Art as a whole
The Politics of Art
As so, art has been a great tool to disperse ideas and also to collect them. Some of our readers might be skeptical of such apprehension of what is art. To them I ask: isn’t contemporary art the best depiction of our current global belief systems? Art has such a powerful social impact that it has been used as a political tool by all sorts of regimes, throughout history. Pharaohs used art to show their grandeur and holiness to all subjects, as did Hatshepsut, the second female pharaoh in history, when she came into power and built the Mortuary Temple of Hatshepsut. Napoleon Bonaparte used it to disseminate his image as a great conqueror with iconic artworks such as Napoleon Crossing the Alps, by Jacques-Louis David, and authoritarian regimes have used it to disperse their ideas. Today, many governments still use it as a political tool, whether it is for propaganda or simply for prestige.
Jacques-Louis David, “Bonaparte franchissant le Grand Saint-Bernard” (1st Versailles edition), 1802. Musée du Château de Versailles, Versailles, France.
So, what if we imagined a world where artistic creation was free from government funding, and perhaps free from political agendas? Throughout history, independent art has played a key role in civil movements, as has civil society in keeping creation independent. By the end of the 19th century, for example, the Salon des Refusés was created in response to the protests and the civil lobbying made after two thirds of the applicants were refused access to the Salon de Paris, the official exhibition of the French Academy of Fine Arts, which was funded by the government. Thanks to this civil movement, enough pressure was made to force the opening of another exhibition to show the works of the rejected artists, among which we could find Édouard Manet, Paul Cézanne or Camille Pissaro, who were groundbreaking artists for their time. Public spending is, of course, crucial for the existence and development of the cultural and contemporary arts sectors and it has, no doubt about it, financed some of the most important artistic creations ever done. Guernica by Picasso, was financed by the Spanish Republican government in 1937, during the Spanish Civil War, to be used as counter-propaganda in the Paris International Exhibition, where the Nazi and the Stalinist regimes had gigantic pavilions.
Elliott Erwitt. Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia. “Guernica” by Pablo Picasso. Madrid, Spain. 1995. © Elliott Erwitt, Magnum Photos.
But, nonetheless, governments’ investment in arts and culture is volatile and intimately related to the economic and political context of each country. Public spending in the cultural sector represents around 1% of the total government expenditure in the EU. Nonetheless, spending in arts and culture tends to decrease in periods of crisis. For example, after the 2008 financial crash, state funding of the arts dropped a stunning 35.8% in the USA, in a period of only 4 years. In the EU, funding has been consistent in the last 5 years, but it had suffered a hard toll between 2008 and 2014. This means that, during these periods, less artists are being funded and that private stakeholders might have to take some of the pressure that has been released by government austerity measures.
So, knowing that such could be the case now, when facing the outcomes of the COVID-19 pandemic, we wonder: shouldn’t we try to bring sustainability to culture for and by the people? In art2act, we’re deeply concerned by artists’ independence, both financial and creative. That is why, through the power of community building, we believe that an ecosystem can be created to support artists without depending on few stakeholders, but on a mass of citizens that grows and decides democratically.