In his introduction to his translation of the Analects of Confucius, Pierre Ryckmans likened that ‘literary classic’ to a coat hook that has over the centuries acquired so many layers of coats that it can no longer be seen-has become so big that it completely obscures the corridor it was hung in. And that is not a bad metaphor for ‘copyright’ itself. Something that started, in 1709 as a fairly simple statute “An Act for the Encouragement of Learning, by Vesting the Copies of Printed Books in the Authors .. for “.. the Term of One and twenty Years” has by now become such a huge multilayer, intertwined, spaghetti cake that it is virtually impossible to sanely approach it as a totality. Not going to try. Continue reading
The following quote is from an article published in London’s Financial Times on October 4. The article is further confirmation that the previous Labor government’s gratuitous interference in the art market has had a devastating effect on sales and its legacy is continuing to prevent recovery.
The Art Market: Australian art gets thumbs-down by Georgina Adam
The market for Australian art is small, worth about A$100m (about US$93m) a year at auction, and has “levelled off” at that value, says Mark Fraser, chairman of Bonhams Australia. …..
He says that three factors are dogging the market: the introduction of a resale royalty scheme (which levies 5 per cent on the resale of works of art over A$1,000, with no upper cap) and changes to pension fund rules, which have led some collectors to sell off their holdings. Finally, he says: “The market for Aboriginal art has really taken a huge hammering since export bars were introduced, because the biggest buyers were in the US and Europe.” He concludes: “Psychologically, people here are more reticent to get involved with art, because of this government tinkering. It’s unsettling – they wonder if there will be further regulation.”
It is important to remember that Australia’s art resale royalty scheme is running at a significant net loss to government and that the changes to the rules on art in SMSFs have trashed the value of a significant number of pre-existing personal super investments for no good reason. All art has been devalued by this process, and a sector of the market has vanished. These policies have created increased costs to government, not just subsidies to the costs of the collection society, but also in the need for increased subsidies to the indigenous art centres to cover the loss of sales income caused by these same policies. And, at the same time they have greatly reduced the size and viability of the independent tax-paying visual arts sector.
It should come as no surprise that when governments enact damaging and pointless regulation of art, a discretionary commodity that is not a health, safety or national security issue, it creates broad anxiety and distrust in the market about what further interferences a government might simply do on a whim.
The net result of these policies is that they have driven many legitimate, committed art businesses to the wall. In the words of long term artist and gallerist Christopher Hodges of Utopia Art Sydney:
“Since the introduction of the resale royalty, there have been more commercial galleries, representing living artists, close their doors, downsize or amalgamate than in my memory… diminishing all our opportunities.”
The real covert purpose of the lobbyists for the artist resale royalty was always compulsory, monopolist, collective representation of artists as well as the creation of subsidies to self-appointed representatives of “art”. In the face of clear evidence that the advocates for the scheme were mired in conflict of interest, that the scheme was intrinsically unviable and that numerous studies, including the Access Economics report, stated that the scheme would not be of net benefit to living artists, Labor’s willingness to even contemplate legislating for such a purpose was and still is deeply troubling.
On Friday 9th August Nicolas Rothwell published this article in The Australian on the state of indigenous art in Australia. Nicolas’s article details how, over the past 6 years, the old free market indigenous art sector has largely been replaced by a state backed official Indigenous cultural academy:
…..the private-sector market collapsed. What replaced it was a new kind of state culture network, funded by new or expanded programs: programs for remote community arts infrastructure, for research into indigenous societies and for their cultural support.
This new system is now entrenched. It has four pillars: central co-ordination; frontline art-making; downstream gallery display; and a dependent knowledge industry. These pillars interact, and support each other. They are well-funded and thus largely shielded from the pressures of the marketplace……….Trends in Aboriginal art-making are increasingly shaped by state galleries and public collections, and by the culture bureaucrats who guide them; artworks are supported by government-backed programs, made in approved and sanctioned studios, then bought with public funds.
Nicolas then goes on to conclude the article by talking about the visible effects that this official academy model for indigenous culture is having on the quality of indigenous art:
Tact is necessary in this well-presented, stage-managed new Aboriginal art scene. Revival, progress and reconciliation are the stock themes. There is no space to dwell on pervasive features of remote community life: welfare dependency, marijuana abuse, youth suicide and domestic violence.
