Sunday 22 January 2012

A Right Old Stew

A jolly good read here in today’s Observer by [probably] brilliant comedian, Stewart Lee.

I have enjoyed Stewart’s funniness from the easy, early days with Richard Herring up to the present when he sometimes demands a little more concentration. Still funny, but intelligent too. So what’s wrong with this article, decrying as it does David Cameron’s suggestion that the film industry aim for commercial success?

Well, here’s what’s wrong. He deploys the line - often used by the lovies - that art is as important as anything else, that life without it is denied its full potential and that financial constraints stifle art. Ipso facto, don’t tread on the poor artist, you Fascist pigs. Booo! Nasty Tories again – and to hammer home the point he introduces Margaret Thatcher in the certain knowledge that in the Observer he is playing to a particularly closed-minded gallery. (Why does ‘the left’ always resort to the argumentum ad hominem?)

But the truth is when the former Prime Minister described an Oxford student’s study of Norse literature as a luxury, she was dead right. Bang on the money, for money is what it always comes down to. Anything outside of necessity is, when you examine it, a luxury. And consumers – for art is consumed just like cornflakes – make decisions about how to spend what surplus they have after paying the bills.

Just as a producer of orange juice, a builder of ships, or a jobbing electrician has to work a viable commercial model, so do the arts and humanities have to serve their niche. Some choose to do it from their garrets, scraping by on a pittance or patronage. Others work to a business plan and schlep up and down the country playing to paying audiences. Talent will out, as they say and those who have something others wish to buy will succeed, while the chancers will die in obscurity.
Stewart wrote, “Good artists do what they believe in and don't merely court public approval.” He’s absolutely right, but, whether by spreadsheet or rough-guessing and whatever our political leanings, we all cost out our lives and make our choices. If the Conservatives recognise fiscal probity more readily than other parties, surely we should be thankful they’re in charge at the moment? To remind artists that art, too, must find and pay its way is surely no more than common sense?

I think Stewart Lee is a funny and intelligent man – this article alone demonstrates his talent and I read it three times just to see how clever it is. I just think it’s a shame that, original as he is, he felt the need to climb straight aboard the perpetual right-bashing express that comprises the sole weapon in the leftpolitik arsenal. Still, like us all, he’s just doing his job and as he has Richard Herring comment at the end, “It's a commercial idea. And so it is good."

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