Try to start a band today and see how far you get. The meagre opportunities that were scarce, but available, when these bands were starting don’t even exist, today. What we sit and watch instead is X-Factor, which compared to the acts I previously mentioned, is little more than watching glorified karaoke. None of the acts that won these shows has proven to have staying power. What we get is something engineered to temporarily bolster Simon Cowell’s net worth, but little of lasting cultural value.
Artists are not respected or cherished for their talents. They are considered disposable and like fashion, changeable at whim. The private companies which do exist to foster artists and their careers generally forge exploitative relationships and contracts with their artists. Yet these artists are the people that ultimately pay their wages. Nobody invests in the career of an artist over the long term, in the knowledge that this will pay huge dividends. If an artist has a long and fruitful career, it is against the odds, not because an infrastructure exists to reliably and consistently build these careers and give the artists the skills and opportunities to become established.
How many promising musical acts are thrown onto the scrapheap by their record companies every year? Those musicians haven’t forgotten how to play or entertain, have they? But instead of being protective of people that bare their souls through their art, caring for them with love and kindness, we make the institutionalised nastiness and tackiness of X-Factor and its manipulation and exploitation of the acts that appear on it into a humiliating and degrading national spectacle. We’d rather see Christians thrown to the lions than be profoundly, emotionally affected by an artist pouring his heart out for our entertainment, it seems. It seems we’ve forgotten how to care.
The turning point between when it was difficult but possible to start a creative enterprise and when it became much more difficult seemed to be the Thatcher years, with their emphasis on entrepreneurialism, ironically. It was at that time that industry was denuded for short term profits and the creative industries were no less invulnerable than mining or steel. What they meant by entrepreneurialism was evidently financial engineering, as opposed to actually creating and making things, it seems. It was during this era that the licensing laws made it prohibitive for pubs and clubs to act as live music venues. The work for budding artists began to dry up.
What came in their place was start-up incubators tied to universities or enterprise zones, where for a small fee you could spend endless days pointlessly attempting to prove to a bureaucrat that you could do what you said you could do, through a series of revisions to a fictional business plan, while never getting your hands on the princely sums they administered, which were barely sufficient to cover the costs of the computers and software tools you required, let alone pay salaries or rent studio premises. Incubators can bludgeon a good idea for a creative enterprise to death, while giving the public the happy, warm impression that the government is being supportive of our bright young things. It’s a sham. There is a fundamental flaw at the heart of the incubation system. How can you prove to somebody that you can do something, without being given the chance to actually do it?
What you need, as a creative start-up is the faith of your sponsors and unconditional, enthusiastic and unwavering support, not an endless series of hoops to jump through to prove your worthiness. That’s merely a distraction that prevents you from spending your time doing what you do best. Even if you had a track record delivering the things you said you were going to deliver, through decades in industry and in your own companies, that seemed to count for nothing in the incubators. A consequence of my own time in start-up incubators was that I ran out of my own funds to feed my family and hence I was forced to leave and get jobs delivering technology solutions for Amazon.com and companies as large as BT, instead. I think that serves as adequate proof that I could have run my own enterprise and delivered my technology, quite frankly.
Corporate and government behaviour toward artists and the nurturing of creative industries and innovation has been so pathetically wrong-headed, for at least four decades, that you can write endless articles and blog posts about it. You can never exhaust the supply of stories about bone-headed policies and decisions exhibited at a macro and micro scale, yet nothing changes. We’re just as bad as we always were at creating opportunities and making sure that artists succeed. Maybe we’re worse than ever.
Contrast this lack of focus on creative industries and the artists that drive them, with the fear industry – defence, the military, warfare, surveillance, spying, policing, law enforcement and data mining to check up on us all. The fear industry attracts vast public wealth and resources, even while austerity measures cause cuts to arts budgets first. The love industry, in contrast, which concerns itself with providing positive outlets for people’s imaginations and creativity, which produces beauty and peace, is starved of investment. We spend generously on violence and on a standing army of hired government killers, but precious little on gentleness and hired beautifiers or environment improvers. We choose a life of threat and menace over one of peace and fulfilment and direct public funds accordingly. How messed up are we?
Where does the fear industry ultimately take us and what do we reap? Permanently maimed and forgotten young men, death and destruction, injustices provoking further violence and an unbreakable cycle of revenge, generating perpetual conflict and war. It leads nowhere, except nuclear holocaust and a police state, or else toward silent, insidious weapons waged against ordinary citizens in quiet, unstated wars between the elite and the rest of us. It’s a barbaric state of affairs.
The love industry, on the other hand, begets peace, better lives, happiness, intelligence, autonomy, freedom from the need to be micro-governed, it reduces crime and edifies, encourages, enlightens and inspires every man, woman and child on the planet. It leads us to solve problems relevant to improving humanity’s lot and toward the preservation of the environment, the biosphere and life on earth. The choice is a no-brainer, yet we still spend more on fear than love. Why?
I think it was the British politician Tony Benn that said words to the effect that if we can find the money to kill people, we can certainly find the money to help them instead.
How we support struggling, starving artists and the creative industries they can (and inevitably will) start, is a barometer indicating the health of society, its prospects for long term survival and of whether we are thinking predominantly fearfully or lovingly, as a population. The barometer is currently pointing to the wrong end of the scale, regrettably.
I am not advocating a situation where unelected officials and bureaucrats exercise all power over the creative industries, controlling the purse strings and attempting to do all the thinking for us. That’s the last thing I would wish to see happen. However, I am saying that our priorities and public policies towards sponsoring and fostering the work of artists and their attendant creative industries are wrong. Dead wrong. Our institutions are no longer effective or relevant, while we are evolving, through the medium of ideas, toward a humanity that is driven by love instead of fear. To be consonant with this movement, we should be more willing to take the opportunities offered by artists and creative practitioners of all kinds. The world begins to be a better place by mobilizing these forces of renewal and innovation on a grand scale, while simultaneously scaling back the engines and organs of fear and destruction.
Isn’t it time we stopped missing the opportunities lost?