Cheap Art – from what?

Let us assume that there is no money. We need to assume this at first, because, in fact, there is, or rather, there would be quite some! We are living in a rich country whose problems, as well as problems of its citizens, are not so different from the problems facing the most advanced welfare states and their citizens respectively. Our country figures at around the 50th position on the list of the two hundred countries in terms of GDP, that is we belong to the upper 25%, the population of which countries represent only 13% of the world’s population. This means that only 1 billion people are wealthier than the average Hungarian, whereas more than 6 billion are poorer. Wealth is relative, but who would call someone poor who is in fact richer than 6/7th of the total population?

The truth of the matter, however, is that we can hardly imagine what it is like to be living in a considerably poor country lacking things absolutely taken for granted by ourselves, such as old age pension, family allowances, unemployment and other social benefits, free medical services, public utilities, public security, street lighting etc. We haven’t got the faintest idea what it is like to be able to travel only a maximum of two hundred kilometers a day, and this little in constant danger. We can have no clue what it is like to be living with the disastrous housing conditions, the barely existing and very poor education system or how to survive in a society where social differences are so dizzying that the state simply cannot keep track of what people actually live on, where savage capitalism is rampant and corruption is omnipresent, irrespective of what the country in question may be called, be it even the socialist people’s republic of this and that, for that matter.

Up till now our problems have been of a different nature. We are a rich country where more than forty percent of the population live under the minimum subsistence level. Our difficulties, however, could best be compared to those of a family, neither really poor nor rich enough, but still cherishing a realistic hope of having the world of the rich and all its presumed privileges within reach (the semi-periphery). They are even impulsive enough to take courageous measures to raise their social status: they have moved to a better district, bought a decent flat and even a car – all on credit. Here, in their prospective new lives they cannot afford to be cheap. But in due course they are starting to realize that expenses have gone way up, excessively so – but alas it is too late to beat a retreat. Likewise, Hungarians have taken the age-old edict, and ‘have cast their observant eyes upon Paris’ (and Berlin and New York), and nowhere else. Most of the world does not as much as exist for them, not even as a tourist attraction. No wonder how much they will be overcome with self-pity at the very thought of their ‘outrageous poverty’.

Art takes two things: money and intelligence. Not unlike happiness. And maybe in equal proportions: money by itself does not guarantee happiness, but poverty, on the other hand, is almost certain to generate unhappiness. With some intelligence, however, a lot of money can be saved or rather intelligence can compensate for the scarcity of resources available. This analogy is all too neat to be true and should therefore be taken with some reservation. Art history teaches us a completely different story to the effect that all art takes is money and that is that. If there is enough money there is everything, intelligence included, since the latter is always attracted by money and it is either blackmailed into collaboration or simply bought, being no more than an incidental factor in the equation. Wherever there is a lot of money, sooner or later, art is bound to flourish as well. This was the case in Ancient Rome, as well as in Renaissance Florence, Baroque Spain and during the great period of the Netherlands, to name but a few examples that immediately come to mind.

The point, however, remains relevant for the XXth Century as well: New York was able to steal the idea of modern art from Paris when Europe was in ruins, whereas America was just recovering from the Great Depression and gaining considerable competitive advantage over the Old Continent. And no matter how much and how often did the New World art find itself exhausted and intellectually bankrupt, from these recurrent crises it was not Europe but America once more that emerged victorious: it simply continued to drain the European intellectual capital, importing French Theory or German critical theory, giving thereby an ever new boost to American art.

Contemporary art started moving back to the Old Continent only in the nineteen eighties when big money was suddenly available to be invested in it. Péter György observes, ‘New York became a metaphor of money’s dominion, whereas London was big money itself. In London it was no more ‘modern art’ that mattered, but ‘contemporary art’ as such, the mythical hero of this latter being Damien Hirst: money was no longer Warhol’s metaironical fetish, but was present as a crude, even brutal, and all pervasive force.’ (1) Similarly, it was big money that kicked off Berlin’s career at the turn of the last Century, when art started flocking from London to the new German capital. And, further, it is only a well-informed jet-lag curator’s call where it has found its new home, where it happens to be thriving today. One thing is sure: not far from the big money.

Is there any hope at all? Hope should be inspired, so at least as it seems to me, not by the times and places with a lot of money and no art, only to comfort ourselves that voila, money without intelligence cannot buy us real art. Fair enough, as a piece of healthy Schadenfreude, but it would not get us too far, would it. On the contrary, we should be able to draw some inspiration from a number of thought-provoking exceptions. Let me identify two traits that the majority of the exceptional cases seem to have in common (without ever forgetting that there are always bound to be exceptions to the exceptions themselves). First, these exceptions can be usually found among artists working in fields not particularly dependent on a lot of money.

This is a highly relative circumstance, but we may certainly presume that it takes less money to write good books than to create innovative architecture. The second feature shared by most exceptions is this: they rarely stand (out) on their own. This does not imply that certain individual artists do not in fact stand out, but they all come from somewhere and belong somewhere. (What in reality happens, of course, is not so much that they stand out in the first place, but rather it is us, who retrospectively create a canon, unduly exaggerating the exceptionality of certain artists at the expense of others for the sake of economy and concentration.) Such group-identity is not specific to modern art, but it is characteristically in modern times that artists begin to organize themselves into communities, often against the overwhelming power of money.

And what exactly characterizes these exceptional artists? I am here relying on Bourdieu in my argument: not only do they not come from the lowest layers of society, but they tend to be highly educated as well. They tend to break with their inherited social networks, i.e. they are unlikely to continue their parents’ profession, they typically move out of the area they were brought up in and start experimenting with new ways of life, developing new social networks from scratch, usually in the artistic arena where they happen to be active. And last but not least, a minimum subsistence income is guaranteed for them, whatever source it may come from. This being the case of the ‘independent artist’, becoming the norm by the end of the 19th Century: i.e. the artist independent not only of any external requirements, but of money as well. Mind you, I do not mean by that, that the person in question has no money. He may or he may not. He may as well be a wealthy aristocrat with a considerable fortune of his own or living on his comfortable inheritance. What I do mean, however, is that the independent artist is not forced to earn a living doing his art.

The heyday of this type was of course the 19th Century when this ‘career model’ was available for the most varied groups and subgroups of society. As a prerequisite for this to be the case a few social conditions had had to emerge, such as the predominance of urban culture, more widely available general education and the advent of unified ‘Art’ written and conceived of with a capital letter. The type of artist in question survived into the 20th Century, undergoing, however, a considerable amount of modification.

