Creative arts and investing in systems

by Daniel on January 11, 2019

Earlier in the week, a thinktank called “Onward UK” got some press for a report condemning the proliferation of “Mickey Mouse Degrees” in British universities. You might think (and indeed say, as I did) that a bucket shop policy institute consisting of a recently resigned special advisor and a “Senior Research Fellow” with a lobbyist day job has a bit of brass neck calling anyone else “Mickey Mouse”, and that’s why I’m not linking to the report (although I did finally crack and read it; it’s not terrible quality stuff, but as an example of the genre of policy entrepreneurship it’s an American trend that I don’t want to see embedding in British public life). Instead of getting into an empirical debate, I want to address what I see as a more interesting question; the whole way we think about our creative industries is fundamentally misconceived, because of a sort of methodological individualism that stops us seeing the system as a system.

In skeleton form, the argument is:

1. Lots of students choose to do degrees in creative arts subjects[1]

2a. Most of them don’t get high-paying jobs in the creating industries
2b. Many of them don’t get graduate-premium jobs at all

3. Because of the way the UK’s student debt write-off system works[2], this means that the provision of creative arts degrees gets a taxpayer subsidy

4. This is bad and should stop, either by regulating the provision of degrees or by futzing around with the loan/subsidy system to similar picking-winners effect.

It’s got a certain logic to it, but it suffers from what I’m going to call the “Park Problem”. I set it out (subject to a very compressed word limit) in City AM this week.

Basically, if any policy aimed at solving the alleged problem above would work, it would hit courses in media, film and creative arts at former polytechnics pretty hard. Specifically, you’d bet against the survival of “Communication Arts” at Sheffield Hallam University.

But … congratulations, Minister, you just zapped the course that brought us Nick Park, Aardman Animation, Wallis and Grommit and the media-industry cluster in Bristol.

The thing about the arts industries is that they’re very hits-driven; talking about what happens to the median person going into them is always going to massively underestimate the value of the system as a whole. They share this characteristic with pharmaceuticals and, famously, the oil industry (as the wildcatter proverb has it, “part of the cost of a gusher is the dry holes you drilled”). You can’t tell ex ante which spotty undergraduate is going to turn into a claymation genius and retrospectively justify the last decade of investment. Importantly, nor can they. As far as I can see, if you were to set it up without subsidy, you would most likely get too few people going into the creative arts, as they would rationally decide that they were more likely to be one of the ones that didn’t make it than one of the Nick Parks.

This is really not all that unorthodox; it’s just the application of venture capital thinking to what people are (wrongly in my opinion) analysing as a debt problem. The undergraduate education subsidy system ought to be thought of as one where the government makes loads and loads of smallish VC investments, effectively buying a roughly 30% shareholding for a five figure investment, with diversification across an entire undergraduate cohort every year. If you’re given that sort of an opportunity, then obviously you go for some moonshots, particularly when you’re the government of a country that famously does very well in creative industries compared to its peers[3].

But it’s actually possible to push this line of thinking somewhat further into a general point about arts funding, making use of the fact noted two paragraphs ago that not only is it impossible for an outsider to pick winners, it’s usually very difficult for the artists themselves. Where I think that leads to is the conclusion that when you’re looking at the rate of return on arts subsidies, there is no coherent way to measure ROI at any level more disaggregated than the entire system.

What I mean by this is that it’s not possible to isolate particular parts of the creative industry as “commercial” and look at their funding separately from the “artistic” bits. Some organisations might try to do this as a book-keeping exercise (and obviously, this isn’t a literal impossibility when it comes to things like an annual pantomime). But in fact, the avant-garde is a provider of raw and semi-finished material to the “commercial”. One of the outputs of “productions of Samuel Beckett” is “directors of Bond films”. More importantly than that, one of the important outputs of a thriving fringe theatre scene is an educated and critical audience, which is the hidden crucial competitive advantage that the British media industry enjoys over most of its competitors. There’s a reason why it was in the UK market that Simon Cowell managed, twice, to turn an incredibly generic talent-show concept into a format that conquered the world.

So not only is arts funding a hits-based business (in which part of the cost of the successes is the cost of the flops), it’s also a hits-based business in which it’s not really possible to measure the output, because a lot of the output is the production of intangible assets which only get converted into cash at a later date and with a connection that’s very hard to observe. I think that what this means is a) the overall ROI of creative arts funding is likely to be systematically underestimated by accounting systems which don’t take into account the production of intangible assets and which try to make a commercial/art split. And b) that the only reasonable way to allocate arts funding is by the judgement of informed creative peers.

[1] In general, one might see this as creating a rebuttable presumption that creative arts are succeeding in a marketplace which is competitive and internationally traded, and that this is good. The market for undergraduate education isn’t perfect of course; I have had numerous interesting arguments about whether the information asymmetries are really so great as to undermine this presumption but let’s set them to one side here.

[2] It basically replicates a really crude and badly designed graduate tax, but one which has the massive advantage over a proper graduate tax that it can be levied on foreign students from EEA countries.

