The Art Party could win hearts in the general election

But it must be a sophisticated political party, not an empty gesture

Click to follow

So, there will be a new party contesting the general election next year. The Art Party will be standing in at least one constituency, in the shape of artist Bob and Roberta Smith. Viewers of the general election TV coverage, who are not aficiandos of contemporary art, might see one man on their screens purporting to be Bob and Roberta Smith, and feel they have stumbled on to Monty Python’s ‘silly party’ election sketch.

But the Art Party formed by Bob and Roberta (real name Patrick Brill) is anything but silly. It is an important move by this acclaimed artist and Tate trustee, not least because he has chosen to stand against Michael Gove, the former education secretary, and not against any of the arts ministers. This is significant. Brill is right to conclude that it is what is happening in education rather than the funding of the arts that needs the most urgent attention.

A gradual downgrading of allegedly “non-essential” curriculum subjects such as drama, art and music, and an attempt to keep the arts out of a proposed English baccalaureate, has been followed more recently by the astonishing advice of Gove’s successor Nicky Morgan that students should think of future job prospects and be wary of pursuing arts subjects. Arts minister Ed Vaizey then defended Ms Morgan, saying that she was advocating science subjects rather than debunking arts subjects. Weasel words.

The Art Party should definitely make the case for studying arts and humanities, explaining that they are not just a means to future employment but a source of enrichment, growth and enlightenment. Indeed, the new party can and should make a similar case for the arts generally. It’s time to  bring to an end the tedious years of having to justify culture in terms of economic benefit.

But while it is good to see Bob and Roberta entering politics, he should avoid gesture politics. There is no divine right for the arts to be funded bountifully while other areas of public life are cut. And let’s face it, the arts do not always help themselves. The National Gallery, for example, never bothered until this year to have a Friends’ or Members’ organisation, depriving itself of the chance to earn hundreds of thousands of pounds a year. One cannot always blame the government.

It’s incumbent on Bob and Roberta, with the help of many others one hopes, to draw up a sophisticated manifesto showing where there are real casualties because of lack of funding (regional theatre for example), which areas of the country are suffering, and how the public-private partnership in the arts should work.

But, most of all, he has the chance to take on Michael Gove in his own constituency and challenge him on his record and his successor’s record, highlighting how the arts and education are inextricably linked. That’s something that every other party seems to have forgotten.

Why don’t we have an award for enjoyment?

The Evening Standard Theatre Awards had some notable winners last Sunday on its 60th anniversary. I mentioned recently that 60 years ago Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot won a prize for Most Controversial Play of the Year, a category that only existed back in 1955. Looking back at the winners that year, I see that there was another category that also did not appear again: The Most Enjoyable Show of the Year. That was won by the musical Salad Days. Perhaps the award was abolished for diplomatic reasons. The winners of best play, best director and so forth might be a bit peeved if they were judged to have done brilliantly but had still not produced the year’s most enjoyable show. 

The Turner Prize Could Stimulate Debate by Taking A Year Off

Never have reactions to a Turner Prize win been so indifferent, with the BBC’s esteemed arts editor Will Gompertz scathing this week on the Today programme. It was diplomatic of both him and his interviewer not to mention that he used to be head of communications for the Tate, which runs the award. My own view is that it would be a great move in a bad year not to award the prize at all. The Turner Prize was dreamed up 30 years ago to instigate debate about contemporary art. What better way now to start a national debate than for the judges to say that contemporary art at the moment is so poor that they could not even award a prize.