fine print

Perilous days for the arts: building a counter-narrative to soft power

In a rapidly changing world, we are increasingly confronted with problems produced by unprecedented events such as COVID-19. We have an opportunity to shift from ill-formulated solutions to complex questioning that centralises ethics as we re-construct our world. Defining and dealing with wicked problems requires a different kind of approach that relies on collaboration, criticality, imagination, resilience, flexibility and creativity. This is the skill set of artists that are routinely left out of critical political debates requiring hope and futurity.

Article by:
Play Audio

Neo-liberal logic positions the arts as amorphous and devoid of governance structures despite the multitude of arts organisations that negotiate with the State around artists rights. Developing a sustainable social and economic arts model from a community perspective has been built within media, entertainment and arts alliance and is one of many that offers a negotiation frame that advances recognition for artists intrinsic and instrumental contributions to society.

The arts have historically grappled with appropriate recognition by the State for their contributions to society and its culture.  Economic rationalist’s market driven agenda define the arts as value added rather than intrinsic to the psychic health of a society. The misaligned and disproportionate power relations by the State defer an arts driven agenda at the expense of justice, ethics and culture. This does not mean that artists and arts organisations are in a space of powerlessness; instead it is their very anarchistic underpinnings that retain the position of power to negotiate.

The arts have always critiqued the State or those historically located in power, such as the Monarchy. Foucault’s analysis of the birth of liberalism is useful; cut off the King’s head but the King lives on! The imperative is to maintain the nation. Artists’ ethos has broadly focused on material critique of power that challenges the modes of domination that lead to devastating impacts for society, such as the absence of environmental security. Critique by artists through their arts practice is entwined within political relations that push the boundaries of alterity. Representing practices of power from an artist perspective moves us beyond one-dimensionality to a wide-angle lens of the machinations of social control. This practice produces new knowledge that investigates discourses of internalised behavioural restraints. Artists routinely rally against such restraints as their life has already been pushed outside the boundaries of the market economy as their work is not valued or remunerated in the same way as a labourer or nurse.

The abstracted political discourses that have emerged during COVID-19 saw alarming contradictions in terms of policy directives, funding for artists and arts organisations and the representation of the arts as central to hopeful futures. This rise of discourse circulates around two things: people need the arts, but the arts are not valued as essential. The State is positioned as an enabling body rather than a body to be negotiated with about core issues that concern artists and their practice. It is fundamental to re-set the negotiation frame so that future artists have a reason to practice and critique the world in these politically, socially and environmentally unstable times.