Placard celebrating “Seventy Glorious Years”, seen through a window.
Seen in the window of Falmouth’s Rehearsal Rooms. The building was up for sale recently, and has now been bought by a person who wants to live upstairs and keep the downstairs as a public (performance, rehearsal, meeting, coffee morning, party, yoga) space. My picture.

The Art of the Matter

When did Art stop being run by artists?

Way back in the distant past, artists sold art. You painted your picture, got paid, and went home.

Your Mona Lisa was hung above the cot in the del Giocondos’ second bedroom, and that was it. “Nice picture,” people would say when they noticed it, or, “Really caught her expression.”

Then art became an investment. You could still paint pictures, but if you got too well-known for it, the most frequently asked question would be: what am I bid for this one?

Your paintings would disappear into vaults. People would read critics’ opinions about your art. You’d (a) go in and out of fashion and (b) get used to the discomfort of chat-show sofas.

People who actually liked your pictures would buy post-card reproductions in the gift shop. They’d be priced out of the gallery.

And you — eventually, you’d get so rich that you could hire people to do the actual painting, while you tended to your media profile — sorry, your “brand”. And made money from guest appearances.

I was thinking these thoughts as I sat outside with a mug of tea first thing this morning. On the radio, distantly from the kitchen, a Senior Arts Administrator, didn’t catch his name, was talking about saving Theatre.

Not any particular theatre, you understand, but Theatre. Not some travelling band of thespians who’d run out of greasepaint, but — yeah. Theatre.

I was thinking about artists and the man was talking about Theatre, but y’know, something clicked.

Theatre is in trouble, apparently. And this bloke is going to save it — or, from the gloomy way he was talking, fail to save it and blame the government.

I wondered whether Art might be in trouble too.

As you read this, people are writing plays. They’re painting pictures. Other people are writing novels and poetry, drawing and writing graphic novels, filming for Tiktok, writing for Medium, writing screenplays … you name it, they’re doing it.

Are they really all going to have to stop, if some Senior Arts Administrator fails to save Theatre, and Art, and hey, we’re including Literature now?

No.

But.

As you read this, Senior Arts Administrators are holding meetings to discuss saving Theatre. They’re sitting in expensive chairs in expensive conference rooms, or they’re watching each other on state-of-the-art videoconferencing techology paid for out of the Arts budget.

These meetings are crucial to the survival of the Arts, you see. Got to be comfortable. We’re important.

The Senior Arts Administrators will save Theatre by, I imagine, paying public money to save productions that audiences just won’t pay to see. They’re probably talking about reallocating some of the budget for keeping libraries open, or cutting some of those grants for young writers.

They might hurt some young artists and writers, but only the ones they’ve made dependent on them for subsidies. That’s the price of saving The Arts, you see. Got to look at the big picture — and no, I’m far too self-important to acknowledge the accidental pun. Stop laughing.

Five years from now, a novel will redefine Literature. It will be hailed as The Great American/Russian/Whatever Novel.

The author — who isn’t getting a grant from anybody, who probably does need saving, but who wouldn’t get a job even serving coffee to the Senior Arts Administrators — is right now, as you read this, scribbling the idea onto a discarded till receipt at the transport cafe where she works as a cleaner.

Five years from now, a painting — you fill in the rest. Artist’s currently dumpster-diving around the back of an art-supplies store.

Ten years from now, a film will scoop the Oscars and make billions at the box office. Audiences will love it and critics will agree. It will redefine screen entertainment.

It will tell the heart-warming story of that artist and that author — how they defied all the odds, met cute, argued, made up, worked, worked, handled rejection, worked, starved, worked, succeeded, lived happily ever after… and all without a single mention in the credits for a Senior Arts Administrator.

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We’re living through these interesting times. All around us are clues to what comes next, some true, some false. Without hindsight or reliable fortune-telling, it’s very difficult to tell the difference. But shall we try?

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William Essex

William Essex

Writer, editor, publisher, Creative Director (seriously) at Climbing Tree Books (dot net). All views are my own. Mostly.

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