Thursday, August 28, 2008

Art For Art's Sake, Money For The Poor's Sake

Is it just me or was there a dichotomy in the BBC News this morning. Apparently if you live in the east end of Glasgow there’s a good chance that your life expectancy will be twenty eight years less than in more affluent parts of Britain. Here the average male life expectancy of 54 years. According to a local GP. "In Abercromby Street, where my practice is, the average male life expectancy is about 53 years old. There is a high incidence of mental illness like depression, which leads to a number of organic problems. One of the postal sectors here has the lowest income in the UK. That means people have less money to spend on basics like food, clothes and travel to work. It's not surprising that we see more cases of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, asthma and bronchitis than areas like Lenzie." According to the GP the reasons behind the deep-rooted health problems in Calton were numerous and complex but poverty played a major part.

Meanwhile in the same news bulletin, and far higher up the BBC’s news agenda, it was announced that there is a deadline of 31 December to complete the sale of some paintings by Titian that have been on loan to the nation by the Duke of Sutherland since 1945. According to the artist Lucian Freud these are "simply the most beautiful pictures in the world". They are being offered by the Sutherlands at a price far below their market value, estimated to be in excess of £300m The fundraising resources of the National Gallery in London and the National Galleries of Scotland will be tested to “breaking point” because their combined annual budget for new acquisitions is about £4.m, meaning they must seek the bulk of the required cash elsewhere.

according to news reports it is likely the Treasury will be approached for a special grant, along with applications to private donors, lottery funds and the Scottish government. But the Department for Culture, Media and Sport said already it recognised the "national importance" of the paintings but added: "There simply isn't a pot of gold that can be magically drawn upon."

Now to my mind if a penny of public money is spent on these paintings it is a travesty – and somehow don’t you just know it will? I fully subscribe to the notion that art and culture are vital to the well being of a country but does it override the need to spend money to save lives? What if it were some despotic African country that had tremendous health problems and the leaders of that country were spending money on Mercedes limos rather than on health care, would we not be outraged? Can anybody tell me the difference? It’s not just a case of - well it comes from a different budget. In any business if one part of the business is failing then budget is likely to be switched from an area that needs it less.

According to the 7th Duke of Sutherland the time had come to finally reap the reward of his ancestor's aesthetic and financial acumen by offering the two Titian paintings to the nation for a combined total of £100m. Well it’s got bugger all to do with his efforts that he is potentially in line for £100 m. If the Scottish Government spends a penny on these pictures then they are failing in their duty of care to the people. If the government in London thinks it is such a good idea then let them spend the money and the paintings can head south for display. We should put the money where it matters and hope Gordon Brown is true to his word. “We will be judged on how we deliver the resources to prove that making poverty history was not a passing fashion.”


Dragonstar said...

They'll do it though. They'll raise the money somehow and buy those paintings. After all, the paintings will last forever, and who cares about the poor? If they all die off the country will be able to save on Social Welfare payments.
I wonder how much (in modern terms) Titian was paid for these paintings.

Anonymous said...

The irony struck me too Richard as one article virtually followed the other on the news.
The first Duke of Sutherland was responsible for evicting thousands of families from their homes as part of the highland clearances which made him an even richer man. Nice to see the seventh duke is carrying on in the family traditions.
The Dukes of Sutherland. Rich bastards making money from the poor since 1833.