We can easily come up with examples of great 20th Century artists belonging to this pride of independent artists. Suffice it to name here but two giants, Duchamp and Schwitters. Duchamp lived on what he inherited of the family fortune whereas Schwitters was the owner of a tenant building. Both, however, led remarkably puritanical lives and did ostentatiously cheap art. Cheap as to both material expenses and technological needs and, furthermore, cheap also in the sense that their work did not represent any financial value whatsoever for a long time.

It remains a question, however, whether they can be considered as true paragons of the 20th Century artist. For the second half of the Century brought about thoroughgoing changes, transforming the art scene into a perfect mine-field. In the wake of economic crises successive price explosions in the art-market, with the inevitable scandals implied, have followed each other with remarkable regularity, not unlike the regularity of macroeconomic cycles. This historical experience seems to suggest that it may not after all be Duchamp who could best epitomize the 20th Century artist as such. I am saying this in spite of the magic spell cast by this artist and in spite of the magic power of institutions that his art has managed to reveal.

Why not then? The reason for this lies in his very independence. Not only did his independence manifest itself in his much analyzed irony, his cleverness and astute reflexivity, but even more so in his straightforward laziness. ‘What do you do all day?’, asks Pierre Cabanne in an interview made with Duchamp, who at the time was based in New York and Paris, spending half of the year in each city. ‘Nothing…Since I came here I have not done anything important. If I come here, it’s because I want to take a rest anyway. To take a rest of nothing, since one is always exhausted by sheer being,’ replies Duchamp. And when Cabane insists, ’Are you then more active in New York?’, he answers, ‘No, the same there, exactly the same’.

When further asked about ‘important things’, Duchamp keeps reacting in the same vein. For example, when asked if he was interested in politics Duchamp says, ‘No, absolutely not. Let us not even talk about it at all. I know nothing about the subject, all I can say is that it is a stupid activity, good for nothing.’ ‘Do you believe in God,’ asks the interviewer, and Duchamp answers, ‘No, not at all. The question does not as much as exist for me. I am not trying to say that I am neither an atheist nor a believer, but that I do not want to address this topic at all.’ (2)

A person not doing anything at all, apart from regularly playing chess at a local club for eight long years cannot possibly be the star of the modern art scene, however well he may know all its crooks and crannies, having been brought up in it. Or maybe for that very reason. For such a person is not interested either in money or fame, but rather in something we may simply describe as ‘free time’. I mean by free time not only the leisure which is considered as an essential prerequisite for creative work to be done, but time that also liberates one from both internal and external obligation to create. This was the case of Marcel Duchamp. The important question arises whether a man or woman who does not create can still be called an artist.

Obviously, we need to look for the artist star of the last century that we have in mind elsewhere. We need to find a character, or rather the art scene had to identify this character, who is obsessively active, who cannot help creating continually, who is all over the place and into anything new, who takes art seriously and is interested in absolutely everything. His name is Pablo Picasso. And the man who spotted him was no other than André Malraux. Malraux did in fact found his whole theory of art on Picasso. His was the earliest form of a theory of institutions, long preceding the American wave of critical reflection on art institutions.

Mona Lisa in its own age was not considered as a work of art – thus begins the long argument proposed by Malraux’s magnum opus Les voix du silence, (3) just like no other cultural product had ever been before museums came to be. The apparent paradox of the temporality and logic of art consists in the fact that it seems to precede the art works without which, we would presume, it would not make any sense in the first place. Further, Malraux suggests without explicitly saying so that the magic of art has nothing transcendent about it. The magical transformative power is immanent in art itself, and in order to exercise this power all it needs is dead matter that it may quicken and animate.

Picasso was exactly the paragon of this all-transforming, all-enlivening force of an artist, who never ceased to produce with the obsession of a maniac. He was capable of realizing any number of works any single day. Malraux’s book on Picasso (4) starts with the revealing anecdote of the widow calling the then minister Malraux after Picasso’s death and asking him to come and see how much art her deceased husband had left behind cluttering the whole house. She implored him to do something about it for it was impossible to move around in the house with all that art everywhere. Malraux accepts the invitation and calls at the Picassos home. He carefully draws up a catalogue of the works left by the artist and organizes an immense exhibition of them.

Not only did Picasso produce a lot, but he was capable of creating a work of art out of virtually anything. Not only did he incorporate into his jerry-rigged works African masks and other exotic objects, but he was able to make art even out of indiscriminate garbage. At one point in Malraux’s book the widow is complaining about his picking up any random piece of string left inadvertently lying on the kitchen table, and the next thing she knew was his sitting at the table fabricating a little figurine out of the string that had been meant for the closing of a jar of jam.

Yves Klein, probably aware of Malraux’s book, was no doubt right to organize his big show in 1958, entitled Le vide (The Empty). He was indeed right in assuming that there can be an exhibition without any works. Arman’s counter-move two years later made no less of a point: responding to Klein he organized another show, called Le plein (The Full). He crammed the exhibition space with garbage to the point that it was impossible to enter. The latter gesture is now important for us only in so far as it turned out to be an appropriate answer to Malraux as well, even possibly unawares to Arman himself.

It has been clear for a relatively long time that the institution is capable of transforming practically anything into art. For quite some time already we have had this impression of Wöfflin’s famous insight, ‘not everything is always possible’, having been rendered obsolete by the omnipotence of the art-institution (even if it is, mind you, no more than an impression). But there is more to Arman’s reaction than that. Namely a suggestion to the effect that the institution may not after all be infinite. However insatiable its greed and hunger may seem, the volume of its entrails may set a final limit to the quantity it may take in, and one day that stomach will burst and vomit back on us all the contents we stuffed it with.

Hence appeared the new logic of doing things. Instead of constantly criticizing and reflecting on art, one should rather accelerate its processes, exacerbate them by pushing them to any kind of extremes without the slightest restraint. According to this new thinking art had to be liberated from anything that may hinder its full productivity. Techniques of mass production had to be implemented in order to reproduce and accumulate as much as possible. Not only did the new generation acknowledge the inseparability of art and business, but they even went so far as to identify the two and do business-art. This is the ultimate foundation of Warhol’s affirmative irony, and the same logic has governed the thinking of all the trends from the Neorealists, through Pop Art, down to and including contemporary Simulationists.

Neorealists were still hoping that even though the long awaited nausea may never arrive, desire being by definition insatiable, physical constraints in the extended world of res extensa may still set a limit to unbridled artistic productivity: the exhibition space will be full one day, just like the box full of gas masks. The surface of the picture is bound to be saturated sooner or later and then there will emerge a concrete surface already touching the real world, and into which, at last, real objects, signs and images may crash like meteorites. The work may thereby become a sticky, trap-like surface, not unlike some fly-paper, from which may dangle and to which may cling the objects of the real world, making it refractory to the transformation into pure art by the institution. Similarly, the viewer may also escape the Moloch’s ingurgitation, left outside in the street, having to travel to suburban industrial plants and junk-yards, or simply having to go out into nature.

