Saturday, October 30, 2010

Tao Wells, Creative NZ, and art as a welfare scam

One criticism often made about artists is that they are glorified welfare recipients; that their claims of being sensitive, creative souls enriching society with their heartfelt contributions are merely part of a ruse to get some easy money from long suffering taxpayers.

Much of the time I don't think this is true. Many artists may be wrongheaded and not very talented. But a lot of them do work hard, and sincerely believe that they are contributing something of value (even if most of the people footing the bill don't see it that way).

However, there's a case in which the welfare scam accusation seems justified. An "artist" in New Zealand called Tao Wells (who was on benefits, not surprisingly) received more government funding in the form of a grant from Creative NZ. As part of their Letting Space public art series, Wells set up the Beneficiaries Office. This "office" claims that work is slavery, and urges people to give up their jobs.

The obvious point to make about this is that without people working to create an income, which is then taxed, Wells simply wouldn't have the money to fund his "public art project" in the first place.

Also, notice how nothing has actually been created specifically for the project. Wells hasn't bothered to paint, draw or perform anything. That's not surprising, since he seems to have little talent in this regard. The "art" that he's received the grant for is merely the daffy, pretentious concept that he's "created".

(To be fair, the official site does mention that there will be a performance of a theatre show which has "actors and a script but no rehearsals". However this show - almost guaranteed to be excruciatingly bad - is separate from the main project, and has been performed before.)

That such lazy, pointless and parasitic projects are being given money says much about the culture of Creative NZ - none of it good. You'd think they'd want to deconstruct the image of artists as dole bludgers by refusing to give grants to people like Wells. But they've gone and done the opposite. Really, it would be hard to make up anything quite so ridiculous.

(Which begs the question: Maybe that's the intention? If it is, they've managed to turn the whole department into a satirical, self-parodic masterwork - which would of course be brilliant! Hmmm ... Maybe I should suspend my criticism?)

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