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Art and Ordinary people

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It’s odious the way political parties talk about art and culture. Like the Conservatives, they think it’s a waste of money (unlike, of course, the waste of money on subsidies for big business). The Liberals and the New Democrats, they think that they have to justify it in some actuarial way. To combat the argument that paying for the development of artists is a superficial, even frivolous, act and not a civic one, the ‘progressives’ counter by saying the ‘return on investment is phenomenal’. In other words we can make money out of it. That’s the dreary world of the Conservatives and I’m not sure what it profits to enter its short, brutish thesis. 

Bearing in mind that attacking poverty is hardly a question in this election, if  bread feeds the body, Art is an attack on the poverty of the intellect and imagination, pure and simple.

Harper says that ordinary people don’t care much for arts funding and by implication for art. He conjures a hulking vision of ‘ordinary people’ as dull and uninterested, hateful and without grace, glowering at their televisions at the effete artists cavorting at galas.  I don’t know which ordinary people he’s talking about. All the ordinary people I know love to hear song and music and read poetry and watch film and do a little dancing themselves. And they see the artists among them as extension of themselves, kindred who can elaborate and make radiant their world and the stories of their lives.

I don’t know which galas Harper’s talking about either - galas where ‘rich’ artists (perverse oxymoron), swan about. On the literary front, speaking as a poet and I’ll be presumptuous here and speak for other poets – we thought we’d died and gone to the proverbial heaven when Scott Griffin decided to throw us a yearly party. Fiction writers probably felt the same way about Rabinovitch’s Giller. And the Canada Council, (goddesses bless them because they get enough grief for being too democratic in their awards,) also once a year they throw a party at the GG’s house. Come to think about it I hardly ever see painters, illustrators or sculptors living it up myself. So what’s to begrudge and bark about? Could it be that artists, those purveyors of imaginative thinking terrify the leaden Harper? Anyway, this notion, that art is some elite endeavour that ordinary people don’t enjoy or care about, is old and tired and sad and frankly insulting and elitist.

Speaking of writing, I wish Stephane Dion had called me about the name of his Green Shift Plan. I would have told him to use better language. This phrase would never have got through a first year writing course with me. Let me break it down. ‘Green’ is fine, it’s a colour, you can picture it and it’s a colour that is meaningful as abundance, health etc… but ‘shift’ and ‘plan’ are barren of meaning together. They do nothing to qualify each other. They’re redundant together. They are empty of meaning – technical, no human connection or consequence. Now, Green Jobs Shift, or, Green Jobs Plan. Those were better options, Jobs, giving meaning and worth to the ‘shift’ or ‘plan’.  So too Green World Shift, or Greener Economy, I should stop now but because it’s important to save the planet, it’s important to communicate how and why that’s important.  Any poet could tell you that.

All this advice to the Liberals you might think I were one of them, but you’d me mistaken. I’m not even a democrat.  What with the three hundred pound ball and chain of capitalism attached to that spectre’s ankle. Then there’s the apparition of choice, which presents itself every election cycle – choice among the cunning and cynical, the powerful and priviledged, the moneyed and misanthropic – in addition, the wonderful new pleasure of being called a ‘stakeholder’ (as if one were in perpetual craven gold rush mode) instead of a citizen, - truly I can hardly wait to cast my vote.  I do, from time to time, help my more naïve friends out by going to the polling booth and holding my nose but they have to compensate me with copious bottles of wine and listen to my ‘I told you so’, ad nauseum

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