Little as it may seem, Warhol did not even believe in any of this any more. What he did believe, however, is that he can compete with the institution in becoming a consummate consumer. Not only could the artist be an eminent producer, but he or she could also aspire to become an eminent consumer, and thereby become a super-capitalist. Hyperrealists attempt at an even more all-consuming consumption of reality. It is not only objects and objectified images that they tend to gobble up, but the media as well. Further down this path there are the Simulationists, who seem to be doing the same with consciousness itself, and certain currents of contemporary Virtual and Bio Art, which claim to be consuming the living human body itself.

I am not criticizing this. On the contrary, I am saying this in the name and for the sake of criticism, if anything. For what is undeniably common in all these trends, is their skepticism towards critics and theoreticians. I consider their skepticism very useful and thought provoking. Although art criticism was thriving and very active throughout the second half of the last century, its efficiency, however, is profoundly questionable. As regards Picasso himself, he was often the butt of all kinds of severe criticism since the nineteen sixties. John Berger starts his famous, even notorious 1965 book, The Success and Failure of Picasso, with the following sentence: ‘Picasso is now wealthier and more famous than any other artist who has ever lived.’ (5)

Indeed. If you think about how many people may have been aware of any great artist like Michelangelo or Rubens in their own lifetime before the second half of the last century, you will realize that Picasso was indeed the first ‘global star’ of art history, whose name was familiar even to those who could not perhaps name any of his works. And in Picasso’s case, fame obviously went hand in hand with wealth. Picasso had bought his seaside villa in the south of France, Berger continues, of the price of a single still- life he had sold. Berger goes on to draw the readers’ attention to the truly disturbing fact that if our artist sat down in front of an average building with a sheet of paper and coal in hand, nonchalantly sketching the view in a few minutes, or fixing the object with a single line – which feat, in fact, became his trademark over the years – in exchange for the extemporaneous drawing he could become the new owner of the building. This is an almost divine, or rather, satanic power, the dubious nature of which was subtly insinuated at by Berger’s comparing the painter’s extraordinary abilities to those of the King Midas.

By now all this has almost become commonplace, so much have we been accustomed to the phenomenon. The fact remains, however, that Berger’s critique did not have much of a resonance, although he was far from being the only one to point out the anomaly not concerning Picasso alone. Also within the artistic praxis itself there was an incredible proliferation of critical gestures and strategies. A strongly critical intention was involved in the Neorealist attitude mentioned above, and also in the new kind of surface invented thereby, which aimed at braking through directly to reality.

Not so much time had had to elapse, before it became obvious that this new type of surface, and the new art with it, however concrete it may seem, is just as much an artificial and culture-dependent phenomenon as was the good old representing kind of image. Furthermore, the latter at least acknowledges, or intends to acknowledge, some form of exteriority by the very attempt at representing the outer world. The former, however, creates a purely artificial, cultural surface, which functions as a sort of operational field, not mirroring reality but rather providing a terrain for its limitless manipulation. The best examples for this new surface are maps, message boards, switching panels, plotting boards. This was pointed out by Leo Steinberg. (6)

Rebellious gestures of resistance highlighting the problematic nature of exhibitability did not fare so much better in the period either. Happening, performance, fluxus, or the mediation-based mail-art did not lead to a universally available form of art, but on the contrary, they induced closed, highly interbred, esoteric subcultures becoming more and more conscious of being heavily dependent on not only records but professionally organized forms of traditional mediation like photos, reports, footages, reviews and theoretical articles as well.

The weapon of unlimited reproducibility backfired in a very similar way: the hope of alternative networking distribution, which was associated with total availability and independence of the market in the early days of video art, had lead to the bizarre situation of the present day. As of now, it is easy to consult the whole history of those art forms, which are dependent on non-reproducible media on the internet, whereas, somewhat paradoxically, the works specially designed for the screen, which are, by definition, completely reproducible in the digital medium, remain practically inaccessible.

Video art slowly sneaked back into the exhibition halls, donning the respectable garment of video installations. There were, of course, attempts at completely leaving the institution behind as in the case of land art and public art of the seventies. In such cases, either participants came to realize how much they depended on traditional mediation (photo, film, reporting), or we, the viewers were forced to see that the institution simply followed the artists outside the walls of museums, discovering new sizes, materials and milieus. Alternatively, reality may have dissolved and dissipated what the artists had meant to be art – either the audience failed to follow the exodus, or it was not ready to incorporate the works into its everyday life form, or simply ignored them, not even recognizing them as art at all.

Also in the seventies, during the first and second period of conceptualism it happened that art attacked the institution immediately from the inside in various forms. This, however, far from bringing about the decline and downfall of the institution, induced, on the contrary, an unprecedented and explosive expansion of the latter in the eighties with the establishment of big commercial galleries, the quick spreading of mega-exhibitions, the integration of the Third World into the international art-market and the museum boom.

Finally, with the advent of social art in the early years of the new Millennium, the situation has not changed a bit, rather the false consciousness involved has only worsened, if anything. New social art is practically still taking place in museums. Artists continue to depend financially on the traditional institutions, and with the money and facilities available they flounce out to the field and do something ‘good and useful’ only to be carefully documented and then carried around the big wide world and showed at all possible forums available.


In the following I would like to draw some conclusions from the schematic overview of the situation given so far. My conclusions will primarily concern the Hungarian context but I claim them to be universally valid. Hungarian art will only be considered as a concrete example of the general rule, which I only picked out for it is closest to me and I happen to have at my disposal more information about it than other. One more preliminary remark before I embark on my argument: I will primarily be concerned with art, not culture. This, to my understanding, does not imply that what I will be concerned with is a particular subset of culture. Art is a domain, which is, so at least as it is considered in its modern form, partly inside and partly outside culture, always having a very tense and ambiguous relationship with the latter. (7)

Doing art is not necessarily a cultural, or even a culturally informed (i.e. educated) activity and social phenomenon. What I mean by this is that the Enlightenment’s program of aesthetic education, its Bildungsideal, along with the notion of an aesthetic state founded thereupon, have long grown obsolete. Art is neither ‘good’ nor ‘virtuous’, nor can it render anyone either good or virtuous. This insight already emerged with the Romantics, but later on it was explicitly formulated by many. John Ruskin for example, quite untypically of him, says, ‘You cannot paint or sing yourselves into being good men; you must be good men before ou can either paint or sing…’ (8)

We cannot sing or paint ourselves into good human beings; we need to be good first’. Though he continues to define art as the distinguished ‘expositor’ of a people’s political and social virtues, and therefore is forced to maintain that noble art can only come from noble people, later on many come to realize that however intuitive this correlation may seem at first sight, ‘ignoble’ art can sometimes be just as good as ‘noble art’, and therefore the criterion of moral nobility is totally and utterly irrelevant as to the artistic value of any particular piece of work. Obvious as it appears, we still sometimes continue to require moral virtue and ‘goodness’ from artists and artworks alike. That is, sometimes we do and sometimes we don’t, as we deem appropriate with our particular interests in mind.

