IN the 1920s, the film producer Sam Goldwyn tried to persuade George Bernard Shaw to write for his studio, emphasising the high-minded artistic quality of the work it turned out. Shaw replied that there wasn’t much point in continuing the discussion: “The trouble, Mr Goldwyn, is that you are only interested in art, and I am only interested in money.”

In this, Shaw was like everyone else. As his fellow playwright Hymie Gouldman, father of 10cc’s Graham Gouldman, put it: “Art for art’s sake, money for God’s sake”. The fact that art, like love or religion, has a special, sacred, central place in many people’s lives doesn’t alter the fact that, like anything else, it takes time and effort to produce it, and the people who do so have a powerful need to eat.

Sometimes, the people who like stressing its quasi-mystical value also like pointing that out: the usual figures (based on those from the Arts Council) are along the lines that the arts contribute £10.8 billion to the UK economy. When it comes to their own interests, people in the arts sector are rather like doctors, teachers or a dozen other groups, or for that matter Mr Goldwyn: they point out the high-minded non-commercial value of

what they do then, if that isn’t getting the listeners to stump up, point out it has considerable monetary value as well.

Quite right, too. But, like the BMA or any other special-interest outfit, it’s almost always when they are asking for money from the public purse. Since before the Fall, when they wrote it on the wall and there wasn’t even any Hollywood (as Steely Dan put it), the majority of art has been turned out by people who couldn’t earn a living from it.

Almost every actor, musician, writer and painter in history knows what it’s like to do another job, because they’ve all had to. Probably the vast majority of them could earn a living only from that, even some of the most distinguished: Charles Ives was an insurance agent, as was Wallace Stevens. The example I find most amazing, and entertaining, is that Philip Glass, Richard Serra and Chuck Close set up a removals firm together – and then employed Steve Reich.

We’ve had quite a lot of noise about how valuable, in both monetary and spiritual terms, artists are recently: first, when it was suggested that the Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, had told those working in the arts that they should all retrain as something else, and then yesterday, when an advertisement seemed to suggest ballet dancers should switch career, and set up as cyber security specialists.

It turns out, if you read Mr Sunak’s exact words, that he didn’t say anything of the sort: he talked about how the arts, like every other sector affected by lockdown restrictions, would need to adapt, and mentioned – as if he needed to – that he couldn’t promise to save every job (in any part of the economy). It also turns out that the advert in question – turned out by an agency rather than a Government department – was a stock photograph in a series featuring several other occupations, as part of a long-running campaign encouraging anyone who works in any kind of job at all to consider retraining to work in “cyber”, whatever that might be.

Both these positions seem, in the current circumstances, to be no more than statements of the bleeding obvious.Just about everyone who works in the theatre, film industry or live music is out of work at the moment, and likely to be for the foreseeable future. But so are lots of people who work in pubs, restaurants and cafés (licensed or otherwise). In fact, these are quite often the same people.

Normally, I would argue against handing money taken from the wage packets of you and me and the folk that stack the shelves at Asda to the likes of Andrew Lloyd Webber. That’s not because I’m some philistine who doesn’t see the value of the arts (though I struggle in the particular case of Lord Lloyd-Webber), but because I object to protectionism and market distortions; I don’t agree with subsidising farmers either, but that doesn’t mean I don’t like or value food.

But the current circumstances are slightly different. If your job, which was otherwise perfectly viable, has been closed down by Government dictat, it’s reasonable to expect that you should get some sort of support from the state.

Even so, there’s something rather peculiar about watching a group of people who think that art consists of pointing out how horrible Tories are, complaining that the Tories won’t give them the money to make more work pointing out how horrible the Tories are. It’s like the career of Ken Loach, whose films are all about how awful it is to be working class under heartless capitalist governments, but which are in large part financed by public money that ultimately comes from the pockets of those oppressed working class people.

Well, that’s par for the course. Anyone who expects artists to be grateful or consistent is on a hiding to nothing; there is a long and glorious record of ingratitude, and often outright contempt, from artists towards those that pay for their work. But it’s one thing to expect patronage from the aristocracy or the church; another to demand it from taxpayers on minimum wage.

The default position of many creative people is one of entitlement: indeed, it is so widespread that it seems as if it may be a necessary position for being an artist at all. A conviction of the quality and sincerity of the work being produced is, after all, one of the hallmarks of successful works of art. Given how hard it is to making a living in most branches of the arts, it may be the main thing that keeps those that do it going.

A great deal of creative work, unfortunately, isn’t recognised or rewarded. But that is as true of people who are passionate about working in a restaurant kitchen as those who play the violin or write poetry. It’s just odd that the ones who get state funding in the normal run of events think they’re being uniquely hard done by at the moment.

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