[3] I have noted in the past that, whether or not China produces a hundred thousand graduate engineers every year, it remains the case that China has never produced a single decent television game show. Anyone remotely familiar with the concept of comparative advantage can draw the obvious conclusion with respect to whether the UK ought to be directing its talented young people into software engineering or into media studies.

{ 50 comments }

1

ajay 01.11.19 at 1:46 pm

it remains the case that China has never produced a single decent television game show.

I would love to know how many Chinese television game shows you watched before arriving at this conclusion.

2

oldster 01.11.19 at 2:15 pm

This is one of the most interesting arguments about higher education that I have read in some time.

I find it persuasive for the case to which it is applied — sc., the state funding of arts degrees in the UK — and then I wonder how much more broadly it can be applied.

So, for instance, it may be harder to use it in arguing with a private US university, where it is harder for the university itself to recapture the profits from a successful gusher. Not that it never happens — they may later receive a donation to build the Gusher Performing Arts center, or at least to establish the Gusher Chair in Performing Arts. And less concretely, they may profit from being able to list Gusher among their esteemed alumni, giving them cachet in the arts.

But it will be harder to due a strict accounting of the profit at the university than it is for the UK to do it at the national level, or the wildcatter at the firm level.

Still — departments of the arts (and indeed the humanities in general) have so few arguments on their side these days, that I am delighted to see this one.

(On a side note: this kind of point also underlies the old anecdote about Henry Ford and the worker with his feet up on his desk.)

3

politicalfootball 01.11.19 at 2:25 pm

More importantly than that, one of the important outputs of a thriving fringe theatre scene is an educated and critical audience, which is the hidden crucial competitive advantage that the British media industry enjoys over most of its competitors.

I’m not sure why you are making this choice, but I believe you are deliberately stopping just short of explicitly articulating the most important systemic advantage created by arts funding. The existence of such an audience is not merely beneficial to the arts, but beneficial to society at large.

Maybe that point is just too banal to make. Or you are trying to confront an argument about how education benefits the marketplace with a rebuttal that focuses on the marketplace.

4

Trader Joe 01.11.19 at 2:33 pm

Very thoughtful.

You could also use an insurance analogy. Every house has insurance even though very few will burn down – if the premium collected on the whole exceeds the losses expended on the few there is a positive ROE.

In your example the cash flows are reversed – If the “premium” earned from the Hits exceeds the payouts from the loans, a positive ROE is generated.

The system constraint is ultimately how many entertainment dollars are available. For example spending 5x more on funding may or may not produce 5x more Hits, but if there were 5x more Hits, the value of each hit might be comparatively lower since there is only so much advertisting/ticket sales other revenue streams to support production.

The system multiplier is that even though only few who pursue the arts might generate Hits, those that do can fund lots of jobs…for example its not coincidence that lots of people who work off camera in production, set design, costuming etc. originally aspired to be on camera but stayed in the industry even though not in a staring role.

5

John B 01.11.19 at 2:49 pm

Ajay – the “multinationally franchised” was implicit in the original – someone who has never watched a single British-filmed TV show will inevitably have been exposed to British (also Dutch, for broadly similar reasons) TV concepts, whereas that is obviously not the case for China.

6

nastywoman 01.11.19 at 3:28 pm

As the proud ”owner” of such a “Mickey Mouse Degree” -(”art”) – but not from a UK – but a German University –
one could say –
as a famous German Philosopher once said:

”Die Königin der Studien ist die Theologie – alles andere ist… Quatsch!”

– and so – as long as these authors of ”Onward UK” haven’t studied ”Theologie” – there is no reason to believe a single word of their ”report” –
or – only if they could prove that they are able to exchange the motor of a Mini Cooper S from 1965 –
OR –
if they are able to restore the left door of a ”Queen Anne” – from the 17th century.

And that’s ”the thing” –
There are ”holders” of ”Mickey Mouse Degrees” who are able to do ”all of the above” – while most holders of ”Non Mickey Mouse Degrees” are completely useless in even ”restarting a Mini whose spare plugs had been flooded” –
-(and take that as a ”Creative Arts Parabel”)

7

Doug T 01.11.19 at 3:29 pm

I’m not sure it matters at all when looking at a small piece of a much larger arts market (in this case UK production of film and other arts.) But it does seem like you are assuming there is some randomly distributed number of winning lottery tickets out there, and the more folks who go into the arts, the larger the number of winning tickets that will be produced. So you are looking purely at the supply side.

But there’s also a demand side of the equation. There is some appetite for new art, so that the amount of money spent on artwork will not be perfectly elastic relative to the quality of art being produced. Even if you didn’t have any talented film-makers getting trained, there would still be a public demand for movies. If everything that was produced was dreck, then I’d guess there would be some decrease in movie tickets sold, but it wouldn’t go to zero.

So demand is going to produce some number of winning lottery tickets regardless of the number of talented arts students. (And on the flip side, there’s probably also a limit–a generation of epochal talents all going into filmmaking isn’t going to push the total movie revenues above some ceiling.)