Let us, however, return to our present subject which happens to be money. In 2009, the last Socialist-Liberalist government spent 59 billion on culture, which was then reduced by the incoming Fidesz government by 20%, landing the cultural budget at 50 billion. This amount has remained more or less constant for the last few years, only to be shrunk by inflation. Nobody should be misled by the ex-under-secretary’s announcement to the effect that the cultural budget would amount to 127 billion in 2018.

One only needs to read the title of his report carefully (‘Cultural Infrastructure Reinvigorated’) (9) to realize the cause of the apparent difference: the change is due to the sleight of hand by way of which construction investments are first included in the cultural budget, without then providing the sources for the maintenance and daily operation of the institutions in question, causing insurmountable difficulties to the municipalities (as is obvious from the notorious example of the last Hungarian Cultural Capital of Europe, of Pécs’s cultural institutions built only a few years ago). Similarly, the installments of the expenses of Művészetek Palotája (The Palace of Arts – a major Budapest concert hall built some time ago) are being paid back from the cultural budget up to this day. It does not seem to make any difference that experts have openly spoken out against these oversized and unsustainable buildings for many years. (10) Even more importantly, contemporary art would need a completely different system of institutions, with more numerous and smaller venues, with more varied and ever-changing, possibly mobile, sites, that could cater for the real needs incomparably cheaper and more efficiently than the present system with its giant institutions.

The tasks in question include not only the distribution of contemporary art (building international networks), but marketization itself as well, allegedly so much desired by the regime. The most outstanding sells (Dóra Maurer, Ilona Keserü, Katalin Ladik, Attila Szűcs) of recent times, however, were not realized by big state run institutions but small private galleries (artmark, Kisterem, acb, Deák Erika), whereas the state has subsidized the travel of these private galleries to big international art markets with a mere 10 million HUF, which is quite an insignificant sum considering that the rent of a single stand at such events costs several million HUF.

When it comes to marketization, let me propose something that may seem strange at first sight. If we really consider our national cultural heritage so immense a treasure then we must also believe that its symbolic value may at times be converted into financial value in various possible ways. It is time we reconsidered if it was not more reasonable to try and bring our precious national heritage to the market instead of leaving behind contemporary artists at the mercy of the market’s every whim. In this way would we waste our precious heritage? I do not believe so. Our national heritage being a well-documented and overwhelmingly state-owned asset, we could exercise much more rigorous control over it than over values being born right now.

There are a great many possible ways to do this, having disposal over material assets with very strict conditions not being the only one. Another possibility is allowing private enterprises to run state-owned institutions. Why could not such private enterprises run the War Museum (Hadtörténeti Múzeum), Public Transport Museum (Közlekedési Múzeum), or, for that matter, even the Hungarian National Museum (Magyar Nemzeti Múzeum), if they saw some business opportunity in them. I am not claiming that such business endeavors would be immediately profitable, but at the very least, state subsidies could be considerably reduced.

The crux of the matter, however, lies not in the technicalities but in the following general consideration: if we are truly responsible for our national cultural heritage, then aren’t we just as much responsible for the continuation of this tradition, i.e. for the values yet to be born, as we are for their reservation and eventual conscientious archivation. Isn’t it our responsibility and aren’t we going to be held to account by our children and grandchildren for what was able to be born in the first decade of the new millennium, for example; of what the contribution of our time will have been to the common treasure and how much we have managed to collect and preserve of it for generations to come. Why should we support artists today? Among many other reasons, so that we will not have to buy works, which are now available for a few hundred thousand forints, for several hundred million later; so that the works don’t disappear or get destroyed.

What would be indispensible for this objective to be realized? Not so much as we may think. The transformation of the institution to some degree, of course, would be inevitable. Transformation according to the principles laid out above would mainly mean reduction. The most important thing, however, is the remuneration of the artists. Instead of doing this, the present government started a public employment program for cultural social workers in 2013, in which four thousand people are involved at present. To what purpose? To make high culture available to the largest possible audiences. But let us see for a moment what the principles of this policy are: ‘The under-secretary is convinced that by making high culture available for the masses, future generations will develop a natural appreciation and demand for it, which will greatly contribute to the quality of life in small villages, segregated and disadvantaged suburbs and in the communities of the handicapped and mentally challenged.’ (11)

I will be very happy, if it goes like this, but I am afraid, it won’t. It is a beautiful and most elevating vision about state-employed village public workers returning home after their daily shift chilling out on Boulez, Xenakis and Stockhausen’s music, instead of immersing themselves in benumbing computer games, party drugs and tv series, but I very much doubt if such an ideal world is automatically to be brought about just by making high-brow culture accessible to the masses in villages and suburbs. However absurd this phantasy may sound, this is what actually constitutes the total spectrum of the present government’s official cultural politics, as far as the theoretical principles are concerned. As to the daily practice we can observe something completely different: a deluge of völkisch kitsch and propaganda art from genre statues to bombastic and unprofessionally staged exhibitions and to mega-projects of great Hungarian motion pictures on the heroic episodes of national history.

If something goes beyond this pattern of propaganda art, the credit should only be given to the professional people still working at the institutions, immediately arousing suspicion and dislike on the part of political power, this latter giving voice more and more openly to its ideologically motivated dissatisfaction. The ever-growing political pressure and voluntary submission and conformism thereto generate more and more populist clichés, which, in turn, trigger justified irritation and severe criticism from the professional forums. The best example of this phenomenon is the 2018 Frida Kahlo exhibition at Magyar Nemzeti Múzeum (Hungarian National Museum) accused by the columnist of the government’s official daily paper with propagating communism, whereas the consensus of art critics labeled it as sheer kitsch (not of course the works themselves, but the conception of the exhibition), (12) with which opinion I can’t help agreeing. This is how we find ourselves in between two camps of misunderstanding.

