There is a notion that there is some connection between being interested in the arts, and looking down one’s nose at the sort of people who think Camus is a place in Connemara, rather than a French existentialist novelist.
An interest in poetry, opera, or the visual arts is seen by some as the intellectual equivalent of having hanging baskets, or even wrought iron gates, outside one’s house. Indeed, in certain semi-circles, knowing your Ezra Pound from your TS Eliot, or knowing the difference between abstract expressionism and Dadaism is a sign that a person has achieved the level of refinement required to allow him/her permanent admission to the thinking end of respectable society.
It is true that, to paraphrase George Orwell [pictured below], the arts attract both pretension and new and old money in search of intellectual credibility, as predictably as bluebottles are drawn to a dead cat on a boiling hot July day. It is also true though that the problem of poshness in the arts is, on one level, exaggerated.
Mostly the role of 'posh people' in the arts is to act as patrons and sponsors, ie, poets and painters allow posh people to hang around with them in return for giving the artists (or at least the organisations they work for ) access to a bit of their lovely money, some of which dates back to when Charles Stuart Parnell was but a toddler. Of course newer money of the vulgar variety is also gratefully accepted and duly acknowledged. However the funding patron, be it government or business, does not the work of art make.
Insider has often heard those who have just lost their arts virginity by attending, say, a poetry reading for the first time, remark that it was not half as off-putting as they had expected, and were surprised that some of the poems included swear words. It has many times been Insider’s experience that, once people who all their lives have been encouraged to think of themselves as ordinary, leave aside their prejudices about themselves and others, and embrace the creative arts, it can be a life transforming experience.
What Jeremy Corbyn said
British Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn [pictured above] has said he believes there is “a creative painter or poet inside everyone.” The only thing Insider would add is the crucial qualifier: potentially. Creativity must be nurtured and, when needs be, challenged to do better. In a secular world, art is perhaps the only truly holy thing we have left.
If you want to paint or write or sculpt, then just do it. And find a way to keep doing it until someone takes notice. Do not hide away in your bedroom hoping to be the next Emily Dickinson or lurk in a leaky garage flat trying to grow a Van Gogh beard. Go out and find the support of the likeminded, and, despite the stereotypes, being a real artist is more about humility than it is about self-obsession.
If you want to write, read voraciously, but read the things that inspire and provoke you. Do not start with the recommended lists of recent prize winners; those are for the posh people, the patrons and the arts administrators. Read the disgraceful people: Anaïs Nin [pictured below], Rabelais, the Marquis de Sade, Jonathan Swift, Anne Sexton, Philip Larkin, and Greek playwrights who have been dead a few thousand years. If you want to be a visual artist, look at all the paintings, and videos, and films you like, just because. Then find out who these artists’ friends and enemies were and look at their pictures. Decide what you like and, just as crucial at the beginning, what you cannot stand.
It is all part of growing into whatever artist you will be. If you win the Booker or an award at the Venice Biennale, then the champagne is on you, Honey, but if writing or painting, or whatever, just becomes your hobby, that is all to the good too. There are worse things you could be doing, such as slowly guzzling yourself to death at the rate of two bottles of Merlot a night. Though of course drinking one’s self into an early grave (or nicking your neighbour’s undies ) and being an artist are not mutually exclusive.
The creative arts are not, though, all about freedom of expression, and never can be, so long as most of the world is owned by a tiny percentage of the population. Insider was once wandering through the National Gallery in London and overheard a child from of a visiting group of primary school pupils point to a Renoir painting and ask “Why are there so many paintings of posh people?”
The answer is that posh people like to buy paintings of people like themselves because it makes others think they are men and women of taste, rather than profit hoarding maniacs or, more likely, the children or grandchildren of the profit hoarding maniacs who did the dirty deed of making the money that now buys Renoirs, Monets, and Pissarros. And before anyone gets all high and mighty about Insider’s tawdry depiction of patrons of the visual arts, digest this fact: Jeffrey Archer owns several painting by Camille Pissarro.
Art can be a political act
Ultimately, in a free society (so called ) such as the one we live in, the moneyed sponsor does extract a price for his/her sponsorship by giving special privilege to art works that show the vulture capitalism we labour under in a not too bad light. Those artists who did not start out posh use this reality to ingratiate themselves with money as a means of, they hope, one day themselves becoming posh.
However one thing the arts teach us, if we look carefully, is that the posh people, in the end, usually get overthrown. Eugene Delacroix’s painting 'Liberty Leading The People’ (1830 ) [pictured above], which currently hangs in the Louvre, and El-Lissitsky’s lithograph ‘Beat The Whites With The Red Wedge’ (1919 ) [pictured below] are both proof that the posh people generally get dealt with in the end.
In the meantime, artists can do what they can to undermine the rule of the posh people, while taking their money as and when we have to. Insider recently attended a creative writing workshop at which a beginner participant presented a golden short satirical poem on the recent Maria Bailey swing-gate fiasco. This poem, despite its perfection, will not lead to said poet being crowned a wiseman of Áosdána. That is because the posh people decide who gets crowned, and who does not, and they make sure that some banal power-worshipper gets crowned first.
However Insider predicts that this satire on Maria Bailey could well out-survive the beleaguered TD, and if there is any justice, which in the end there usually is, it will be in poetry anthologies long after most people have forgotten what Fine Gael even was.