Of course, this begs the question of how different arts are from computer science or engineering, in this respect. I’d guess there aren’t that many developments that really increase the overall economic pie, as opposed to just grabbing more of it for a particular person or company or country, so to a first order it doesn’t matter what anybody studies at university.

8

Matt L 01.11.19 at 3:47 pm

<>

Ha! Ha! too true!

The other output of both of these things are the directors, actors, set designers, camera men, costumers, make up artists, props managers, electricians and post production people (etc) who create Mentos commercials. This sector of the creative industries is even more lucrative than feature films or television shows but completely invisible.

The same is true of the Nick Parks of the world. Aardman made (and probably still makes) commercials too. Even the “Failed” Nick Parks animators of the world still hold down day jobs designing crappy web animations and popup adds.

The other thing that is rich about this sort of educational tracking is that the not so hidden argument is “tracking for thee and thine, but never for me and mine.” The meritocrats who propose these sort of changes can send their kids to a private uni to major in modern dance, but the middle or lower class strivers should major in something practical like accounting or graphic design, not frivolous degrees like history or studio arts.

9

BA 01.11.19 at 4:24 pm

I’m assuming that the “British media industry” is not referring to the British news media.

10

bianca steele 01.11.19 at 4:59 pm

Is it reasonable to compare societies where there is a commercial/highbrow split from those in which there isn’t? James Bond films are a British product and it may be true that men who’ve directed them often directed Beckett plays in university. I’d guess that’s not true of action film directors in the US or Japan. Does the relative lack of a split improve British action movies over Hollywood’s and Japan’s products? Does it improve the country’s relative quality of Beckett productions?

Is what’s at question really a commercial/highbrow split at all? How many James Bond directors are products of Oxford/Cambridge or otherwise the English social elite? Is what’s at question maybe just the relative lack of distinguishable elites, plural, and distinguishable paths to high-paying careers via different kinds of educational institutions or professional experience?

And how are we going to compare quality? Do we want action films directed by people who’ve read Bourdieu or people who haven’t? At the beginning of the YouTube era, my anecdotal observance was that an awful lot of the young people getting discovered via an online presence were English kids who’d gone to London’s performing arts high school. Was pop music better for its having been filtered through that trade school?

It’s entirely possible to conceive of the arts as a profession that involves a thorough, formal grounding in practice, theory, and professional norms, achieved in a university setting, feeding into practitioners, editors, producers, and so on and so forth. I’d ask whether it’s desirable. (Not saying that’s what you’re proposing, but that it’s a logical deduction from the way things might seem to have been going.)

11

Ian 01.11.19 at 5:21 pm

Where I think that leads to is the conclusion that when you’re looking at the rate of return on arts subsidies, there is no coherent way to measure ROI at any level more disaggregated than the entire system.

That’s no different to state support to industry in general. Statistics are hard to find but something like 40-50% of new businesses fail within the first five years. It is even harder to find data on cost/job created with government support. There’s a similar position in support for transport with huge differences in government expenditure/head by region and in cost/passenger in various schemes.

These decisions are not and never have been based on rational economic analysis, despite any window dressing to the contrary. In practice, with few exceptions, public policy is constructed to cement political alliances or because it can be sold well to the electorate. We are seeing it now with Brexit, but dig behind the facade and it can be found all the way back to the Enterprise Zones created in the 1980s (an area in which I did some research) and probably before.

I don’t know the way out, but expecting rationality is probably aiming too high.

12

Phil 01.11.19 at 5:27 pm

ajay – I think it’s a reasonable assumption that if they were out there they’d have been picked up. (They’d be cheap, apart from anything else.)

13

Anders 01.11.19 at 5:30 pm

DD: why even bother trying to address the anti-arts argument in classical economist terms?

Higher education – especially in the arts – should be seen as a public good and valued for broader reasons than simply what it does to GDP.

14

oldster 01.11.19 at 5:57 pm

Anders @ 12

“why even bother trying to address the anti-arts argument in classical economist terms?”

Because it’s good to have more arguments to the same conclusion, starting from distinct premises.

Because some things have both intrinsic value and instrumental value, and it’s a mistake to leave their instrumental value out of a calculation of their total value.

Because some morons can only understand dollars and sense, and you have to argue with the morons you have, not with the morons you wish you had.

15

JW Mason 01.11.19 at 6:17 pm

whether or not China produces a hundred thousand graduate engineers every year, it remains the case that China has never produced a single decent television game show.

But does the UK have million-author online novel writing factories?

16

Kiwanda 01.11.19 at 6:26 pm

While it would be a shame to think of higher education entirely in vocational terms, at the same time I have to wonder: how many real estate directors and dance-major bartenders does one Wallace and Gromit justify? The notion that armies of people should be encouraged to follow paths of debt, wasted time, and frustration, because wow, the gushers, is not that attractive.