On the other side of the political divide the situation was less catastrophic, in so far as there, at least, exists some definite cultural political strategy. (13) They formulated two strategic objectives: first, to involve as much private capital as possible in the financing of cultural life; second, to increase the number of people actively participating in culture. Due to this latter came about the opening towards popular culture and various specific subcultures. (This intention manifested itself in starting the Cseh Tamás program, for example.) The first one failed, whereas the second one was partly successful, but it is of no importance in the present context. What matters here is to point out that the other political side has formulated more or less the same strategic objectives concerning high culture (presumably including high-brow art as well) as their political adversaries currently in power. They put it clearly saying that ‘cultural sector can only be satisfied if high-brow culture continues to attract ever wider and wider audiences.’ (p. 36. in the Hungarian document.)

‘After all, what else could they possibly formulate as an objective?’, one is tempted to ask. Well, for example such things as these: ‘Responsible cultural policies must make quality art education available for all and guarantee that no outstanding talent be lost by recruiting and supporting young artists. In order for this objective to be realized it will be indispensable to maintain and improve the system of scholarships and stipends not only for secondary school and undergraduate students, but for graduates as well. It will also be necessary to create new prizes and to determine the amount of money made available as monthly stipends based on the amount of the minimal monthly income in the country at any particular time. All these measures should be complemented by the involvement of educational institutions in international student exchange programs’. (p. 37 in the Hungarian document)

This sounds somewhat more substantial, but, mind you, it finally concerns the artists themselves and not the audience. But what should the artists aim at, and once again, what other goal can cultural policy-making set for itself than to allow more and more people to participate in cultural life in a well informed and intelligent way? And how? As regards high-brow art the document mentions three things: the production of cultural TV programs which would have furthered popularization of high culture helping interpretation and appreciation, the support of street art and public art, which would have had an important role in building communities, and, finally helping media art introduce contemporary forms of high art by means of cutting edge technology to the new generations. (pp. 38-39 in the Hungarian document)

It is of secondary importance for our argument whether these objectives were realized, since as it is wont to be the case with such matters, they had only been partially accomplished. For the record suffice it to say that all three of the above goals had, if only partially, been attained. What was, however, the result of these measures? Nothing, so at least as it seems to me. Has interest in contemporary art been increased? I have no relevant data at my disposal, but based on my personal experience I must answer this question in the negative. Today at the opening of an average contemporary art show no more than a few dozen people show up, always the same, familiar faces most of them artists themselves. The exhibition itself is then visited by another fifty people, mainly also of the trade, during the few weeks it is on.

How many more failures will it take before cultural policy makers renounce on their almost two hundred year old misguided ambition and hopeless hope to make wide audiences interested in contemporary art? And when will highbrow art finally relinquish its corresponding illusion to be able to conquer the masses? How long will artists continue to put their heads in the sand of misguided concepts suggesting such a goal as feasible and desirable? When will they finally acknowledge that their world, instead of being the democratic, activist-run, horizontal, collaborative, open, participatory, emancipatory, network-growing, bottom-up, self-organizing dreamland, is in fact just as much, if not more, hierarchical, competitive, authoritarian (even in its attempts at dethroning authority), individualistic, oppressive, elitist, exclusive and closed an environment as any other? And to add insult to injury, it would also be high-time they admitted that this ruthless world has been both created and obstinately maintained by no others than the participants, i.e. the artists, themselves. Further, when will they recognize that the emancipatory roles and cultural functions they have assumed are responses not so much to external social needs as to immanent artistic problems, (14) whose immediate social effect, in most cases, is highly dubitable, if not totally insignificant?

What is this world of contemporary art really like? What kind of attitude is required of us if we want to stand by it and help it flourish? Is this an elite, crying for some new form of elitism? Yes, definitely. There is no need to be shy about this. Before dismissing any form of elitism and ridiculing the one who should like to subscribe to it, let us take a closer look at the ‘elite’ in question. Only by learning a little bit more about it, will we be in the position to answer the question why and how we should try to support them, if at all.

‘Tamás, I am living on pork-rind!’ said to me Tamas Komoróczky recently, an artist in his fifties, one of the most reputed of his generation with several international successes under his belt (Venice Biennale, Sao Paolo Biennale etc.) On what does a contemporary artist live? – this was the topic of an animated discussion, started by an artist’s, Erika Baglyas’ facebook comment, in the journal artportal in 2015. (15) It is not so hard to answer the question: on his wife or her husband, his parents, foreign scholarships, residencies, on DLA stipends, on teaching jobs at art schools, on private students, on folding and gluing paper flowers, on drawing game-boards and illustrations in books, on sanding floor and other occasional physical labor, etc. (behind each example listed here there is a true story the protagonist of which I personally know but not going to reveal). One thing is certain: not on any kind of local grant or on selling artwork. In other words, not on his art.

In the early years of an artist’s career it is relatively easy to get by, with lower expectations, having to look after only herself and being robust, resilient and mobile enough to adapt herself to the hardest of circumstances. But soon aging and fed up with the wandering lifestyle, wanting to settle down, have a home, start a family, she risks to get stuck in a totally desperate situation for decades. Only to be further tantalized by the prospect of finally being recognized when she is already in her fifties, even sixties: ‘it will soon be your turn at last, your generation is about to be taken into consideration by collectors and art-historians alike! Only a little more patience and it is bound to happen! If only you had worked in slightly more marketable and lasting genres and accumulated your early works in your atelier for collectors are going to be after the pieces of thirty years ago first.’

Going on the above mentioned cases of commercial success, we can safely infer that money often arrives over seventy, so late in fact that the artist may long have passed away before it first starts showing up. All the while every employee of art institutions are on regular salary from the management down to and including guardians, caretakers, administrators, art historians and other staff, not to mention the regular expenses of maintenance – an inconceivable amount of money constantly available and lavishly spent on everybody and everything but the artists themselves. In short, absolutely everybody is remunerated except those who constitute the ultimate justification for the whole system, the only real actors in the whole arena: the artists. They are supposed to be pristine, uncorrupted and incorruptible children of mother nature, feeding on but air and sunshine and freely bringing forth their fruits like trees to be nonchalantly taken by rest of us. (Their material expenses, rents, transport and storage fees are better ignored as unfounded myth.) (16)

A truly absurd system indeed. So dumbfounding in fact that I could hardly believe it is real if I did not actually know. No wonder that more than 50 % of artists quit sooner or later. Not because they would not be able to do good work, realize successful exhibitions and, in due course, develop some reputation within the art world. But because they have to pay their bills and raise their children; they are lucky if they are not continuously nagged at by partner and parents alike, asking when they are going to let go of this crap they call art. In the meantime, they are at constant war with themselves too, not knowing any more if they are still artists when for years they have not created anything. They may continue to cherish the ambitions they set out with, but being out of their depth and having lost contact with their community of fellow artists and critics, not having the leisure to read and study, the works that may be worth millions a few decades from now, simply do not get realized.

