Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Perth art busker reveals the injustice of the arts world

A couple of days ago I was in the Perth CBD and I saw this art busker in the Murray Street Mall. As you can see he had attracted a respectable little crowd. People were impressed with his creation and looked on with genuine interest as he worked. You can't see from this shot but the plastic containers he'd left out for donations had more than a little change in them.

Of course the piece was quite straightforward and representational. It was also clearly a copy, since the original was in a book before him that he was constantly referring to. I'm no Robert Hughes but I'm sure some genuine, learned art critic would instantly be able to name it. (My guess is that it was a Caravaggio.) 

UPDATE: Guess wrong. It's The Raft of the Medusa, by Theodore Gericault.

There was something admirable and even touching about the fact that this guy was being painstakingly faithful in his rendering of this beautiful and striking work. And there was no doubt that he'd been at it for ages.

I'm sure he'd be the first to admit that even though it was based on a masterpiece, the copy itself was not one. It seemed to be more of an exercize for him to hone his skills, give the punters some enjoyment and make a few bob in the process. It was an impressive achievement nonetheless.

Just as he was not pretending to do anything other than what he was doing, people who stopped to look and give him some change were genuine in their reactions. They clearly liked what they saw, and were sincerely impressed by the guy's obvious skill and hard work. They willingly paid him what they thought his contribution to their stroll through the mall was worth.

Just a stone's throw from where I took these photos, over in Forrest Place, is another work of art in progress. It's what's been dubbed the "Angus Alien". It basically looks like a bunch of huge green sex toys glued together. And while there is definitely some design skill involved, it's quite a simple construction really. While it is mildly eye-catching in its own way, it could never truly be called beautiful. I wouldn't go so far as to say that it's an eyesore, but it sure as hell ain't eye candy either. The only thing that it has over what the art busker was doing is that it's an entirely original work.

It's pretty close to finished now but every time I've walked past it, there's never been a crowd assembled (aside from a few workmen). Yet that thing cost tax payers a million bucks -- a purchase that they were never consulted about.

There seems to be something very unjust about the fact that the bloke shown above -- who isn't a fraud and generously shows work that is undeniably skillful and aesthetically pleasing to passers by (who are so appreciative they willingly give him money) -- gets buggerall recognition from the art establishment for his efforts. Actually, they would probably sneer at him for being so traditional and "passe".

A well connected designer, on the other hand, gets his pretty ordinary creation realized to the tune of a million bucks basically because he knows what a bunch of brainless bureaucrats think is "so hot right now" and plays to their, er, sensibilities. And while this public art is purportedly meant "for the people", the people aren't buying it (er, even though they did).

Now, your typical po-mo plonker reading this will no doubt be rolling his eyes, appalled at my "philistinism" and lack of specific design knowledge. Well, I plead guilty as charged. I don't pretend to be a design expert. But even if the "Angus Alien" does have high critical value it must be remembered that it was built ostensibly to satisfy the public, not a bunch of pocket-pissing quackademics. I'm a member of the public, and I'm not impressed.

And this situation is by no means confined to the visual arts. You see it in theatre, film, literature, comedy, TV -- pretty much everywhere you look. In all of Australia's "creative" "industries" pseuds, tossers, wankers, mediocrities and flat out frauds get squillions of dollars thrown at them merely for being fashionable and politically correct. They routinely sneer at the interests, obsessions and values of the vast majority of Australians. And when they are commissioned to do work that is supposed to be primarily for the public's benefit and enjoyment, the public aren't that interested (usually because the work is crap). Most galling of all, the public ends up having to pay for this crap. 

There's something truly rotten in the state of Artsville, folks. 

Monday, September 12, 2011

At Home with Julia is more sitcom than satire

I didn't manage to catch the new ABC show At Home with Julia on the teev, unfortunately. But I did see the first part of it on YouTube. Some people absolutely loathed it. But I found it quite amusing and laughed out loud in a couple of parts.