17

mpowell 01.11.19 at 6:30 pm

This is a perfectly valid argument, but I don’t think it is definitely the case that if you reduced the number of these programs you would also lose the artistic contributions from people who attended the more marginal programs. They may have gotten a spot at a different program or they didn’t actually need the training at all. Or maybe specific individual is not really any more intrinsically talented than the next person up and the big hits are mainly a matter of luck and timing.

Broader social benefit is a perfectly legitimate basis for programs that are money losing on an individual basis, but I think it is normal as the next step for people to challenge whether the broader social benefit is really present or not.

18

Daniel Davies 01.11.19 at 6:31 pm

The assertion that China has not produced a single decent game show format comes from a dealer in the licenses for such formats who I interviewed at a trade show 3 years ago. Maybe they’ve come up with a fantastic one since then but I doubt it. This is not particularly a thing for Chinese nationalists to get worked up about by the way; very few countries have produced really good game show formats and there are plenty of other viable basis for an export industry. Comparative advantage really.

I’m afraid to confess to people who might otherwise have liked me that the reason that I analyse these things in market and economics terms is that I actually do believe that if something is valuable then people will pay for it and that therefore the Arts have to be justified on the basis of some sense in which their value to consumers is greater than the cost of the resources needed to create them. I just don’t think this analysis can be carried out at a particularly disaggregated level.

19

Raven Onthill 01.11.19 at 7:34 pm

Is this not a version of the blockbuster syndrome? It operates in publishing and film production as well, and even to some extent in the sciences. The moneymen (they usually are men) want to invest in sure things, but sure things are not to be found in the arts, or in pure science and this syndrome has been destructive in every art it has touched.

20

Bill Benzon 01.11.19 at 11:51 pm

Some years ago Robert De Vany wrote a very interesting book on the movie business, Hollywood Economics. From my review:

Does having “bankable” names on the marquee guarantee that the movie will make bank? No. Does opening big on thousands of screens with PR from here to the moon guarantee that the movie will make bank? No. Does a small opening mean the film is doomed? No. Hence Goldman’s remark.

But all is not chaos. Or rather it is, but chaos of the mathematical kind. De Vany shows that about 3 or 4 weeks into circulation, the trajectory of movie dynamics (that is, people coming to theaters to watch a movie) hits a bifurcation. Most movies enter a trajectory that leads to diminishing attendance and no profits. But a few enter a trajectory that leads to continuing attendance and, eventually, a profit. Among these, a very few become block busters.

A bit later he argued that the pharmaceutical industry way much like the movie biz. I’ve got some remarks on that as well.

21

Faustusnotes 01.12.19 at 12:43 am

I think this argument also could and should be applied to sports, with the added dimension of the need to properly manage injuries and to properly integrate sports at school level. The premier league is a huge earner for the uk and probably the worlds most successful sports show, but its success is built on tiers of lower level sport and completely depends on their health and on the contribution of sportspeople who will never be famous, as well as comiitted audiences.

It’s nice to see someone defending Britain’s arts output, which really is great, but the China comparison seems completely unreasonable. Putting aside the language barrier – which is obviously an issue – Chinese game shows can’t be exported easily because they (and Chinese hunour generally) rely on huge amounts of cultural knowledge we don’t have, and on jokes about their writing system that we can’t understand. Also they were still a developing country when britpop was a big British export, so we should wait a little longer before seeing what they can produce. Actually Chinese political humor is pretty wicked and their ecosystem of separate online networks has produced some pretty entertaining humour, which is again incomprehensible if you don’t understand their writing system. Despite that it’s my understanding that there is a hugely popular dating show that has taken off in oz and will likely spread.

It might be better to think of japan and anime. People dismissed its cultural products in the 1980s but now anime and manga are universally accepted as an example of its soft power. And we in the west only see a tiny portion of its total output – there is so much utter shit in the world of manga, but you need oceans of the stuff to produce one nausicaa.

22

Peter T 01.12.19 at 3:37 am

Isn’t this just an instance at a particular scale of the fact that in any system of cooperative production, any particular individual contribution (and therefore reward) is almost impossible to measure? If I buy anything made by a company I support the workers, but also the useless dick of a CEO and his drone cronies, and some people who get paid very little but whose contribution to the product may well be vital. I’m buying the output of an ecosystem of production – very often multiple interlinked ecosystems (as the UK and the US are finding out).

People will pay for valuable things – yes. But we have found by experiment that the social security, education, healthcare, defence, infrastructure, basic science (and much applied), the arts, the humanities and a large part of housing are ecosystems that, although valuable, cannot live by direct payment in return for value at the individual level.

23

Joseph Brenner 01.12.19 at 3:53 am

Punk rock could get started in the lower-east side of Manhattan because the post-WWII suburban white flight and the economic mess the 70s opened up cracks that it could grow in. Now that people are coming to their senses about the true value of suburbia and post-gentrification New York is booming, many things have no doubt gotten better… but there is no way anything like a punk rock scene is going to develop there.

A thumbnail cultural history:

1940s/1950s: the beats
1960s: west village folk
1970s: east village punk
1980s: the new wave nightclub scene
1990s: … maybe downtown avant jazz

And after that? It seems that an engine of culture is broken now.

