Tag Archives: Nick Cave

Art and Social Security

At a party in the early 1980s I heard some guy answer the question “What do you do?” with “I’m on a government arts grant.”

As I was young and ernest about my career in the arts I asked. “How did you get that?”

“I’m unemployed.” He replied.

In the late 1970s and early 80s, many aspiring artists and musicians in Australia were on the dole. Nick Cave was handing in his fortnightly unemployment form along with many other artists, musicians and writers. At the time unemployment benefits were easy to obtain with the minimum of bureaucratic hoops to jump through and even the meagre unemployment benefits meant time to paint, write or play music. This self-initiated low grade arts funding was a very productive time for the arts in Australia, especially Australian music. Unemployment benefits provided a very wide funding base for the arts, it was non-elitist and possibly not as economically reckless as it sounds.

The downside was that it did lead to the arts being undervalued in the wider community, artists, bands, photographers were all expected to work for very little or free because everyone knew that they had the social security safety net to fall back on.  And artists and bands were repeatedly ask to work for free to raise funds for one cause or charity.

The question back in the 1980s was how to survive and make long term unemployment part of a bohemian artist’s career path. Justin Heazlewood, aka The Bedroom Philosopher, discusses being ‘funemployed’ and how it really isn’t that much fun. It requires financial risks on a very low budget and no stability, with a society that assumes that because you have achieved a modicum of fame that you must be rich.

Arts funding needs to be completely re-examined and changes need to be made at the most basic level. This is still an issue and tougher requirements for unemployment are not going to make it any better. What is needed is a living wage for artists; for more about this read David Pledger’s “Social security for artists” NAVA June 27 2016.

The first fact that must be remembered is that it takes time to get an arts career going; decades often and during those decades the starving aspiring artists needs food and shelter, training, materials, equipment, time to experiment, to learn, to develop. It is not going happen overnight, if ever. Fortunately for any government that is serious about funding that arts, art education and students are inexpensive investment that return money directly to the economy and in the long run they can make big returns.

“When I was last unemployed in Newcastle in the mid 90s there was 47% unemployment, so I literally didn’t know anyone with a job. There was a big economic transition and a lot of people with time on their hands. I think of all the people that I know – some of who have gone on to be quiet successful artists – and we all got good at what we were doing because we had the time to do it.” Marcus Westbury (Interview by Rose Vickers Das Super Paper #20, August 2011)


Metro Art Award 2011

On Tuesday, 26 July Jeff Kennett will announce the winner of the Metro Art Award. 25 artists aged 35 and younger are in the running for the award for painting. I went ahead of the announcement to see the exhibition of the selected paintings.

Ben Smith, The Influence, oil on board

There are plenty of paintings with over blown hyperbole, dramatic images showing-off the painter’s technical skills. There are paintings that are too ordinary or too sentimental. It felt so conservative, all these young artists painting studiously but often without any purpose other than attracting attention. Ben Smith’s “The Influence (Leonard Cohen Consoles Nick Cave)” has odd proportions and in the future, when Cohen and Cave are no longer well known, the painting will just look odd.

Vincent Fantauzzo, The Creek, oil on canvas

Vincent Fantauzzo “The Creek” looking like a Caravaggio, with a baroque drama created from working with film director, Baz Luhrmann. Vincent Fantauzzo would be the favorite having previously won the 2011 Archibald Packing Room Prize winner and Metro Art Award’s People’s Choice Prize Winner in 2009 and 2008. The wild card entry would be Matto Lucas “Daruma” who has painted on a photograph of a painted face.

I think that winner might be Michael Brennan “Right Place, Wrong Time” with the intense surface of wrinkled dried paint. Or one of the artists who emerged from Melbourne’s stencil art scene: Luke Cornish (aka E.L.K.) “Untitled, Self Portrait” a multiple layered stencil his legs climbing a ladder, a familiar exercise for artists. In the past I’ve dismissed E.L.K.’s work as technically proficient let down by the content but “Untitled, Self Portrait” combines technique with powerful but restrained image. Or Ben Howe, who was a highly commended emerging artist at the Melbourne Stencil Festival 2009.  Howe’s “Time and the Elastic” is an intense, dynamic and unusual image of multiple people in multiple layers. Metro Gallery represents several local and international street artists; a framed Banksy currently hangs in the window by the gallery entrance.

“The Metro Art Award previously consisted of a Judges’ Choice Prize of $40,000 and a People’s Choice Prize of $10,000.  In 2011, the People’s Choice Prize has been eliminated and the $10,000 has been added to the Judges’ Choice Prize, which is now $50,000.” (Metro’s media release) Dropping the People’s Choice Award is a good move; there are too many of these polls and the results are too easily manipulated. Popular opinion is well represented by the selection panel itself that comprises “the Hon Jeff Kennett AC former Victorian Premier and Arts Minister (Chair); with Fenella Kernebone, Presenter of the ABC TV’s Art Nation Program; the Rev Dr Arthur Bridge AM, founder of Ars Musica Australis, a charitable foundation supporting the creative arts; and human rights advocate Julian Burnside AO QC”. 

See my review of Metro Art Award 2009.

P.S. The Metro Art Award 2011 was won by Vincent Fantauzzo with “The Creek” – I told you he was the favorite to win.


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