It's been widely described as a satire, but from what I saw it's more of a sitcom. It's got a lot of Aussie dag humour a la Kath and Kim. It seems to be part of a tradition that includes The Castle, and can probably be traced all the way back to Dad and Dave. The humour seems to come mostly from having the amiably loopy lovebirds Julia and Tim being way out of place amid all the pomp, ceremony and of course politics of Canberra.

Many in the media are outraged that the show has delved into Gillard's private life, hurling tired old accusations of sexism, etc. They've said it disrespects the office of prime minister. But if anyone's guilty of that it's Gillard herself. Not only has she lied repeatedly to the people and totally trashed the Labor brand, she also knifed the previous elected leader in his first term when he was still way more popular than she is. If that's not "disrespecting the office" I don't know what is.

She also opened up her private life with Tim Mathieson to ridicule with that infamous 60 Minutes profile. That was one of the most bizarre and horrific pieces of TV I've ever seen. Seeing her cooing and giggling up a storm next to Mathieson, and trying to imply he was a "real bloke" after all by standing "respectfully" outside his shed, was too excruciating for words. Hell, she probably only did it because her creepy spin doctors told her to. If anything fit the definition of "life imitating satire" than that certainly did.

In any case, I got the impression from the clip of At Home with Julia I watched that the show's creators are drawing on Gillard's private life in an attempt to humanize her. It's this almost affectionate tone that makes it much less satirical, in my opinion.

From what I saw of the episode there were few specific references to actual political events such as Gillard's massive carbon tax lie to the people. It's as if the creators were assiduously avoiding them because they knew they would remind the viewers of what an unprincipled, backstabbing opportunist she really is.

And I'd say this humanization actually works. I can't stand the woman, yet I actually quite liked the Julia in the show. Amanda Bishop has captured her voice and mannerisms accurately and introduced some soul and humanity that seems not to be there in the original. That's quite an achievement as far as I'm concerned.

My suspicion that "helping" Gillard was actually part of the motivation behind At Home with Julia (apart from getting laughs, of course) was confirmed by an interview with the show's writer and executive producer Rick Kalowski (included below).

You'll see he's clearly miffed by the accusations of sexism and pretty much admits that they were trying to humanize her. He also reveals his political sympathies with a little line about Tony Abott, saying quite disdainfully that he wouldn't make a show about the Opposition Leader because he's not psychologically interesting enough.

He's clearly of the left. Like so many luvvies he thinks conservatives aren't actually people. If you were at an Artsville soiree, say, and seriously suggested an affectionate comedy about Abbott's love life (or that of Julie Bishop) to the assembled guests you would get lots of eye rolling and fake retching. And for the rest of the night they'd all avoid you and give you funny looks. 

Of course, the ABC will make fun of Abbott. He's sure to figure in At Home with Julia. But I'll bet the mockery will be more vicious -- and therefore more truly satirical -- than anything Gillard herself has received. 

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Kate Grenville and Omar Musa on Q and A

One thing that you can be pretty sure of when watching Q and A is that if some arty types are on they will trot out hackneyed PC cant to an almost self-parodic degree. And they'll mindlessly, shamelessly support either Labor or the Greens. It's almost as predictable as the panel itself consisting of a majority of lefties.

Last Monday's episode, held in conjunction with the Melbourne Writers Festival, was no exception. Take author Kate Grenville. She made her political allegiance explicit almost immediately.

KATE GRENVILLE: ... Somebody has got to stand up for the Labor Party here, and at least they are talking about putting a carbon tax on the table ...

Well, yes the carbon tax is one clear difference between the two main parties. There are others, such as the fact that Labor are a hopelessly incompetent, venal rabble, led by a compulsive liar who doesn't believe in anything at all except power -- a woman who stabbed the elected leader in the back, then said she had nothing to do with it; a woman who is now abusing her power to try to stop the media from investigating aspects of her own personal history that are of legitimate public interest.

Well, of course Labor are just the kind of party who would try to inflict on the nation a non solution to a non problem after promising they'd do the exact opposite just before the election in order to steal it. And Kate brings her searing intellect to bear and thinks this is a good thing. Brilliant.