In the meantime, cultural policy-makers are solely preoccupied by the concern how they could lure the masses to contemporary art exhibitions. Let us say out loud again that it is next to impossible. Not that the task to raise the general population’s artistic awareness and receptivity and to educate their taste and sensitivity would not be a worthy one, to be mainly undertaken by teachers and museum facilitators. We should not, however, dupe ourselves into believing that experimental, subversive, innovative art, the one which will be discussed in art history and will represent significant market value decades from now, is mainly after the attention and appreciation of such audiences. Neither should we be duped by the utopia of masses ever being genuinely interested in the unusual, the exceptional, the abstruse and difficult. This is more of a system-theoretical than an anthropological impossibility. A growing number of viewers would of course be beneficial to contemporary art but not in the way we would immediately think: i.e. not by bringing about the long awaited encounter between the all-time avant-garde and the general public. On the contrary, it would spur the artists to embark on even more subversive experimentation.

Why and how exactly should we support this elite, which, on the strength of what has been said, we are all too embarrassed to call an elite? (Devoid of power, money and political influence, their only prerogative being intellectual superiority.) I am of the opinion that the money available should go directly to the creators themselves. We should not primarily subsidize the infrastructure distributing and mediating art, but the milieu of artists from which it first emerges. We should intensify artistic production, prevent young artists from dropping out, instigate inside competition. We should invigorate the artistic scene, making it buzz, making it as colorful and variegated and lively as possible. We should encourage divergent tendencies, help groups, places, make events possible.

I am also convinced that by doing so, higher numbers of viewers may automatically ensue as a collateral benefit. For what primarily intrigues and attracts the general public is a buzzing, exuberant scene, fully alive and not the austere sanctuaries of sanctified silence in a traditional museum. Further, the man of the street would not be put off by the frustration of destitute artists exuding resentment and self-pity. Why should art be supported? Because it does indeed produce value and is even capable of producing exorbitant surplus value, only value that may be converted into financial benefit and symbolic worth with considerable delay. (17)

As is well-known, no other branch of the economy is capable of generating such high values of lasting worth with so little investment. For this value to be born, however, to evoke another commonplace, the whole milieu, the whole community producing the value in question should be supported, instead of picking out a few items deemed worthy of support from the perspective of the present moment. The latter approach is the typical prescription for basically spoiling the whole system. Unfortunately it is not possible to exclusively allow that art to come into being which will prove to be valuable in the long run. Waste production has a totally different sense in this domain than in industrial production in general. We should be quite content if out of a thousand artists we will have discovered one Béla Bartok, one Lászlo Moholy-Nagy or one Imre Oravecz.

It should also be accepted that art does not necessarily have an inherent cultural function. It may and sometimes it does have cultural significance, but its artistic value is always relatively independent thereof. It is crucial to emphasize this not to require of art something that is both unable and unwilling to do. It is the art institutions, the Humanities, the cultural policy-making and even the economy that should determine what cultural functions could be allotted to art in a particular era, how it can contribute to our communal or individual identities, our national-historical narratives, to our economy (tourism, services, commerce, etc.) and many other domains of the nation’s life.

Finally, I would like to draw two conclusions from the above. Basically, the whole equation contains three main factors: the relationship of highbrow art with the general public, the system of institutions mediating artistic production, and, last but not least, the artists themselves. As regards the first, hostile as I may have sounded, my intention was far from slighting the general public or to belittle the importance of making art accessible and available to the widest possible audience. It does remain an important public duty to be primarily fulfilled by education, i.e. schools and art istitutions. We should not, however, have too high hopes in this respect. I was simply trying to be a realist.

Concerning the network of institutions I have proposed thoroughgoing transformations. I have suggested that we should reduce some ungainly mega-institutions and thereby bring about a more resilient, more decentralized system, partly involving private capital. The state, however, should not cease to finance substantially the institutions implied, private galleries included. This latter seems plausible since private galleries, although primarily working for their own profit, contribute no less to the mediation, preservation of our artistic-cultural heritage and to the value production of the entire field. Seen from this angle it is clear that their work promotes the common interest of each and every citizen.

To illustrate my point, allow me to come up with a final example, that of the gallery in Paks, in a little city far from the big cultural centers of Hungary. With due respect to the excellent work done by its ex-manager, Zoltán Prosek, who has organized marvellous exhibitions, published remarkable catalogues and hosted many memorable workshops and other events for the last ten years, I need to reflect briefly on the moral of his dismissal and the ensuing scandal. During the turbulent weeks following his removal from the position, a vice-mayor of the city of Paks was alleged to have said something in an interview, which made me think. The city official said that the municipality was no longer willing to support an institution hardly ever visited by local inhabitants. He claimed that apart from a few dozen Budapest artists arriving at openings by buses from the capital, nobody had ever set foot in the gallery. I was at a loss how such a piece of devastating criticism could possibly be answered and I have to admit that I had no appropriate answer to be shared here. I am of course aware how sorry the whole art community was at the falling of one of the most important strongholds of contemporary art in the country, and considering the size and marvelous spaces of the gallery I cannot help feeling in the same way. Notwithstanding my sympathy, we should ask ourselves if the amount spent on such institutions could not be utilized more efficiently. I am saying this with the proviso that the money thus liberated continues to be invested in contemporary art.

I am quite certain that by transforming the institution along these lines a lot of extra money would become available, part of which could be directly reinvested in the institutions in question, and the rest could go to artists in the form of grants. The (apparently) most extreme form of the solution I am proposing here goes under the name of minimal income or minimum subsistence. (18) György Fekete said in an interview from 2015 that there were 3300 people with a degree in the applied arts and 4000 people with a degree in the fine arts in the country. (19)

With designers and performing artists we do not need to be concerned here, not that their work should be of inferior value, but because they are working in a completely different system. Whereas an actor may get a contracted job with a theatre company and a designer may take a regular nine to five job getting a regular salary, there is no such opportunity available for painters, sculptors, film makers, writers or composers.

Let us assume now, that as a consequence of the new system the number of artists abandoning their vocation could be significantly reduced to something like 20 %. Let us then add to their number a few dozen composers and film directors living in the country and further the approximately thousand three hundred writers. Our final count, generously estimated, comes down to something like 5000 people. So many are the artists we would need to feed. Further, based on the calculations put forward by Erika Baglyas, we may calculate with a monthly income of 150000 forint. If we multiply the number of artists involved with the proposed monthly income and then we multiple the sum so reached by twelve we get the final sum of 9 billion HUF per year. This is the yearly amount we would need to feed the total community of Hungarian artists to the end of their lives. (Each living artist could be involved and the subsidy would function as an old-age pension as well.)