He speaks of a particular kind of change: “a slackening, a dilution” and of “new, conformist work being made, in its vastness of scale and its odd mimicry of contemporary trends in mainstream art”. For an artist such as myself, well versed in the origins of modernism and its painful struggle to break free of the 19th century Beaux Arts Academy, none of the effects that this burgeoning official Academy is having on the quality of indigenous art is that surprising; it has happened in other places and times. In about 1850, Eugene Delacroix in his journal, described a particularly typical academic artist contemporary as “a conscientious servant of the art of boredom”. Tasteful laborious boredom (and often a added measure of gangsterism) is exactly what all Academies are all about.
What does surprise me, a bit, is the idea that any elected 21C Australian federal government would consciously even contemplate systematically funding the imposition of a central planning model of Art/cultural management at all – I can only assume that the government really had no idea what ‘they’ were doing.
On Thursday 8th august the Australian ran this article by Nicolas Rothwell about the toxic debacle that is the reality of the governments Artists Resale Royalty scheme. The article concluded with an examination of the circular nature of the government funded lobbyists for ARR:
Another enthusiastic assessment comes from the National Association for the Visual Arts, a “peak body”. [John] Walker’s investigations reveal NAVA’s annual income is about $1.1m, $812,000 of which is cash from governments; it reports $165,757 as fees from members, but of this total $104,313 is currently reported as deferred, as has been the case for years. It is in truth a tiny cabal that claims to represent a multitude.
The vista here is plain enough. The state arts establishment has set up and funded outposts of like-minded souls to give itself a facade of support. Walker is scathingly precise: “The government arts sector has developed such a widespread degree of circularity as to be like Narcissus and Echo, motionless and invisible; a hall of mirrors signifying nothing.”
NAVA has posted a response of sorts on its website, however nowhere in NAVAs response does it deny that the authoritative National Association for the Visual Arts has a paid up membership equivalent to a small country village.
“ they exert every variety of talent on a lower ground…and may be said to live and act in a submind”……
VS Naipaul “The Air Conditioned Bubble”
Writing in 1984 about the republican convention of 1984 (the triumphant beginning of Ronald Regans second term), V S Naipaul wrote of the language used at the convention as ‘computerlike’. He wrote of his sense of a ‘hollowness’ at its core and he quotes a number of speeches by delegates to the convention. Naipaul then goes on to write about English as a living language, one growing and deepening by internal references, allusive, full of references to itself – Shakespeare, the bible, popular culture etc; a language capable of making statements about itself , language capable of awareness of, being aware. The language of the speakers at the convention by contrast had, to quote Naipaul: “the same tone, the same personality (or absence of it), the same language unallusive, cleansed sterile, nerveless and dead, computer language”: a language incapable of ironic awareness: mindless and empty.
At the end of the essay Naipaul returns to and reflects upon his sense of a vacancy and inertness at the heart of the convention. Reflecting on the “imaginative poverty” he sensed at the centre of the great occasion he quotes Emerson’s reflections on visiting Britain at the height of its imperial power, in the mid 19th century. For Emerson it was, “as if inspiration had ceased, as if no vast hope, no religion, no song of joy, no wisdom, no analogy, existed anymore”. Emerson felt that English intellectual life was being choked by its consciousness of enormous power, wealth, rightness (inevitability). He wrote, “ they exert every variety of talent on a lower ground…and may be said to live and act in a submind”. Naipaul’s essay concludes thus: “like Emerson in England, I seemed in the convention hall of Dallas ”to walk on a marble floor, where nothing will grow.” ”
The unease I feel is that we too, are walking on a “floor where nothing will grow”. Emerson was writing about a society much like our own, dominated by technique and by instrumental reason. The unease is that, “as if inspiration had ceased, as if no vast hope, no religion, no song of joy, no wisdom, no analogy, existed anymore”, has come true, and that all we have to look forward to is is a endless:
“denying of the past, fearful of the future”..”endless present of endless panic.”
Jon Altman is a Professor at the ANU Center for Aboriginal Economic Policy Research.
His submission to the review is long and deeply grounded in long-term, first-hand knowledge of the indigenous art sector and remote area indigenous affairs more generally. It is a must read. But before I start my ‘precis’, Jon raises something that is very disturbing; “the extra $700,000 allocated in 2012 to ensure the continuity of the scheme for two more years is deemed an Indigenous-specific expenditure even though the scheme applies to all Australian visual artists” Policy: Creative Australia or Creative Accounting’ in The Conversation.
