Artistic suicide is an interesting idea. Destroying one’s own work, work that has cost time and effort to create, and which involves a, perhaps considerable, investment of one’s creative energy, does not come easily to anyone who has created anything. I’m a writer, not a commercially successful one*, and my artistic success is rather questionable, too, but in a sense I make art, and I understand how hard it is to lose your work and see it destroyed. The assumption, then, is that these Italian artists have a good reason for burning their stuff.
I think it’s a fair bet that their main purpose is to attract the attention of the press by dramatically burning things in public. In which case, they have clearly understood how the media works, and if it’s their own work they’re burning, it’s entirely up to them. I think it’s also a fair bet that much of what they have burnt was specially produced for that purpose, but I could be wrong.
There are two things I want to talk about here: one is the cause they claim to defend, the other is the concept of ‘artistic suicide’ itself.
They are trying to draw attention to the fact that two arts centres they consider to be important are under threat. They refer to these as centres of ‘independent’ art. I believe very deeply in freedom, and the freedom to find ways, means and media to express outwardly what your mind conceives within itself is important to the individual, and the result is often important to others. Art is not beautiful in itself, but it can provide beautiful things for the pleasure of others. Art is not uplifting in itself, but it can help others to learn, understand or explain to themselves things about the world that they would otherwise not have noticed. Most people, without art, would have a very limited mental life, being unable to create with their own understanding and imagination what those with a greater creative gift have made for them. In short, art is good.
It’s also very hard to make a living at. The painting scene around here is very lively, and I know a dozen or so painters whose work is of very high quality. They have all won national or international prizes at some point, exhibited in important galleries, and are generally recognised as being very good at what they do. Only one of them makes his living directly from his work. The rest either teach or have a day job unconnected to art.
If you’re thinking at this point that this is going to be a load of pompous, rent-seeking cobblers, I beg you to bear with me.
Let us explore this concept of ‘independent’ art. The two ‘independent’ arts centres in question are the Tacheles Art House in Berlin, and the Museum of Modern Art in Naples. The Naples museum is publicly funded, and is going to lose some of that funding because the Italian government, like so many others, has run out of its people’s money. In other words, the problem in Naples is that the centre is not independent at all. It is entirely dependent on the tax-payer.
The Tacheles, on the other hand, is a squat. I don’t know if their art is any good, perhaps it is, I imagine some of it probably is, but that isn’t the point here. The owners have been trying to kick them out for twenty years. The squatters complain that they are “threatened by a network of investors, banks, lawyers and politicians who are more interested in making money…” than in providing “places where artists and public can be brought together with art that is aimed at people and not markets.” Of course, when you are being paid by those same politicians you’re now complaining about, or you can simply steal other people’s property to live in, you don’t need to worry much about making money. But the people who have to pay for it all, do. And quite what the important difference is between making art that people want to see and making art that people want to buy, I don’t understand either. All a bit confused.
They want the local government to buy the building and pay them to live and work there. More of that ‘independence’ we’ve been hearing so much about.
In other words, more self-indulgent hippies moaning about not getting enough of other people’s money.
*So I work for a living instead of demanding to be housed and fed at the Prytaneum