Henceforth only three questions remain to be answered: 1. Where should this amount come from? 2. How far would the monthly income take the artist? 3. What should we require of the beneficiaries in exchange? Apparently, the first question is the hardest to answer, whereas in reality this one will prove to be the easiest. A cultural budget amounting to sixty billion a year, after some restructuring, should be largely sufficient to cover the expenses. But let us only assume that we have managed to save up to one or two billion by some efficient reforms of the extant institutions and the same amount by rendering the public labour system more efficient. Let us not forget about the budget of the Hungarian Art Acedamy (MMA), which will amount to 9,4 billion HUF next year, considering that it is an organization that is supposed to undertake a task like the one we are discussing. Unfortunately, however, their policy of support is simply unfair. I would like to stress that this has got nothing to do with politics. (20)

And not only is it deeply unfair but also thoroughly unreasonable to introduce a social-darwinist system of remuneration, which further rewards the winners at the expense of the losers, into a domain where an overwhelming majority of financial benefits is enjoyed by a small fraction of the participants, who would be able to get by without any assistance anyway. Not to mention the disruptive, alienating effects of such a measure on the community as a whole. If the current political opposition would come up with a similar system, it should meet comparable resistance from anybody in his right mind. (21) There have always been means available for this purpose of further favouring those who are the most successful anyway: they are called prizes and awards, nothing to do with regular financial assistance whatsoever.

So far so good, we would have the amount neccessary for our purposes at our disposal. For comparison’s sake and not in need to find any further money, let us take a short look around the cultural budget. For next year, the Hungarian National Film Fund will have10 billion HUF at its disposal. I am completely aware of the fact that this sum is not sufficient for the up to par operation of the national film-industry. What is at stake here, however, is not the film business, but culture. Concerning the majority of films made, one can’t help asking what they have got to do with anything like culture at all. Not only are they devoid of any artistic value, but also incapable of assuming any form of cultural function, their being simple products of mundane popular entertainment.

If we are not willing to support pulp fiction from the cultural budget, why would we want to do the same with films of the same category? Sometimes I have the impression anyway that film as a medium and apparatus is much too expensive not to prevent any form of truly free creativity and artistic endeavor. The history of cinematography did have a few periods rich in artistic experimentation and discovery. On a closer look, however, it becomes clear that behind each such upsurgence of collective cinematographic genius, there always was an external political motivation, thanks to which free artistic experimentation could flourish. (This political motivation may have been the ideal of mass culture under totalitarian regimes, the struggle for cultural hegemony during the Cold War or the cultural self-assertion of ancient colonies in post-colonial times.) Once the political motivations subsided, cinematographic art did also immediately peter out with them, giving way to the recurrent triumph of mass entertainment and of spectacle industry.

Not so surprising, considering that big money invested expects huge numbers of viewers in return, which art movies are both unable and unwilling to guarantee. All in all, and inspite of the indubitable successes of the Hungarian Film Fund, it would be worth reconsidering the whole system, rearranging certain amounts for the purposes of much cheaper products (see below), and the state’s retreating any form of financial aid from the rest. This would further boost our budget.

I should say a few words about the possible criteria of eligibility. If I proposed that a university degree in art could be a prerequisite, many would immediately start protesting. With some justification, no doubt, but also somewhat arbitrarily. It is obvious that our system should be open enough for people to drop out and also to get back in, if they once lost their status due to external reasons not of their own fault or even, exceptionally, to get admitted without any diploma. But if our cetified art degrees cannot function as the basic criterion of eligibility then our education system is at fault, and to be fixed first. We should not be so naive to believe that whereas science takes a lot of studying, art is only a matter of free self-expression fuelled by innate genius. It is only to be expected that the craftsmanship necessary may just as well be mastered and the theoretical knowledge gleaned outside the school system, but this is much more rarely the case than generally admitted. With a rich enough portfolio, however, indicative of continuous activity it should be possible to get admitted into the program but the foundation of the system should still remain the degrees earned in certified schools. (22)

What would the proposed sum be enough for, why not more, why not less? Obviously the amount of 150000 HUF/month net is only a tentative suggestion made by a living Hungarian artist to me. It would probably be best to define it somehow in function of the minimal income among professionals at all time. But what really matters is how far it can get you. Anyone living on this monthly sum, as I do being an associate professor at the university, knows all too well that not very far. Definitely not enough to accumulate material goods, but certainly enough to get by and survive on during periods without any extra income, be it commissions, stipends or eventual sale.

In other words, it is barely enough, but good enough for exactly what it is meant to be, that is, to provide the leisure indispensible for creative work, so that the artist will not have to look for a job, which has nothing to do with his work, in order to eat. It can buy him the free time and also the sense of security liberating his mind from daily worries nothing to do with his art. But at the same time, this little money, being just barely enough, will also spur the artist to wanting to make some progress. As we are no more justified to suppose the artist to be a swindler, a self-interested seeker of unjustified advantages, a scheming criminal than to take him for an inspired genius who does not cease to create no matter what his physical circumstances are and what obstacles he may confront.

Finally, let us see what we may get for this in exchange and what we probably will if our plan is correct. If we accept, as we do, that art is as much work as any other form of work, then it is only fair that we expect something accomplished in exchange for the money. Since every employee is normally made to sign a contract fixing his obligations, why would it be otherwise in this particular case? We have thereby given an implicit answer to the question raised earlier in relation to Duchamp: an inactive, non-creating artist cannot be considered to be an artist, so far at least as this legal, contractual sense of the term goes. There may, of course, be artists who do not do anything at all for years, or decades even. This eventuality is in no contradiction with the pure, art-theoretical concept of an artist, but, unfortunately it is with its legal sense, as soon as we consider art in terms of the work actually accomplished.

To cut a long story short we would definitely have to require some certifiable accomplishment. Not a lot, but some. First and foremost some form of presence in the art world (regular participation in exhibitions, for example). From those whose art takes the form of tangible, objectal art-pieces, we may expect the offering of works which could enrich the public collections managed by the state. If the latter manages the so accumulating asset with sense and patience, it may, in the long run, realize an even significant financial profit on it. From those working in more immaterial media of creation, like writers, we could demand that they make certain works accessible without royalty, that they undertake a number of public readings or teach a few classes of literature at schools.

Performers would be required to perform free on a particular number of occasions, social artist to implement their social procect on particular premises. And all would be required to participate in the mediation and distribution of contemporary art by offering workshops and master classes at schools, to forward visual education by organizing creative programs, retreats, summer camps for all those interested. They could also take their share in discovering and mentoring young talents. They will also be asked to operate as vehicles of getting art to those ‘living in isolated villages and disadvantaged, segregated suburbs or with physical and mental handicap’ – as we formulated the task above. For the artists are the ones in the position to know what exactly, how much of it and in what ways it is possible to mediate, and they are also the ones who can best spot the young talents worthy of attention and further help. All this could be concretely worked out together with those involved and each could do as much as he feels able to and could choose the activity best corresponding to his incliniations and talents. Having some inside knowledge of the contemporary art community, I am convinced that the majority of artists would most willingly participate in something like this.