She also thinks this government is not illegitimate:  

KATE GRENVILLE: ... You talk about an illegitimate government, I mean, if the hung parliament had gone the other way, would you still think it was illegitimate?

Well, no. Because it wouldn't have come to power on a ginormous porkie.  

KATE GRENVILLE: I mean we do have an incredibly unstable and unsatisfactory political moment. But the fact is that however it was arrived at, we do have a government which is - which represents the electoral acts best bet at what the people wanted.

Except they clearly don't want it. And mainly because they were lied to ... about the carbon tax.

Later on, she dodges the Craig Thomson affair, alluding to Senator Mary Jo Fisher:

KATE GRENVILLE: Yeah, look, I don't know anything about the culture of unions except that, you know, grubbiness - as Don says, you know, grubbiness is part of the human condition, I'm afraid, on both sides. I mean, let us not forget that there is also a Liberal member of parliament at the moment who has been charged with shoplifting and assault.

Not only is Grenville using the same nasty, dishonest argument as Julia Gillard; she's using almost exactly the same words! Hell, it's almost as if one of Gillard's soulless spin doctors gave Grenville a briefing before the show.

How sad is that? She's a renowned writer, yet could have had her words scripted by a hollowman. That says as much about her as the whole literary scene, don't you think?

There was another, er, wordsmith on Q and A. He was a poet called Omar Musa. And he was to the left of Grenville.

You can always rely on these grungy young hepcats to really tell it like is, man! And he didn't disappoint, describing Tony Abbott as a "pugilistic wing nut". (They love using that word "pugilistic", don't they? It's one of their favourites along with "philistine". It makes them sound, like, really intellectual 'n' all.)

He loved it so much he used it again:  

OMAR MUSA: Yeah, definitely. I mean it's got to a point where it feels like it's a choice between the devil and deep blue sea, you know. You've got this pugilistic knob head on one side and then you've got this sort of gutless wonder on the other ...

But strangely, the "wing nut" was now a "knob head". Why that? Clearly Omar thinks Abbott so eeevil he's a shape shifter ...

Much like his fellow artist Grenville, Musa was mighty reluctant to condemn Craig Thomson:

OMAR MUSA: Look, I don't know. I'm going to presume he's innocent until he's proven guilty, firstly. But I mean, if it turns out that he's been abusing his power and using $100,000 on prostitutes, I mean... 

TONY JONES: I don't think anyone's suggesting that amount of money went on prostitutes... 

OMAR MUSA: Well, I mean, that would be some... 

TONY JONES: ...no matter who spent it. That would be... 

OMAR MUSA: That would be some Olympian sort of shagging. Well, all right, if it turns out that he was, you know, abusing his power then he needs to be punished for that but it hasn't come - he hasn't been in a court of law so I can't really comment on that

I admire Musa's commitment to such noble principles. But strangely he calls Abbott a pugilistic shape shifting wing nut-knob head without trial.

Omar, you've forgotten his right to a presumption of innocence! That's a basic human right, remember. You can't deny him that, can you? As Tony Abbott might himself say, "I am not a pugilistic shape shifting wing nut-knob head. I am a human being!"

But nup. Omar thinks he's guilty as charged. And in a strange parallel with the Thomson affair, Abbott's perceived attitudes to prostitution inform this belief:

OMAR MUSA: Yeah, probably. I mean but, then again, this is a guy, it came out today, who said that he would be willing to sell his arse, you know, to get the support of the independents.

Omar was obviously trying to provoke conservatives here. But I fear he may have offended some of his fellow Greens voters as well. Surely it's a basic human right to sell your arse, isn't it? Clearly, it would be deeply homophobic and puritanical to say otherwise.

Intriguingly, he follows up with this:

OMAR MUSA: Yeah, but he'd even consider - I mean, that implies that he'd be willing to sell his soul as well.

Eh? He thinks people's souls are located in their arses.

Well, he certainly has a very creative mind. His poems must be wonderful.