Trahison des Clercs

July 9, 2010


Traitors’ Gate – photograph by Liz Mathews

The Treason of the Clerks is one of those book titles (by J. Benda, 1927) that’s become a lasting phrase because it expresses the exact nature of a betrayal; the intentional betrayal of culture by those intellectuals who are supposed to support it. This kind of treason is taking place now, too, though sometimes it seems not so much a result of betraying culture as of being indifferent to it. Some of the many individuals and organisations who are supposed to champion the importance of the arts appear somewhat puzzled as to why it should matter, other than financially. And if the call to arms is still couched in the jargon of such arts administrators and their desperate capitalism, it’s doomed, irrelevant.

Making Value, a recent ‘qualitative research survey’ commissioned by the Crafts Council, seeks to explain that makers ‘contribute to economic growth, within and beyond the cultural and creative industries…[through apparently unexpected means such as]… product innovations featuring strong person-centred orientation…. Enhanced narrative characterisation in film and television and digital environments’. (Imagine!) Among many other important revelations, the study discovers that makers have a ‘Passion for materials and the material world’ and ‘Evidence a deep sense of integrity in relation to their creative identity’, together with an ‘Understanding of how people relate to objects, both emotionally and in a functional sense…’.

This is not news, presumably, even to the Crafts Council, who seem dimly aware that there is some sort of ‘social contribution’ made by artist-makers – those strange creatures of artistic integrity, passion, and even (weird, this), belief in ‘making a contribution through the application of their practice beyond making for exhibition or sale’. But is an industry-speak survey really the best way the CC can think of to emphasise the crucial importance of a living culture? Would the money not have been better spent on commissioning some artwork from actual artists, who could express their own truths for themselves?

Not in the logic of those who don’t expect anyone to want or understand a commodity that they’re condemned to sell without wanting or understanding it themselves. No, the best way is to spend a lot of money trying to persuade other, impressionable people to buy – not art, obviously, but something saleable like ‘uniquely valuable consultancy services’ or ‘entrepreneurial strategies’. Perhaps it’s just the ethos of a parasitical industry, perhaps it’s treason.

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