Artistic truths

An artist paints his perspective on the Prime Minister's comments about artists in Canadian society.

Expensive galas paid by taxes? An artist's view

When I heard Stephen Harper's comments about the elitist lifestyle we artists lead, and how little we have in common with regular Canadians, I just about choked on my Kraft Dinner.

I had been completely unaware that I should be eating sushi and drinking champagne all these years. I blame this on my agent. I need more lush cocktail parties in my life, but what artist doesn't?

 I may have to apply for a grant for that. But wait a minute. I can't. Our beloved prime minister also cut more than $40 million from the arts budget.

I am an artist. More specifically, a writer. I can proudly say that I have been shovelling coal in the behemoth known as Canada's artistic community for over 20 years now and, to the best of my knowledge – and I would remember these things – I have never been to the opera, worn a tux or eaten caviar out of a duchess's bellybutton (though hope springs eternal).

 I don't think it's just me, either. All those singers and actors who bring me my breakfasts, masquerading as waiters and such, also seem to have missed the gravy boat.  Stephen Harper has been watching Entertainment Tonight Canada far too much.    Granted, I have been working in the extremely lucrative world of native theatre, but I have to say – contrary to what you've heard – the birch bark stage is not paved with gold. Our sushi, if we're lucky, is raw pickerel rolled around in wild rice. The more proletariat of us use Uncle Ben's converted.

The only champagne we see is the paint colour of the '98 Chrysler LeBaron the richest of us drives.

Art for art's sake 

Maybe it's an attitude problem because most of the artists, in what ever discipline, definitely did not go into the arts for the money. I've asked.

In regards to financial security and success, most of these people's parents were right. It's like going into politics to find true love: It's possible, but unlikely.

That's why so many actors can say "Would you like fries with that" in seven different accents and can recite the wine list in Iambic pentameter.

 And its silly to think artists don't have anything in common with the "average Canadian," whoever and whatever that is. Most artists come from "average Canadian" families.  It's part of the Artists' Oath. Just like all "average Canadians" enjoy the arts … whether its television, magazines, novels, music, fashion or poutine.

There is a severe sense of irony at work here on several different levels. First of all, as an example of a working artist, I do not live off grants.

Other than the occasional writer-in-residency or travel grant to attend gala elitist soirées in hot spots like Thunder Bay and Saskatoon, I tend to live off my own earnings, not the public teat. But like all teats, its nice to know it's there if you need it.

OK, perhaps I should come clean before an investigative journalist outs me. I actually have hoisted several glasses of champagne over the years and I also have mingled with the well-dressed intelligentsia of various cities and countries, discussing erudite topics.

Spreading theatrical gospel

Some of the wine and food I've been treated to over the years has been quite magnificent. However, these gala events have been mostly at embassy or political functions, when I have been fortunate to travel and spread the gospel of native theatre.

And in these places of excellent wine and the best salmon B.C. could fly overseas, I was usually surrounded by another group of people enjoying the public teat: politicians.  In fact, every time I have been someplace with good food and wine, it was usually provided by and for politicians. Not "average Canadians." How interesting.

And here's the kicker. The few black-tie affairs I have attended that were actually arts-related in this country were usually sponsored by large corporations! Everything in the arts is always for sale. Do you really think actors, stage managers and costume people could afford to stage an evening of specialty cheeses from around the world?

Arts and artists for sale is sharply mocked in the first season of that excellent but probably snobby TV show, Slings and Arrows. The artistic director of a large theatre festival is killed in a traffic accident and the man's funeral is sponsored by Edgerton Office Solutions, a large company.

I didn't realize Stephen Harper might be so opposed to private companies sponsoring and supporting the arts. The Conservative party might want to have a word with him about that.

About 99.9 per cent of artists don't get free flights, have live-in housekeepers (other than Mom), personal chefs, drivers, wardrobe consultants or a rent-free mansion in Ottawa.

I don't think it's a question of whether the "average Canadian" cares about the arts. Given declining voter turnout, voter apathy and general electoral malaise, I think the question is: Does the "average Canadian" care about politicians?