Does a booming economy open up opportunities, or does it narrow them down, restricting the range of viable choices?

Are people willing to pay for the things they value? they may buy Patti Smith records after she’s established– would they fund a CBGBs on the off chance it might produce a Patti Smith?

(Well maybe: the ABC No Rio space existed for many years using a building essentially donated by the city– but then, that donation was itself arguably a phenomena of economic malaise– these days, I don’t think there’s any way the city of new york would give away something as valuable as real estate to some odd artists collective.)

And if you want to tie this up to academic arts study, you can: for example, “Talking Heads” was a project of some art school kids, and arguably they were instrumental in putting over CBGBs (though there’s a revisionist history that downplays their role). Most of the original beat writers were students at Columbia when they met. I would expect that NYU students were a big part of the original base of the West Village folk scene.

This subject is on my mind of late because of occasional on-line conversations I have about real estate in the SF Bay Area. The way these things go is someone complains about the impact high real estate prices are having on the local arts scene, and one our free-market libertarian friends will chime in with the usual “if people wanted those places to exist they would pay for them” (all that happens happens for the best, in this, the freest of all free markets). They object to any suggestion that there might be a role for government support for nascent art scenes.

And for that matter I’ve seen them object that the current popularity of, say, Oakland has nothing to do with it’s population of artists. They seem to be living in an oddly mashed-flat, small-bore world of purely economic decision-making and they want the rest of us to join them there…

Myself, I’m inclined to believe we *should* have some sort of public support for the arts, though I have no preconceptions about what form it should take.

But the reasons to do this, for me, don’t involve some hypothetical arts industry payoff — I want it done because I *like the idea of it*. Having artists messing around in my town is good for it’s own sake–

24

billcinsd 01.12.19 at 8:39 am

Joseph Brenner @23, the post-2000 New York music scene moved over to Brooklyn

https://www.theguardian.com/music/2007/nov/30/popandrock.travelnews

25

nastywoman 01.12.19 at 10:09 am

And about the question –

”in what direction the UK ought to be directing its talented young people” –

one could say:
It wouldn’t be… bad – if a few more would be directed into ”engineering” -(instead of ”investment banking” or – having a lobbyist day jobs) – as –
how true – how true –
not only China – but also some other… ”more sophisticated Producing (manufacturing) Countries” -(we should not name) – produce a lot of engineers.

And as there is this famous German Philosophy:
”Dem Ingenieur ist nichts zu schwör”
(loosely translated:
”An Ingenieur can do everything” -(even ”art”) – and there was this very famous -(and successful) German artist who found out that ”Every Human is an Artist” – it helps to go to the Tate Modern to the Beuys Room and read: Was ist Kunst?

And the answer could be:
”Not only is arts funding a hits-based business (in which part of the cost of the successes is the cost of the flops), it’s also a hits-based business in which” – emphasize mine –
it really IS possible to measure the output”
Like the output of all these (NOT subsidized) ”Mickey Mouse Degrees” – who currently produce the YUUUGEST amount of dough in the world wide movie industry – how ironic? for the ”Mickey Mouse Studios” (Disney)

And so why is it? –
If – for example – London -(after LA and New York) IS the most obvious ”Arts (Theatre-Music etc. etc) driven City in the world – and the return on investments in arts is sooo obvious?

Why is it in the UK – that ”the value of such a (”arts”) system as a whole is so massively underestimated?

26

nastywoman 01.12.19 at 11:51 am

and as the question of return -(in dough terms) on investing in Creative Arts now has come up occasionally.

The return is YUUUGE!
At least as YUUUGE – as let’s say – Half? – or even ALL – of the UK’s (Arts) Attractions” –
as the performance of lobbyists and investment bankers is NO match to the theatrical creativity of British Life -(including ”Meghan”) – and when we made a High Tea reservation for ”Queen Anne” at Blenheim Palace – and showed up with a piece of art from the 17th century nobody even blinked an eye.

Everybody helped the Queen to her table and the Queen was asked what type of tea she would prefer – and nobody – not even an (American) guest – who had seen the Favourite questioned the Queens sexuality!

27

hix 01.12.19 at 12:59 pm

Im not quite sure sucessful exporter of TV Formats like say Endemol really need lots of creative arts graduates A program that just produces a handfull of stars does not seem particular interesting for society either in economic terms. The stars can move their tax residence to Monaco and consume 1500 Euro Steaks in Dubai.

28

hix 01.12.19 at 1:02 pm

Oh and really, China is supposed to produce TV formats that are good for export in the west (or at least desirable ones for western viewers?). Thats just a question of cultural difference id say. Not to deny China has in all likelyhood a creativity problem, but thats a more general issue which also has a very negative effect on their engineering output and its in no way proofen by tv formats.

29

anon/portly 01.12.19 at 4:44 pm

Wikipedia is packed with sentences that validate the OP’s thesis, such as this one:

The band was formed in 1977 by a group of University of Leeds art students: Jon Langford, Kevin Lycett, Mark White, Andy Corrigan and Tom Greenhalgh – the Gang of Four and Delta 5 formed from the same group of students.

