Why can't we talk about class and art in Canada?
Here's a very good short piece by a Canadian about the fiction of the art world as somehow immune from the effects of social class and, ultimately, class conflict. My only quibble is that for this Marxist, such claims are obvious. They still need to be said.
Feel free to argue the point, babblers.
Canadian art desperately needs to have a conversation about the role of class in art production. We will not be able to do so if the first instigators of that conversation are shut down and ostracized because they have not taken a baby-steps, academic approach. The pot won’t stir itself, but the muck inside sure does congeal.
The author makes a few preliminary and important remarks.
Let’s begin by disabusing ourselves of some core fantasies. The first being that Art, like Love or Nature or any generalized conceit, exists outside of the base exchange of cash. Art is not free nor has it ever set anybody free.... Enough already, nothing is free. Grow up.
Secondly, Vaughan puts the lie to the claim that Canada is somehow a meritocracy.
The second misapprehension, and the more important to this discussion, is that Canada is a society organized by merit, especially as applied to the arts. How is it that Canadians believe this, and become furious when the lie is put to truth, but know in every other sector of society, merit is, at best, the ribbon on the gift box?
"We know in Canada, and have no end of discussions about such, that class affects everything from access to education and health care to body size and employment opportunities – and yet, when a class analysis of any kind is applied to the trade and currencies of the artworld, suddenly ours is a “merit driven” society."
So the key question the author raises is this:
Having money or not having money divides people as rudely, categorically, and with the same dagger-like precision as does race, gender, or sexuality, to name but a few of power’s too many targets. To put it plainly, if there’s a tick box for your gender/ethnic/racial status, why is there not one for your economic status?
"And yet, we can’t talk about class in the arts without everyone freaking out and acting as if art is too holy to be about money. Nor can we state the obvious: if you are born into money, your art career will in all likelihood unfold at a very different pace than that of a contemporary not born into money, because, of course, you don’t have to work at anything but your art."
Bingo. These critical remarks also apply to many art-like activities in social life as well.
...the arts in Canada remain (almost to the exclusion of all others) for consumption by (and, as is the nature of self-feeding circles, the production by) the very same class who built the allegedly open systems in the first place.
The great “art for everybody” project failed.
A good read even if the author only asserts some rather obvious truths. Such truths aren't, in fact, as obvious as they should be, and dis-illusioning people about class conflict is doing them, and everyone else, a favour.
Why Can’t We Talk About Class and Art in Canada?