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2021-04-21
Why are left wing people in favour of fine art? Or: how lying on your CV could put you in prison

Without having any facts on the political leanings of “artists” aside, I think most people would agree that they tend to be left wing. This doesn’t say much about their commitment, style of left-wing politics, knowledge, or indeed about the truth of the belief, but it’s my assumption for this text. Also, I will note that parties to the left are generally more in favour of arts funding, and that right wing parties are generally less enthusiastic. Granted, this applies to funding for basically everything, with perhaps the exception of the military (I’m not sure even police forces and the legal system applies—see the current UK Tory party for an example of defuning basically everything apart from Royal stuff and useless aircraft carriers, or the US (shudders)). And, to the extent that this divide stretches to views on universitites (universities in general aren’t really under attack (yet) in Sweden) the same tendency can be seen.


In Sweden, when students make controversial art projects that become media scandals, it’s generally right wingers who want to abolish Konstfack similar institutions. Some anti-intellectual left-wingers, or just those who want to seem more like Real Workers hang on, of course. Konstfack is the most famous arts university in Sweden, and has become a byword for artists who break (or rather: don’t respect) the law, “my kids could draw that”-stupidity etc., even though it also trains arts and crafts teachers, graphic designers, interior architects, industrial design and other less controversial things.


So. Left-wing people are generally in favour of arts educations and funding them. Right wingers think it’s just a bunch of destructive narcissists who live off the Tax Payers’ hard-earned money. Some recent things made me wonder: why?


The first thing is NFTs. I don’t want to make this longer than necesary, because the subject doesn’t deserve it. I believe it’s a scam, environmentally criminal, incredibly idiotic, not new in any meaningful way except that it is unbelievably awful, you couldn’t make it up (except that it is made up). It’s a way of monetizing information, right now presented as a way of collecting art—ish, you can also collect gifs and tweets, which aren’t generally thought of as art. But: moving and still images, sound. Art. Being a scam (a pyramid scheme) from the outset, the idea is that the tulips accrue value, of course without guarantees. But the gold-rush vibe lead people to assume they will, it appears (like a pyramid scheme should). So, not funding or just buying art, but investing in art.


The second thing that happened is more fun and interesting: a Norwegian art dealer has been accused of fraud, and the police has entered his gallery and seized paintings. The reason: he sold paintings attributed to a made-up artist, resident in Berlin. Importantly, this artist apparently has a brilliant CV. The real artist is the dealer himself, who has painted under the name for 20 years (!), and sold paintings for tens of thousands of NOK (thousands of Euros). Note that the artist “Werner Jensen” doesn’t exist, this isn’t a case of forgery but a pseudonym. But, the buyers thought that Jensen had (guessing here) had shows at prestigious galleries, studied at fancy universities, etc. Whereas in reality it was just an art dealer who enjoyed painting (I really hope he enjoyed his 20 years) and sold his paintings under a fake name.


We can compare with a fictional faked CV. Someone hires an electrician to redo the wiring in an old house. The electrician isn’t actually trained, just a hack who’s replaced a few broken sockets. The wiring is faulty, the bulding burns to the ground. Luckily the inhabitants escape! They had a fire alarm. This electrician would go to prison. They lied about their qualifications. So did the art dealer! The poor swindled fools who payed 2 or 3 months of salary for paintings can’t appreciate them anymore, because … why? They look the same. The crime is the CV, which everyone agrees on is self-evidently fradulent. The paintings weren’t made by a succesful artist with an education. 


Probably, some buyers liked how their paintings look. Others just use them as interior decoration in their horrible 20-million NOK villas—let’t not forget who the victims are here: people who buy paintings for 4000 euros. But people also paid 4000 euros because they thought the paintings were worth it. The use-value of painting is … if it’s oil-based it should be a decent fire starter, I guess. Their market value is only determined by what people want to pay—4000 euros—it is nearly completely detached from anything “real”.


And for some reason a CV made people buy paintings (I’d love to read it). This stands to reason if they bought them as investments; they wouldn’t want to buy paintings by a lowly art dealer. But someone who *squints* lives in Berlin and is successful must be a safe bet. Supposedly the paintings are worth less now (I don’t think so), or were somehow secretly worth less all the time (fraud, remember), it’s just that only the art dealer knew. This kind of stuff quickly becomes ridiculous when you think about it.


The reason the police care, and that this is so obviously criminal, is because art isn’t bought and sold for appreciation or even decoration, but as speculation. That’s the purpose of the art world: to create value from paintings. This is useful if you are (for example) a Russian oligarch who wants to launder money, or if you are just criminally rich and want to invest/gamble other peoples’ money somehow.


But! Not all art is intended for this. Take Fluxus, which could not be sold as it was mostly performance, or cheap mass produced trinkets, or letters, or instructions. What happened? The trinkets are worth more, sketches and workbooks are sold, and likely leftovers from performances are sold (pieces of Yoko Ono’s shirt, or the scissors, forinstance). That’s how the art world works. Or, an example of a genuine Swedish art school scandal: NUG. NUG is a graffiti artist, who began by spray paintings trains and such (I think I saw a real NUG tag in the Stockholm underground once, but I’m not sure), got into Konstfack, and became famous when the Swedish minister for culture (an idiot) called his work trash. The work was a video of someone (a masked person) rolling around in an underground station and spraying black paint in NUGs characteristic abstract squiggles. Unsellable! I like the video.


Then I saw a documentary about NUG, wherein he decorated a posh night club/restaurant, who had let make huge rugs with his squiggles (green on white). He also painted a wall, careful not to go outside the lines indicated by the owner. There are more examples. If it isn’t sellable, the art world will ignore it, and it disappears from history. Perhaps this is the reason why performance art is generally viewed as a joke, even by people who otherwise enjoy obscure music, paintings, poetry.


So if speculation is (more or less) the purpose fine art, of the institutions—why do governments train people to do it? Why do left wing people think an industry that is just another stock exchange is good? The paintings can be good, and the art can even be left-wing. The buyers don’t care. If they think it will increase in value, they buy it, if not, they sell. People with that much money are incapable of appreciating art. So, why? Why shouldn’t Konstfack focus their money and efforts on teaching teachers, designers, etc. Teaching kids how to paint or sculpt is great, society needs more of that. Teaching people how to market their art to billionares..? I don’t see the point. And why are right wing people against it? they love subsidising their favourite industries!


Perhaps I just want to seem like a Real Worker. Or maybe it’s envy, if I could sell etchings for 4000 Euros, I would. But the correlation fine arts and left wing is weird.


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