Admittedly, that one may not be as definitive for everyone else as it is for me, so how about this one:

Born in Suffolk, Eno studied painting and experimental music at the art school at Ipswich Civic College in the mid 1960s and then at Winchester School of Art [U. of Southhampton].

Or maybe for some American (and non strictly “art” school) context this one:

From 1972 to 1977, Groening attended The Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington, a liberal arts school that he described as “a hippie college, with no grades or required classes, that drew every weirdo in the Northwest.”

Or this one [vis-à-vis comment 23, it doesn’t matter if the “engine of culture” breaks down in NYC – not that it has, consider for example its continuing relationship to jazz or modern classical music – since NYC is only a very small part of a larger country; i.e. anything the Lower East Side can do Olympia, Washington can do just as well if not better; also note that NYC’s greatest point of influence on punk or new wave involved not public investment in the arts but private investment, i.e. by Warhol]:

While attending The Evergreen State College, [Carrie] Brownstein met fellow students Corin Tucker, Kathleen Hanna, Tobi Vail, and Becca Albee.

30

Plarry 01.12.19 at 5:22 pm

I think this is a very interesting argument but let me disclaim that I have only a superficial understanding of how the UK’s funding system works based on conversations with colleagues.

Having said that, I want to understand if the people making the argument who think that the conclusion (#4) follows, think it follows mainly from (#3) or (#2), i.e., is it bad because it’s a taxpayer subsidy or is it bad because it’s exploitive of students, leading them into degree paths from which they cannot get ample professional paths. The OP seems to take the position that it follows from #2, but that can’t be a bad choice because (a) it’s a career choice and (b) sometimes people make it big and those who do have great results for the UK.

It’s not obvious that it should follow from #3 either, because (I believe) that science and engineering funding in the UK follows the same model. While one could make the vocational argument that there are plenty of STEM jobs that help the economy, it’s not at all clear that the mean ROI is worth the investment. I think that those who try to argue from purely economic motivations inadvertently hedge their arguments on the value society draws from STEM, which is the same argument that people make about the value of the arts.

31

Joseph Brenner 01.12.19 at 7:48 pm

billcinsd@24

Joseph Brenner @23, the post-2000 New York music scene moved
over to Brooklyn

https://www.theguardian.com/music/2007/nov/30/popandrock.travelnews

Sure– it seemed like every time I went back to New York I had to go further east to feel at home —

But the impact of the Brooklyn scene in the naughts wasn’t anywhere near the scale of the previous arts scenes I cited in my admittedly sketchy thumbnail.

Even if you wanted to say it’s Because Internet, NY’s contribution to that stuff is relatively slight, it’s very much a “me too” of the Bay area.

And let me quote the first paragraph of that Guardian piece:

When Michael Gira moved to New York in 1979, “anything and everything seemed possible, despite the fact the city was crumbling and rotten”. In the 80s, Gira led the noise band Swans, one of the defining bands of New York’s experimental music scene. Now he makes music (as Angels of Light) and runs a label from his home in Woodstock, in upstate New York. Manhattan has turned into a “playground for the privileged. The idea of living in Manhattan for an artist is preposterous – completely unaffordable.”

That’s what I’m talking about. You get (or used to get) “free market” enthusiasts talking up the dynamism of the free market– but in the real world an economic boom seems to create cultural stagnation.

My rhetorical “free market”-enthusiast would no doubt respond “Build baby build!”– and that might help it doesn’t *really* seem plausible that that alone would do it. Has there ever been a case where it has? Houston’s art scene doesn’t beat Austin’s.

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Joseph Brenner 01.12.19 at 8:13 pm

anon/portly@27:

Or this one [vis-à-vis comment 23, it doesn’t matter if the “engine of culture” breaks down in NYC … since NYC is only a very small part of a larger country;

Check the demographics of the United States. The New York Tri-State area is a huge chunk of the total population. [1]

not that it has, consider for example its continuing relationship to jazz or modern classical music

The thesis is not that nothing happens in New York, but that it’s stopped creating new cultural phenomena of the magnitude that it used to.

i.e. anything the Lower East Side can do Olympia, Washington

The thesis is also not that nothing ever happens elsewhere.

can do just as well if not better;

(1) maybe, but just once (2) and actually, no– much as I like some Olympia bands, Olympia’s impact is tiny compared to CBGBs.

also note that NYC’s greatest point of influence on punk or new wave involved not public investment in the arts but private investment, i.e. by Warhol

My thumbnail sketch was admittedly sketchy, and didn’t even try to touch on Warhol. (I mean: Wahol => Peter Morrissey => the modern horror movie).

But yes, you have a point– myself I wouldn’t say that academic art programs are the only thing of importance, but I agree with Daniel that they do have an influence.

