Ian O'Doherty

Thursday 31 July 2014

Aosdána – the gift that keeps on taking

Ian O'Doherty

Published 02/05/2014|02:30

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Poet Theo Dorgan

So, it's been quite the week hasn't it? Residents scrapping with people installing water meters. Labour deciding that what the party need the most is another piece of very public in-fighting. Gerry having his collar felt by the PSNI and forcing southern Shinners to spin their damage-limitation wheels even more hysterically than usual. That one has been fun, I have to say.

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And, on a wider level, we saw yet another botched execution in America that will hopefully remind people that the death penalty is both savage and inefficient.

But the one thing that may have slipped under your radar was the latest outrageous example of indolence and arrogance from a bunch of lazy, unproductive benefit scroungers.

I am, of course, referring to the unemployable rather than the unemployed – the self-professed artistic elite of Aosdána. When it comes to pure, laughable hubris and an example of having your head shoved so far up your backside that it would take a team of crack surgeons with a pneumatic drill and a power hose to remove it, the 250 members of Charles Haughey's last surviving boondoggle, are truly outstanding in their field. Assuming, that is, said field involves them meeting once a year to make daft motions, give each other ridiculous honorifics like 'Wise One' and then complain about the peasants not taking them seriously.

But, unfortunately for our elders and lesser known artists in Aosdána, it's the peasants who pay for their €2.7m annual budget, which provides a stipend – or 'cnuas' – of roughly 17 thousand and change for the majority of its members. And that is why those of us who have taken a passing interest in the flatulent nonsense that comes out of this body took note of this week's gathering in the RHK.

And, as sure as someone was going to turn up with one of those strange Irish names (in this case, take a bow Joe Steve Ó Neachtain), we were also guaranteed the usual whine that people can't measure art in terms of financial investment – a sentiment that some art dealers might quibble with, but that's by the by. Artists, even ones who are so unsuccessful that they need the cnuas, should never get involved in the grubby world of cold, hard cash. Poet Theo Dorgan, who, unlike so many of his fellow members, is normally a sensible man, complained that the State gets more than a fair return on its investment and, for good measure, added that: "The Government would drive JCBs full of money to any private business that could repeat this."

Actually, the Government has done exactly that with, for example, the banks. So, with all due respect to Dorgan, it's probably not the best time to make that argument.

Obviously, I'm not comparing the figures involved, and €2.7m would barely cover the Dail bar's float for a year.

But it doesn't matter whether it's €2.7m, €270m or 27 cent, the simple fact is that something as patently absurd, elitist and pompous as this loser's dressing room should never, in a million years, be in receipt of public money. One of the incredibly wise members even opined that slashing the funds would be a sign of cultural vandalism and would result in an agenda driven by "value for money, not money for value", which might be the best line they have ever written, except for the fact that it is utterly meaningless. Nearly as meaningless as the organisation itself, in fact.

Silly platitudes are the muse which excite these geniacs and their sneering contempt for something as vulgar as actually being successful – a compromise which most of its members expertly avoid – came with the line: "Please don't complain about €2.7m. Fair City costs €11m. Popular culture doesn't come cheap, you know."

Oh my, how we chortled at that one – artists are left struggling in their garrets while the working classes get a vulgar little soap. Of course, the fact that Fair City makes a profit was obviously abhorrent to this council of elder lemons.

The sheer, nauseating hypocrisy and churlish entitlement of the members can be seen by the antics of, and support for, their crank-in-residence, Margaretta D'Arcy, that loon who makes more waves with her self aggrandising anti-American antics than she ever did with her 'work'.

How can any self respecting iconoclast spend their time railing against the system while being a vocal member of an organisation that was set up by the system, is funded by the system and exists only at the will of the system?

Such a close and frankly grotesque sweaty coupling between artists and the State is no better than the kind of Government-approved artists academies that existed in the Soviet Union, when the very people who were meant to be outsiders became simply another apparatus of that State.

From the utterances of some members, who seem more obsessed with Israel than, say composing music – a small boon we should be grateful for, if the music is anything to go by – you'd swear that they were the artistic soul and conscience of this misty isle; a band of artistic brothers and sisters who have heroically withstood the corrupting influence of money and who feel qualified to talk about any topic they want. As long as that topic is easy and trendy, of course.

If art is the finest example of human achievement and shows how the spirit can soar and be elevated, then Government is the exact opposite.

And when the two are combined you're faced with the grubby and unpleasant sight of artists behaving like farmers arguing that the weather was a bit wet this year so they deserve more money.

If you can't make a living from your art then it's not your profession, it's your hobby. You're an enthusiastic amateur, nothing else.

That's not a judgment on any individual, we all know of plenty of artists who only achieved recognition when they died.

Instead. it's the simple recognition that if your greatest artistic talent is drawing the dole, then you shouldn't be going cap in hand looking for more money.

And you sure as Cézanne don't deserve it.

Irish Independent

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