‘Bernard, a subsidy is for art, for culture. It is not to be given to what the people want! It is for what the people don’t want but ought to have!’ So said the fictionalized Sir Humphrey Appleby in Yes Minister. In a way, he was right. Culture, and particularly art in this country are preserved, at the expense of the tax payer, by a particular class for a particular class. We as a country spend millions and millions of pounds every year subsidising the cultural and artistic history of the 19th Century middle classes. Indeed, in the year to March 2017, the state gave the National Gallery alone £24.1 million in public subsidy.
What we are subsidising is not the culture of the British people, but of the British state. This is a subtle but absolutely crucial differentiation. Look around the National Gallery; how many artists displayed there using that £24.1 million are women? How many are from ethnic minorities? How many are Working Class? One example will suffice to show how our money is currently ‘misspent’. The Impressionist movement was a 18th and 19th century artistic movement. The National Gallery displays the work of many of its ‘masters’, but omits any mention of the women who were involved in the movement. At present, the National Gallery costs far too much for what it actually displays. It is a relic of the 19th century, still imbued with its values. And don’t get me started on the umpteen number of smaller provincial, city and town galleries, again kept open at the expense of the tax payer, with their displays of second rate 18th century landscapes and portraiture that couldn’t be given away!
What shall we do about it? Well, call me a philistine if you like but the simple solution to making the so-called ‘National Gallery’ truly a gallery for modern Britain, displaying art which represents the diverse modern and historic cultures of our nation and worth £24.1 million of tax payer’s money a year is to simply withdraw funding until change is forthcoming. Now, I’m not saying the art in the National Gallery isn’t worth preserving, of course it is; but more must be done to display and fund a wider range art heritage rather than simply focusing on the Bourgeois heritage of the 19th century, not to mention that of other nations whose art seems to take up an inordinate amount of space in OUR National Gallery!
What our 21st Century National Gallery should be displaying is art which represents the many cultures and identities of our nation both past and present. Were an alien to look around our National Gallery now, they would I’m afraid get the impression that all artists in our history were white, male and most decidedly middle class. Where are the women!? Where is the Working Class art? Subsidies currently whitewash art into a homogenous slate bereft of the diversity and pluralism inherent in the landscape of British art at present, and it is all funded at the expensive of the British taxpayer.
In truth, there are too many ‘cultural’ institutions which suck money out of they tax payer to uphold the heritage of the white middle classes; Shakespeare and the rest are held-up as representing Britain today. The top five cultural institutions in this country get £77 million a year for this purpose; add the National Gallery and that’s £101.1 million snatched from the taxpayer. Truly, culture and art in Britain are a middle-class rip-off.