[1] Checking with Uncle Wikipedia:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_York_metropolitan_area

The New York metropolitan area remains, by a significant margin, the most populous in the United States, as defined by both the Metropolitan Statistical Area (20.3 million residents in 2017)[1] and the Combined Statistical Area (23.7 million residents in 2016).[5] It is the largest urban agglomeration in the Americas and the tenth largest in the world.

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Joseph Brenner 01.12.19 at 8:55 pm

Faustusnotes@21 wrote:

the China comparison seems completely unreasonable.

It does seem problematic. My first thought was “how would we know?” A new, successful popular art form in China could reach more people than netflix and we might not even hear about it.

Also they were still a developing country when britpop was a big British export, so we should wait a little longer before seeing what they can produce.

Yes… I was thinking the other day that right around now is when we have the first generation of Chinese teenagers after China became a first world country.

It might be better to think of japan and anime. People dismissed its cultural products in the 1980s but now anime and manga are universally accepted as an example of its soft power. And we in the west only see a tiny portion of its total output …

Yes, Japan is an interesting case to think about. A typical American hipster will tend to think they know what’s going on with Japan because they’re familiar with, say, a handful of anime titles– but more than 10x that amount is produced *every season*.

But for me, Japan is an interesting case because I’m playing with that thesis about cultural revolutions being inversely related to economic success. To my eye, Japan’s cultural production is starting to stagnant — there’s still a lot of stuff going on, but I wouldn’t expect another Nausicaa any time soon– and I think it has to do with it’s aging demographic– Japan, like all first world countries is experiencing a declining birthrate, but unlike most of them, it refuses to use immigration to make up the shortfall– An older population without much foreign influences mixed in doesn’t seem very promising– unless they do something I don’t expect, which would be cool.

34

Stephen 01.12.19 at 9:12 pm

Ravenonthill@19: indeed, I have some difficulty in understanding why this whole argument does not apply to the creative sciences (and technologies, in as far as they are distinguishable). Is it that only arts can be creative? Or that creative sciences have no problems?

35

Chris Mealy 01.13.19 at 7:49 am

Britain’s art schools are the result of very old industrial policy. The Royal College of Art was founded as the Government School of Design in 1837 by the Board of Trade because Britain was falling behind France and Germany in industrial design.

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nastywoman 01.13.19 at 9:15 am

@
”Is it that only arts can be creative”?

Tried to answer with a decisive – NO! –
(okay – perhaps in a bit of a ”twisted” way) –
– or there is no need for an answer to such a question to show up – as everybody on this blog already is aware – that everybody IS a ”Creative Artist”?

37

eg 01.13.19 at 3:45 pm

Canuck here, so pardon the ignorance of the UK funding model — is the question being posed the flipside of what I call the “STEM hysteria”? The Readers Digest version of which is that anything not STEM related is useless and unworthy of funding.

oldster @ 14 — “you have to argue with the morons you have, not the morons you wish you had.” This is genius. I am going to shamelessly steal it to describe my friends, most of whom are engineers …

38

nastywoman 01.13.19 at 8:43 pm

”The Royal College of Art was founded as the Government School of Design in 1837 by the Board of Trade because Britain was falling behind France and Germany in industrial design”.

Now I understand!

The UK has forgotten that ”industrial design” is ”art”?

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nastywoman 01.13.19 at 9:00 pm

– and there is this… theory – that an economy which invests in systems where ”Creative Arts” are NOT divorced from ”The Art of Engineering” – in a way some ”Think Tanks” might like to… divorce it… are… are…

more like… Contemporary Germany? –
(or like… China? – trying to Copy Contemporary Germany?)

40

nastywoman 01.13.19 at 9:15 pm

– and perhaps the following ”Synopsis” will be posted?

”The Bauhaus was arguably the single most influential modernist art school of the 20th century. Its approach to teaching, and to the relationship between art, society, and technology, had a major impact both in Europe and in the United States long after its closure under Nazi pressure in 1933. The Bauhaus was influenced by 19th and early-20th-century artistic schools such as the Arts and Crafts movement, as well as Art Nouveau and its related styles, including the Jugendstil and Vienna Secession. All of these movements sought to level the distinction between the fine and applied arts, and to reunite creativity and manufacturing; their legacy was reflected in the romantic medievalism of the Bauhaus ethos during its early years, when it fashioned itself as a kind of craftsmen’s guild. But by the mid-1920s this vision had given way to a stress on uniting art and industrial design, and it was this which underpinned the Bauhaus’s most original and important achievements. The school is also renowned for its extraordinary faculty, who subsequently led the development of modern art – and modern thought – throughout Europe and the United States” –

(and the UK?)

41

john mcgowan 01.13.19 at 10:29 pm

In the arts you can’t make a living, but you might make a killing.

I find the comments on the decline of the NYC music scene horribly color-blind. What about rap and hip-hop and beat music and DJs?

Picking winners and losers, we are always told by the free market types, is a mug’s game. But somehow saying the arts are altogether a loser is OK.

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nastywoman 01.13.19 at 10:39 pm

– AND feeling very guilty about ”kind of changing the subject” –
(or not at all?) –
but the question:
”Should the government cut the number of university courses and places to ensure value for money”? – and the reference to China ”producing a hundred thousand graduate engineers every year” – was such a (creative?) reminder on… on…
”the Brexit”!

