January 22, 2004


Damn that evil John Howard and his bigoted pro-railway views:

The arts had fallen off the national agenda, Robyn Nevin said last night. The Prime Minister, John Howard, would attend the opening of a major new railway, but not the opening of a major new theatre.

Tragic, isnít it? Try to hold back the tears.

Ms Nevin said: "We thrived under Gough Whitlam. We might have under Paul Keating and his untried creative nation. We benefited from Harold Holt's Australia Council, John Gorton's film school and Malcolm Fraser's film industry funding. Don Dunstan, Neville Wran and Bob Carr have been bold in their vision for the arts in their states."

Artists may have thrived. Art didnít. Nor did the taxpayers whom Nevin demands must finance her friends and their hobbies.

"Artists have a role to play in the unfolding of our national narrative ... "

So let Ďem play it. Just keep your artistic hands out of our pockets, you thieving pack of mimes.

Posted by Tim Blair at January 22, 2004 12:20 PM

No, no, no - it's a theiving pack of memes, right?

Oh, nevermind.

Posted by: Anticipatory Retaliation at January 22, 2004 at 12:41 PM

Artistes still go gooey over "Creative Nation."

The memory of all the luvvies marching in lockstep with Paul still gives me the shivers.

And anyone remember the "Keatings?" Large dollops of taxpayer funding lobbed at whoever took Paul's fancy. No matter that the beneficiaries were already successful.

Posted by: The Mongrel at January 22, 2004 at 12:42 PM

They just don't get it.

If art exhibitions depicting warped religious figures, for example, somehow resonated with a larger part of the community, then by logical following, more people would turn up to see it.

Currently the system has fuck all to do with 'cultural identity' or 'reflecting upon society'. It is a publicly-funded, backslapping activist channel where you can voice your own fucked up agenda (provided it is a left wing one), at the expense of the rest of us.

Posted by: donnyc at January 22, 2004 at 12:43 PM

Australia's greatest cultural achievements were not products of subsidies. Not the novels of Henry Handel Richardson, Marcus Clarke, or Christina Stead. Not our massively successful exports, Clive James, Barry Humphries or Robert Hughes.

All that subsidies have given us is masses of dreary, uniform mediocrity. Nevin's phrase about plays that 'interrogate our identity' is telling; this is the orthodoxy that any artist hoping for a grant or accolade must follow in subsidised Australia. The idea of 'interrogating identity' is that you must relentlessly attack the culture that actually gave us the likes of Stead and James, partly in the hope of obliterating our memory of what good Australian art actually is, and thus making today's subsidised garbage seem better, or at least more virtuous.

As insurmountable as this orthodoxy seems, though, we can take comfort from the fact that no-one will be reading, watching or listening to the products of the contemporary Australian cultural establishment even twenty years from now, let alone one hundred. Our unsubsidised glories, however, will live on.

Posted by: Dave at January 22, 2004 at 01:33 PM

This is letter sent to silly moaning hilmer today,
bet it won't appear.
"Nevin chides Howard over arts, January 22" But darrrrling if only those plebs would do as I say & vote out Howard. Then everything would be super & all of my friends would be happy & in well paid positions. You know, and I mean this most sincerely, Whitlam & Keating should be canonized

Posted by: Michael Casey at January 22, 2004 at 02:26 PM


Yes, no one will be reading, watching, or listening to them. But we will be paying for them.

Posted by: donnyc at January 22, 2004 at 02:45 PM

Oh, get a life guys - what doesn't get subsidised? Are our elite Olympic athletes thieves as well? Is higher education a hobby too? Should pensioners pay full fare on the bus? Or are your negative attitudes the product of some deep sense of inadequacy in the face of artistic excellence?

In any event, you've completely missed the point - "Without confident leaders, or leaders who have confidence in the usefulness of art, we will be a thinner society and a less colourful one, and the brain drain might cripple us," she said

She just wants Howard to turn up to a few art events rather than just getting booed at the rugby.

Posted by: Trevor Cook at January 22, 2004 at 02:52 PM

Banjo Patterson and Henry Lawson created their art while having a job at the same time.

I think that's the reason why so much modern art is complete shit. Artists are more concerned with getting their snouts in the public trough than creating good art.

Name one good artist Australia has produced lately?

Posted by: Mike Hunt at January 22, 2004 at 03:43 PM


Point taken, but subsidies actually seem to help our athletes achieve things. Pensions demonstrably get pensioners from one bus stop to another. The same can't be said for arts subsidies.

Posted by: Dave at January 22, 2004 at 03:55 PM

Umm... trevor: Running a marathon at 5 minutes per mile is simply amazing. It is an act that even the casual observer understands requires discipline, talent and years of training.

Ditto for designing a small robot to land on a far away planet.

But buying a crucifix, peeing in a jar and combining the two is the act of a buffoon. And that is exactly why people are tired of subsidizing ďartĒ.

Posted by: mike at January 22, 2004 at 03:56 PM

Uhh, Trev, I don't think ANYTHING should be subsidised.
That's what a free market is about- people paying for goods and services they want with THEIR OWN MONEY.
As for subsidised bus fares for pensioners, if the coffin-dodgers haven't squirreled away some spare cash to pay their own bus fares, they can walk.
If assorted leeches didn't have their palsied paws ensconsed in most peoples' pockets, subsidies would not be required; you would have your own money to spend on what you want.
If you think public funding of the yartz is such a great idea, have a look at the cultural wonders produced under Hitler and Stalin.
Put the term "public" in front of any noun, and it immediately changes its meaning, whether it be art, transport or toilet- and often the three are combined.

Posted by: Habib at January 22, 2004 at 04:07 PM

There seems to be a number of points to respond to:

1. A lot of modern art isn't much good - well, its hard to argue against this point (most art, most of the time isn't much good just as most athletes are pretty average) but its not much of an argument against subsidies as such.

