Last week the BBC asked -- a bit too cheekily for my taste -- Do hard times equal good art?
Vincent van Gogh, starving as he slaves over his masterpieces. Johnny Rotten, sneering at the wreckage of 1970s Britain. George Orwell, finding his voice amid the poverty and despair of the Great Depression.Not an auspicious beginning to a serious conversation, but the article does right itself later:
You'd think today's artists would be happier about the prospect of imminent destitution.
The left-wing singer-songwriter Billy Bragg is certainly no supporter of the funding cuts, and he acknowledges that the music industry was already facing deep-seated problems even before the arrival of the credit crunch.This is a slightly different argument, but more perceptive. It is true that artists need some kind of crisis (even a minor crisis like a deadline -- looking at you, COI podcast) to focus their minds.
But, weaned on punk rock, and his craft forged during the battles of the 1980s, he does believe that musicians tend to find their voice during periods of crisis.
"As times get hard, it's still the most obvious way to reach out and speak to people," he says.
I don't see how that's an argument for pushing them to the brink of starvation, though.
[image via Chris Tyrell]