AND that this tendency in the UK -(and even more in the US) – ”to ensure value for money” – led to far too many degrees in ”Finance” – and far too few in ”engineering” OR ”the Arts”.
And that’s why – in conclusion – the UK needs all of these Art-Degree holders –
BE-cause they understand the need to
”level the distinction between the fine and applied arts, and to reunite creativity and manufacturing” –
and thusly making our workers (again) happy enough – that they DON”T vote for idiocies… like ”Brexits” -(or ”Clownsticks”)

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T 01.14.19 at 12:44 am

In the US, where postsecondary funding for arts education is poor, these are the data for degrees in the visual and performing arts from 1970-2016. It’s about 115,000 per year these days. What is it in the U.K.?
https://nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/d17/tables/dt17_325.95.asp

The number of degrees doesn’t include the coders making video games, etc. It also doesn’t include the dropouts which are many. David Byrne spent one year at RISD and dropped out of college after another year at the Maryland Institute College of Art. Last year, RISD, tuition, room and board for one year was about $70K. Maryland Institute College of Art was about $63K.

You certainly get more of something when it’s subsidized. The question is how much more per incremental subsidy. Also, what of the losers in this winner-take-all field? The transferability of “art” skills to other fields beyond barista, or lack thereof, shouldn’t be diminished.

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static 01.14.19 at 1:48 am

While this is a valid argument for funding some number of degrees in the arts, it is not an argument for funding an unlimited number of degrees in the arts. To continue your analogy, a venture capitalist does not invest in every startup that comes before her seeking funding. You list Simon Cowell as a success story, yet he did not receive an arts degree, nor did most of the audience. The linkage of titled academic achievement as means to create an opportunity for commercial success for one’s artistic works is largely unsupported. If there is a desire to create commercially successful works, one would expect that those skills could be focused on more directly, rather than through the absorption of received opinions on a tired canon of elite status markers.

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nastywoman 01.14.19 at 8:18 am

– and so about the final conclusion to the question:

”in what direction the UK ought to be directing its talented young people” –
-(and how and why this ”direction” should be subsidized) –

One HAS to suggest –

”Das offizielle schweizerische Informationsportal der Berufs-, Studien- und Laufbahnberatung”
-(the Swiss Portal for all questions about where young talented people should be directed to)

And as – supposedly – the Swiss have the most effective economy -(also in ””ensuring value for money terms”) – which somehow is also based on their ”romantic medieval system of craftsmen’s guilds” which connects ”the arts” AND nearly everything else – to a YUUUGE and pretty awesome… ”Gesamtkunstwerk” –

What can go wrong?
(if the UK hasn’t left Europe and London before)

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Ander 01.15.19 at 11:15 am

Ajay #1. That’s exactky his point.

You can, however, bet there’s Chinese that have watched “W ho wants to be a millionaire”- a huge international success.

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Hidari 01.15.19 at 3:06 pm

Is no one going to suggest that ‘inability’ to come up with a ‘good’ game show is a good thing?

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nastywoman 01.15.19 at 4:40 pm

@
”Is no one going to suggest that ‘inability’ to come up with a ‘good’ game show is a good thing?”

Done –
by pointing to the ability to exchange the motor of a Mini Cooper S from 1965 –
OR –
if they are able to restore the left door of a ”Queen Anne” – from the 17th century.

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anon/portly 01.15.19 at 5:11 pm

41 I find the comments on the decline of the NYC music scene horribly color-blind. What about rap and hip-hop and beat music and DJs?

In defense of comment 23, I took him to mean a small part of Manhattan and not NYC, really. My knowledge of hip-hop, which is somewhat limited, sees that music as coming more from New Jersey, Brooklyn, the Bronx and/or Long Island. He did leave out jazz, so your comment isn’t necessarily off-track.

While researching this comment, to see if knowledge wasn’t completely ill-remembered, I did find a great US high-school example, Erkyah Badu attending a Dallas magnet arts high-school.

My comment was probably off-topic, other than maybe the Groening example, since I doubt if anyone else is that impressed with UK arts colleges helping foster export non-powerhouses like the Mekons or Gang of Four. But in the context of American music of all kinds, I think that arts investment at the public high-school and college level has had a non-negligible return on investment; it seems like I’m always reading stories where this or that musician credits a school program or teacher.

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Helen 01.15.19 at 10:48 pm

I have noted in the past that, whether or not China produces a hundred thousand graduate engineers every year, it remains the case that China has never produced a single decent television game show

Incorrect! you obviously are not familiar with If You Are the One, which has been exported successfully. Yes, I am in Australia, but we are the same audience who watches Wallace and Gromit and AbFab. Our household watches it semi-regularly. this program has an interesting discussion (hope it’s not geoblocked) about translating the jokes.

https://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/stop-everything/highlights-zoe-coombs-marr-if-you-are-the-one-intimacy-director/10572648

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