Where there are two or more artists gathered there shall be solidarity against funding cuts for the arts. Even if thou don’t understandeth, thou shalt protest loudly alongside thy comrades. “Down with funding cuts. Yes to Art”.
This commandment is how I found myself standing in a sleety blizzard in an unpopulated village square, holding a banner for 3 hours and pondering the difference between artistic protest/political art/protest as accidental art/aesthetic politics and a bunch of artists looking like they may have a mental illness and calling the whole thing art.
A Short (not so well researched) History of Minimum Wage for Artist
When we think of Scandinavian progressiveness, let’s be honest, our most immediate thoughts are of naked saunas and SBS films, followed a split second later by good healthcare and free education for all. Dismissing the Vikings bad manners, we tend often to consider these folk to be broad-minded and broad shouldered. So it should come as no surprise that their support of artists is radical, and like all aspects of thoughtful, elegant and utilitarian Scandinavian design could be a model for best practice back home.
For the past 40 years, mid-career artists in Norway who have a solid exhibition history, a hefty folio of publications, grants, awards and reviews could apply to the government for a minimum wage. For 10 years (or the rest of your life - I’m not sure which of these is correct) you can be paid the equivalent of about $30k a year. During this time you can also earn money (up to $80K) from the sale of your work. And this isn’t just given out to 2 or 3 artists - hundreds of artists in Norway are supported through this scheme. Which in it’s self is astounding, but the bit that makes this system so impressive and feasible is how the program is funded –there is a 5% tax that is added to the sale of all artwork to any institution in Norway.
However, for the first time in about 100 years the Norwegians voted for a conservative right wing government (note to democratic nations – STOP VOTING LIKE THIS, it makes things worse). Like Abott, their first action when they came to power was to take a socially responsible idea and swiftly destroy it – The Minimum Wage for artists was axed. Much creative rioting ensued - performance artists were up in arms, sound artists sent shock waves, painters across the nation became angry Abstract Expressionists, artists refused to go back to the drawing board and Munch himself was screaming. This ruckus resulted in the government backing down – art made from passionate self-expression is worse than funded art, lets give them back the money.
Up to this point I’m clear about the facts but two days after the government caved to pressure, a National Day of Artist Action was called. To what purpose I haven’t a clue. Across the country artist were illustrating what life would look like without art. Firstly chanting a most unpoetic and uninspiring slogan “Jai till Kunst” Yes to art, and secondly by covering public artworks in plastic rubbish bags and thus populating every city with small scale lumpy Christo and Jean-Claude’s sculptures.
We, the artists and staff of NKD were naturally called to arms and responded immediately with clueless solidarity. Down in the village we wrapped up sad bronze poets and matchstick men and marched through the street (no plural needed here) of Dale. But unlike the rest of the nation we were grappling with a deep philosophical problem. If our group of 7 protesters consisted mostly of international artists without the right to vote, and no townsfolk actually turned up to witness our protest, and during the event we took hundreds of beautiful, sensitive and moody photographs, was it still a political demonstration or was it simply art?
Several days later when one of our photos became the image for the campaign and was circulated across social media and printed in newspapers, we had another dilemma to contemplate – do we mention that we don’t know what we were protesting against?
Despite the cause being oblique, the blizzard blowing our chanting away, our lame plagiarism of Christo and JC going unacknowledged and our general confusion about the line between politics and art I’m still committed to the positive global campaign “Yes to Art”.