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Wednesday, 7 October 2020

Why Art Matters - My Response to Chancellor Rishi Sunak

It is the eighth of October 2020
I woke up to find my laptop full of anger towards a politician, Conservative Chancellor Rishi Sunak.

It’s been reported that when asked what musicians and entertainers who aren’t making enough money to live on during the COVID pandemic should do, he replied ‘get a different job’.
I felt pretty angry about this, but when I watched the interview, it said something kind of different:

You can watch it here:

https://www.itv.com/news/2020-10-06/rishi-sunak-suggests-musicians-and-others-in-arts-should-retrain-and-find-other-jobs

Now I do think that musicians and entertainers deserve the same protection as everyone else during lockdown -
but I also think the chancellor is kind of right too - it’s a part of life that if you can’t make money from your chosen career, you have to find a different way to make money. And I can’t blame a conservative politicians for being money centric.

I’m not a fan of the conservative party, but complaining when a Tory is more concerned about money than art is a bit like electing Satan to office and complaining about the smell of Sulphur. The country should have worked this one out before it voted.
The question that is at the forefront of my mind is a different one...

WHAT IS ART WORTH?

There are people who think art is valuable, and people who don’t.

The Daily Mail thinks that artists are looney leftie luvvies, who want everyone to pay for them to sit in bedsits writing bad poetry, smoking weed and spreading sodomy and Cultural Marxism. And you're welcome to pay me to do that, if you like, sounds like fun, but if that was actually what I did for a living, I would have gone bankrupt a long while ago.

The thing about art is it’s really difficult to value. If I offered to sell you a CD for £10, you might say ‘no way man, I can get all the art I want for free on Youtube’. You could literally spend your whole life watching YouTube and never run out of fresh art. Why go to an art gallery, when you can google the artist and move your face up to the screen really close?

And I think this is where I think the anger of artists and musicians stems from. For the past 20 years, since the start of Napster, our work is becoming worth less and less in monetary value. We’re not in it for the money, but to make decent art is a full time job, and we need to survive. Musicians turned to the gig circuit to make their bread and butter, but now during COVID, many’s lifes work is left with no monetary value at all.

In the 1960’s & 70’s art was in it’s absolute boom. Record sales were exploding, Britain was exporting it’s art all over the world, and the music of 4 men from the Northern Industrial city of Liverpool changed the way the entire world thinks and feels with the power of music. The Beatles have the surreal ability to make everyone happy. Well almost everyone - perhaps you had your soul stomped on as a child or something and it’s tainted your sense of enjoyment. Try the white album.
Anyway, ever since then, Britain became famous as an exporter of culture, and the centre of a movement in free thinking and experimentation.

And this is what Britain is still famous for today - apart from Empire and slavery. Shhh. The incredible art and culture we’ve produced, from Shakespeare to Monty Python.
So why, instead of the steam engine, or the computer, or the bicycle, do people associate Britain with the Beatles, and the Rolling Stones, and Dr Who?

Solitary confinement is a form of torture. Airports are almost as bad. What do we long for in these situations? We want to read a book to pass the time. To listen to an iPod, or watch a movie.

If you took away art, life would be utterly boring. Yes, life would go on, we would carry on working away, and all the suffering and labour would continue to keep the gears of the consumer economy moving, but when we got back home, after a hard day's work, there would be nothing. No TV, no Netflix. No music to streaming. No pictures hung on the walls. No elegant design. Just Brutalism, and the functionality of the continuation of existence, without any reason for actually living.

How many times have you heard the words ‘music saved my life’. How many times have you put on an album and danced, or laughed, or cried your pain away? How many of your favourite memories involve concerts, festivals, movie nights, parties? So many of these things can be viewed as ‘pointless’ and ‘Unnecessary’ - but without the fruits of culture, without the desert of life - why are we actually alive?

So if someone shouts at me ‘Get a real job’ when I’m playing music, I just smile - because I know that the closeness I feel between me and an audience when I play is an ingredient in the most important bit of life. I’m the dessert. I am your donut. Hi. Pleased to feed you.

Trying to work as a professional musician is hard work - it’s a bit like being an athlete. Every part of my day, from what I can eat to how much I talk and how much energy I spend has to be planned around how many sets I have to play in the evening. I don’t often get to have a beer after work, because if I have to sing four hours a day for the next 3 months, I have to manage everything I do around that. I work on a contract by contract basis, If I damage my voice my career is gone, with no backup. If I say the wrong word onstage, my job is gone. At 30 years old, I just received the first sick pay I’ve ever been entitled to. I have back pain from years of lifting speakers. I have tinnitus starting in my ears. I have no pension plan. Almost every single possession I have in some way relates to my job. And you know what? That’s OK. I’m happy. It’s worth it to make people happy. Still, I have to be able to feed myself.

The money in music used to be from selling records - and that was what made the record industry great, and what means my shelves are stacked with amazing experimental music. Then in the 90’s, the record industry sold us those same albums on CD, and made double the money off them. Now, if I try to give away a CD after a gig, people tell me they don’t have a CD player. Why would anyone pay for a download when you can stream any song anywhere on the internet?

Because music is dying. And it’s our fault. We’ve been happy to take, take, take the experiences musicians ploughed their lives into making, and stream them for free at the click of a button. Anyone who works as a touring musician reaches a time when they want to settle down and have a family, and not be constantly moving around, and what should they do when the art they pour their hearts into loses money? Because the fans would rather stream them off Spotify than support what they make? When your favourite band breaks up, this is usually why.

If we don’t invest in art, we will be stuck in our cold grey boxes, eating toxic processed food, with nothing to watch but ‘Homes under the Hammer’, with nothing to read but the Daily Mail, and with nothing to listen to but Little Mix. ugghr.

But the economy will be there right?

If art dies, humanity dies. Art is the part of the human consciousness that is worth saving. Everything else is just cobwebs and suffering. Think about all the objects you’ve surrounded yourself with, and the junk food and alcohol, and the plastic crap, the make-up, the clothes, maybe the flash car, the coffee machine. Has any of it actually brought you real happiness?

Music does not cause climate change. Paintings don’t emit greenhouse gases. Dancing doesn’t make you gain weight, it cures your depression. Literature doesn’t make you hung over, it opens your mind . Festivals and concerts are where we go to refresh our brains so we can go back to work in those crappy jobs we feel we have to do. The cinema is where you go with your date and feel each other up in the darkness of the back-row, in the glow of an immersive artistic experience. Happiness comes from experience - and art is the experiences we as humans create for each other.

So the question you should be asking yourself is not ‘should we pay to subsidise musicians and artists’ but ‘do I really want to live in a world without my favourite art?’ You're subsidising your own happiness.

If you spend 40 hours a week or more in work, do you really want to spend your precious free time staring at a TV where a middle class couple consider moving from one home you can’t afford to another home you can’t afford? If that's all we are prepared to pay for, 
all that will be left is the most cheap, docile and monotonous entertainment.

Or shall we subsidise the arts, and get the next Beatles, the next Joni, the Next Dylan, Ginsberg, Dali or Freddie Mercury to create something that really opens our minds to new possibilities?


So now we come back to our question: what is the value of art?


My Answer is this:

Art’s value is beyond the measurement of a very insignificant little human concept called money. It existed before money, and when civilization falls it will continue long after. Art is not what we do to stay alive, it’s what we stay alive to do. It’s the cosmic expression of the human consciousness.

The economy is an administrational tool, to keep us alive, and so it is important. Art is the actual process of living. If we lose art, we are just fast food munching Zombies waiting for the heat death of the universe. 

That is my message to Mr Sunak.

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