Given that 90% of the total value of all art resales in Australia are not resales of indigenous art, it is outrageous that money earmarked for indigenous Australians has been wasted on this scheme.
The Submission begins with:
I am keen to provide some brief input to the review of the Resale Royalty Scheme. I do so from a number of perspectives: as someone who has had a long-standing research and policy interest in the Indigenous visual sector extending back over 30 years and the visual arts sector more generally; and as someone who has worked closely with a number of Aboriginal art centres mainly in remote Australia. I have also collaborated with a number of renowned Aboriginal artists over the years, especially John Mawurndjul with whom I have worked since 1979; I have tried to understand the workings of the Resale Royalty Scheme by focusing on the secondary sales of his art works this year.
Whilst sympathetic to aspiration behind the ARR, Jon’s evaluation of the on-ground reality of ARR is quite damning.
He addresses 3 issues: Is the conceptual basis of ARR sound? If so, has the administration been effective? And, has there been unintended harm caused by the ARR scheme? Continue reading
That Government bureaucracies at times create ‘phantom employees’ to publicly argue the ‘public’ interest-need for…. more bureaucrats, is a well known historical truth. What follows is what Paul Frijters called: A classic case of what Niskanen spoke about.
The review has finally received a lengthy submission that is very favorable to ARR and that actually wants ARR extended to as many sales as possible.This submission is by the Official publicly funded peak industry body for the visual arts: the National Association for the Visual Arts (NAVA).
Given that NAVA is almost totally (generously) funded by Government and has very few paid up members to worry about, it is not surprising that NAVA is keen on ever increasing compulsory administration of the independent art sector and is dismissive of the costs of ARR to artists. NAVA wants the ARR to be compulsory for all artists and it wants the ARR to apply to all sales. And this is what the funded sectors peak lobbyist has wanted for more than a decade.
This is NAVAs most recent financial statement. NAVAs current total annual income is about $1,100,000 and $812,000 of that income is cash from Governments. (This does not include significant payments in kind granted to NAVA such as peppercorn rent for accommodation at Cowper Wharf Rd, Woolloomooloo or payments for ‘services’ via other organisations). NAVA reports its member fee payments as $165,757 however $104,313 of its total member fees are listed as “deferred” and this has been the case for years. Since 2006-7 NAVAs payments from government have increased from $300,000 to well over $800,000. At a time when publicly funded art galleries and the like, have been struggling to simply hold on to existing funding , NAVA has seen its funding more than double over the past 6 years. NAVA is a very special thing to the funded art sector; it is the officialy funded peak representation of the entire Visual Arts sector and “you will just have to get used to it”.[ftn1] Continue reading
As of Monday 15 July the web page for Office Of The Arts review of its Artists Resale Royalty scheme lists 40 submissions. All but a few of these submissions are unfavorable to the scheme.
In his submission , Ben Quilty, Australian War artist and Archibald Prize winner, focuses on ARR as poor policy :
In 2007 I also voiced my concern to The National Association for the Visual Arts that a Resale Royalty Scheme would risk support for the emerging sector of the Visual Arts. I had spoken to some very serious collectors (including one of this country’s biggest collectors of Indigenous Art – who I have asked to submit to this review) and many showed concern that their purchase of an emerging artist’s work could lead to a resale royalty, on top of the resale commission of galleries and auction houses at the point of resale.
I felt at the time that I would never expect someone who had taken a risk supporting my early career should then, years down the track be penalised for doing so. Those early sales of my work were what allowed me to give up my day job. I am eternally grateful to those people for taking a risk on me at the beginning of my career and in 2007 taking money from them on any resale was the last thing I wanted to do. It seemed to me to be a pretty direct assault on the culture of support for emerging artists. This I feel is also exactly what has happened and particularly in the emerging indigenous scene where artists are represented in culturally and commercially complex relationships. Purchasers are confused by the possibility of future royalties owed by them and therefore it is reasonable to say that those sales have been directly affected in a negative way.
The Resale Royalty Scheme is providing substantial returns for the wealthiest artists or their estates. If that is what the scheme aimed to achieve then it has been successful.
With so many credible submissions detailing the dark side of ARR , its hard to know where to begin: market distortions, compliance costs out of all proportion to benefits, arbitrary and punitive treatments - ARR is payable on the GST component of a resale !, or the very real harm done to artists first sales income ,the list goes on and on. However the submission by Brian Tucker Accounting is a pretty good summary of many of the harmful issues caused by the ARR scheme.