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Farts of Ire: The conservative critique of art

I was reading about how Stockwell Day is going to spend 120 million dollars on eliminating drugs from our prisons by installing space age screening devices to scan visiting family members, and adding drug sniffing dogs in an effort to eradicate drug use from the prison population.

According to Day there were 800 drug seizures in federal institutions last year and in obviously reading the reports of these cases which sound like a script from Prison Break, Day has decided to invest 120 million to create a zero tolerance program.
"Our citizens across the country may think that in fact there are no drugs in prison. Sadly, that is not the case," Arrows carrying drugs have been fired over the walls, drugs concealed in tennis balls have been thrown over the walls and children in what Day sites as the worst kind of child abuse, children have been used as mules”.

Coinciding with the announcement of another 14.5 million cut to Canadian arts, this time the Canada New Media Fund, the Globe comments section was raft with comparisons of the priorities of Harper’s government. One conservative commenter brought up the former Liberal government wasteful expenditures on art citing the $1.8 million Voice of Fire purchased by the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa.

In 1989 the National Gallery bought Voice of Fire, an acrylic by Barnett Newman, one of the major figures in abstract inmpressionism. The Voice of Fire was largest piece of his Who’s Afraid of Red, Yellow and Blue paintings, series. The eighteen-foot-high painting consisting of a blue stripe on a red background was first displayed in the US Pavilion at Expo ’67 in Montreal.

The painting is still one of the most popular pieces at the gallery, partially because of the original controversy over the purchase and today is valued at over $10 million dollars.

And still almost 20 years after it’s purchase the Voice of Fire it is being raised as justification for the cutting of arts funding by the Tories.

However the Tories disgust for art that they don't understand is probably best typified their reaction to an exhibit at the Saw Gallery back in 2005 when they were the official opposition and called themselves the alliance party.

The Saw Gallery ran a five-week exhibition called Scatalogue: 30 years of crap in contemporary art. The exhibition was put together by curator Stefan St-Laurent to celebrate the gallery’s 30th anniversary.

The show featured everything from a wooden Brian Mulroney statue holding a turd in his outstretched hand to cow pie clocks to genuine soiled trousers.

And despite the fact that the government did not fund this exhibition and in reality only applied a $72,000 grant towards the annual operation of the gallery, the then Tories cried for a total examination of arts funding in Canada.
I don't think taxpayers will say this passes the sniff test," said Alliance Heritage critic Chuck Strahl. "Want to hang a urinal by a rope and call it art? Well, have at it.

Feel the need to pile boulders in the corner of the room? Have a nice day. If bags of garbage in the centre of your dining room helps you make your point -- then keep adding bags until they start to crawl away for all I care.

I don't judge the art. I do worry about taxpayers' dollars."

To some extent this now seems to be the case. The Tories do not consider art to be important to Canadians or our culture. In fact you could surmise they do not consider art, be it painting, music, film or even new online technologies to be worth funding.

The Tories vision of our culture is more along the lines of marketing. You invest in creating the Canadian image or brand. If they are going to invest in culture they want some control of the message. It is just good fiscal management.

A more worthwhile cultural investment for the Tories is the forthcoming Canadian Museum for Human Rights that is being built in Winnipeg next year.
The Canadian Museum for Human Rights will be the first national museum to be built outside the capital region and it is the first new national museum in more than four decades.

The Tories have committed $100 million to the building costs and pledged $20 million a year towards the annual operation costs.

The museum was a vision of the late Izzy Asper founder of CanWest Global.

Where the Ottawa region has over 6 million tourists added to it's population each year, Manitoba only gets 2 million visitors a year and some could question such a large investment in a federally backed facility that the majority of Canadians will never see.

But with the Tories it is all in the messaging.

The west, their friends in the media and creating a new conservative culture.

Barnett Newman passed away at the age of 65. In an interview before his death he was asked what the simplistic stylings of his paintings meant in terms of society.
"If my work were properly understood, it would be the end of state capitalism and totalitarianism. Because to the extent that my painting was not an arrangement of objects, not an arrangement of spaces, not an arrangement of graphic elements, was [instead] an open painting . . . to that extent I thought, and I still believe, that my work in terms of its social impact does denote the possibility of an open society.”
Quite possibly the continuing conservative critique of his work is the greatest proof of Newman's skill and his ability to deliver that message.

References: Winnipeg Free press here and the Ottawa Sun here.


James Bow said…
"One conservative commenter brought up the former Liberal government wasteful expenditures on art citing the $1.8 million Voice of Fire purchased by the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa.

"In 1989..."

When Brian Mulroney's CONSERVATIVES were in power. I hope somebody pointed that out to him.

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