2. Does Australia produce good artists - the answer is undoubtedly yes - in every field writers, singers, musicians - most of them aren't celebrities of course but that's an argument for subsidies not against them. The Sydney Symphony is recognised around the world for its high standard and so on. And in acting - Ms Nevin's field - do I really have to give you a list

3. Should we subsidise anything - hard to imagine a fair society and one worth living in without some subsidisation. Discredited theories like public choice notwithstanding

Nice talking to you

Posted by: Trevor Cook at January 22, 2004 at 04:30 PM

Worth living in for who- the recipients of enforced largesse, philanthropy and charity, or the indentured providers?
"Fair society" and "equity" are buzzwords used generally by those with a vested interest in the maintennence of the welfare state.
I don't see anything "fair" or "equitable" about having part of my income legally extorted for purposes I disagree with.

Posted by: Habib at January 22, 2004 at 04:47 PM


There are definite connections between subsidies and bad art. When it is your job to hand out money to artists, then, in order to keep your job, it is in your interests to hand out as much as you can, with a view to getting more, regardless of how many artists actually deserve what your getting. Ms Nevins is case in point. The result is the rewarding of meritless art and the further encouragement of the talentless and workshy into an industry that will provide for them without asking much in return.

Yes, there are good artists in Australia now, but few really exceptional ones.

Posted by: Dave at January 22, 2004 at 05:01 PM

This is why my support of public arts funding goes little beyond what gets put up on the post office walls, preferably with the word "WANTED" featured prominently.

Posted by: Vexorg at January 22, 2004 at 07:53 PM

Don't ever use the leftist meme "public" it's not public at all, ask for your bit back and find out.

It's far more accurarate to use the phrase "funded by coercion". Roll out this buzzword into any "public" conversation and watch them squeal!

Posted by: Rob Read at January 22, 2004 at 08:34 PM

And the AB stinking C flogged this story to death on their "news" and "current affairs" programs. Biased bastards!

Posted by: Kate at January 22, 2004 at 08:36 PM

I don't know about the arts industry in the US, Britain, and the rest of the world... but I have observed that when artists/arts critics do talk about government subsidies, it's usually to grumble about the lack thereof.
The possibility that you can have a strong, viable arts industry that does not rely on Government funding is never really considered. Which annoys me, because I, for one, would be willing to support independent artists/arts bodies, and I think there are a lot of other Australians that would, too.

Posted by: TimT at January 22, 2004 at 09:25 PM

Should have added a few examples: Robyn Nevin, Tom Keneally, the Australian Film Industry complaining about the Australian US Free Trade Talks, and the editorial in the latest issue of Real Time (a wanky kulcha journal which can be found here.

Posted by: TimT at January 22, 2004 at 09:29 PM

I agree that state-funded subsidies of any kind generally produce laziness and lackluster performance. Just look at Europe.

In the US, there are plenty of private organizations that provide funding/grants to artists without the use of the taxpayer's funds. And there is also a significant and lucrative capitalist market for art. Yet these same "arts council" type people are always decrying the dearth of public funding. That's the nature of subsidies: people think "Why work when I can just get money handed to me?"

I also have to add that it is possible to criticize subsidies and other aspects of the often ludicrous world of arts without resorting to sounding like a grumpy and ill-informed yobbo who uses the tired example of Andres Serrano (he's the guy who did the photograph of the crucifix in urine) to prove that "art t'ain't what she used to be". Serrano is hardly representative of contemporary visual art, and there are better arguments against public funding than generally lambasting subjects you haven't tried to understand. I care bugger all about sport, for example, and know bugger all about it, so should the topic come up, I limit my criticism of it to the business side rather than a critique on substance. I try to give people the benefit of the doubt and stick to what I know without smearing people for liking something that I don't.

Posted by: goldsmith at January 22, 2004 at 10:50 PM

Finally a thread to ask a question that I've been curious about for many years. I visited the lovely land of OZ 3 times (Sydney area with a side trip to Cairns) in the mid-80's and thought it an excellent place.

Shortly after those trips I came across a series of mystery novels from the '50s by Arthur Upfield about a half-caste Aboriginie detective called Napolean Bonaparte. Are these part of Austrailian popular culture? And how are they received? I have some that were re-printed in paperback in the late '80s, so they had some shelf life.

Posted by: Alan at January 23, 2004 at 01:37 AM

There was an awful TV series made of Boney, which featured a white New Zealander playing a black Australian (he may have had a touch of Maori).
Even worse than the books.
If the US judges us by Boney, I'm surprised bombing hasn't commenced.

Posted by: Habib at January 23, 2004 at 10:13 AM

From crikey, check it out makes the arts community look like amateurs!!! Where is your rage
A Productivity Commission report has revealed the Australian Government provided financial assistance of over $10 billion to Australian businesses in 2002-03.
The money is largely used to fund import tariffs, budgetary grants and tax concessions, which may lead some to wonder how Australian companies would survive if they were left to stand on their own two feet?
The report says that "most Australian industries have relatively low rates of assistance by historical standards, but pockets of high assistance remain."
Indeed the sector with the highest level of "assistance" was the manufacturing industry, with $4.4 billion in net tariff assistance, plus $1.8 billion in budgetary assistance in 2002-03.
On the topic of the benefits of corporate assistance, the report also conceded that, "although assistance generally benefits the firms or industries that receive it, it comes at a cost to other sectors of the economy. For example, direct business subsidies increase returns to recipient firms and industries, but to fund subsidies governments must increase taxes and charges, cut back on other spending, or borrow additional funds."
See the full Productivity Commission Report here:

Posted by: Trevor Cook at January 23, 2004 at 11:43 AM