At the end of the day, what could we realistically expect from such a program. First, art that is less exposed to the immediate needs of the market. Not that the market should be viewed as the devil. We think of a dynamic, resilient and differentiated art market in our country as a most desirable thing (for example, at present there is no secondary market of works in Hungary at all). But it is also understandable that the majority of artists develop an almost necessary aversion to the market; not primarily because buyers tend to come from the rich elite but rather because the market is inherently unable to follow the changes and development of contemporary art. Paintings still remain the most marketable items, and we have just reached the point when photos and videos may become marketable as well. It is not so much a matter of lagging behind but inherent scarcity as well, since concerning certain types of artistic products we have no idea how they could be rendered marketable at all. Exactly for this reason is relative independence of the market so indispensable.

The same goes for the institutions. Not that they should be considered as some absolute evil, some Moloch, against which one cannot but rebel and revolt. Nevertheless, exhibitability (Benjamin’s ‘exhibition value’) does impose such relentless constraints on contemporary art, that it may just as much paralyze creativity as do market requirements, let alone those further cultural (political, moral, etc.) expectations that inevitably and insinuously influence the exhibition philosophy and policy of institutions, the larger ones in particular. For this reason a certain amount of this latter form of independence is also desirable.

To conclude, due to this double but still relative independence, we may reasonably hope for a more authentic and more courageously experimenting type of art and community of artists. An art that would be both innovative and productive in exactly those genres, media and forms of expression which will be appreciated most decades from now. This is certainly the impression that we have if we open books on the recent history of art. So often has the end of modernity been heralded and we still continue to be primarily interested in those things of the past which were really innovative and grondbreaking in their own time. If we look at these innovative forms of art, the performances and happenings of the sixties, the conceptualism and land-art of the seventies, the public art of the eighties or even the new social art of the first decade of the new Millennium, we will see that they were all relatively independent of the market or the institutions or both.

It is not difficult to come to the conclusion that in the long run they are the ones worth supporting. This support, as we have seen, does not have to be very substantial, perhaps not even more than the support provided at present. All that is needed, however, is that cultural policy makers provide for the minimal material needs of artists instead of imposing upon them all kinds of illusory cultural functions, like attractiveness for the public at large. In return, artists would have to renounce on thinking exlusively in terms of gigantic projects and the most costly media. (23) That is, we will probably have an art which would no longer think that everything is its due just because it has nothing.



John Berger [1965] The Success and Failure of Picasso, Harmondsworth, Penguin Books.
Pierre Bourdieu [2013] A művészet szabályai, Budapest, BKF.
Marcel Duchamp [1991] Az eltűnt idő mérnöke. Beszélgetések Pierre Cabanne-nal, Budapest, Képzőművészeti Kiadó. Tészabó Júlia fordítása.
György Péter [2013] Múzeum – a tanulóház, Budapest, MúzeumCafé Könyvek.
André Malraux [1951] Les Voix du silence, Paris, Gallimard.
André Malraux [1976] Az obszidián fej, Budapest, Magvető Kiadó, Réz Pál fordítása.
John Ruskin [é. n.] Előadások a művészetről, Budapest, Révai. Éber László fordítása.
Seregi Tamás [2016] „K mint Kultúra”, Tiszatáj, 2016/szeptember, 69–81. o.
Seregi Tamás [2014 ]„Művészet és kultúra”, Café Bábel, 2014/74. 3–15. o.
Leo Steinberg [1972] Other Criteria: Confrontations with Twentieth-Century Art, New York, Oxford University Press.

Translated by Zsigmond Szabó

(1) György [2013], p. 123.

(2) Duchamp [1991].

(3) Malraux [1951], p. 7.

(4) Malraux [1976].

(5) Berger [1965], p. 7.

(6) Steinberg [1972], pp. 55–91.

(7) Seregi [2016], pp. 69–81. and Seregi [2014], pp. 3–15.

(8) Ruskin [1870], p. 70.


(10) Last time for instance: Mélyi József, „Felelőtlenség”, (2018. 02. 19.)


(12) Szakács Árpád, „Így népszerűsítik a kommunizmust állami pénzből”. and Széplaky Gerda, „Pink Frida”.

(13) Bozóki András et al, A szabadság kultúrája.

(14) An example to make this point clear: engaged art, or the program of unifying art and life, was no response to any given social needs (since that should have led to some proletarian art or some new form a folk/pop art alongside bourgeois art), but to the decadence and dysfunctionality of bourgeois art itself as it was clearly showed by Peter Bürger in his Theory of the Avant-Garde. A similar process was under way, as far as I can see, at the turn of the millennium, when the changing of the guards between ‘postmodern’ art (Simulationism, YBA) and the new social art took place.

(15) and

(16) To be fair, be it mentioned here for the record that NKA (National Cultural Fund) does from time to time give out 2-,3-, 400000 HUF as personal aid, from which amount the few lucky recipients may partially cover some of these expenses.

(17) Cf. e.g. Bourdieu’s comparison between the sales of bestsellers and avant-garde works. Bourdieu [1995], pp. 142–146.

(18) I am aware of all the reservations circulating about the idea of minimal income, let alone minimal income for artists. (it would make artists lazy; why only artists and not others?; everybody will claim to be an artist only for the money, etc.) I have tried to answer, explicitely or implicitely, all such objections above. Further, I am not claiming it to be a perfect system or that the introduction of minimal subsistence should solve all problems facing contemporary art. I do claim, however, that the alternatives of a wide-ranging system of grants, scholarships and project financing all share a major shortcoming which could be corrected by our proposal. Namely, these alternative solutions cannot address the problems of supervision and influence exercised by the political power and the corresponding opportunism of artists.


(20) The political content in question is explicitely pronounced in the interview: the prerequisites of eligibility determined by the MMA (Hungarian Art Academy) include ‘openly confessed national/nationalistic engagement and outstanding public activity’, which, by the way, are not necessarily fulfilled by the majority of members, but let us not worry about such trifling matters. In other words, the condition of membership is political belonging and not artistic quality.

(21) MMA (Hungarian Art Academy) is starting to realize this. The new management is trying to address young artists with new scholarship programs offered. But as the organization has not managed to gain either professional or political legitimation among their ranks so far, their attempts, as far as I can see, have not been very successful successful. Cf.

(22) This could be a means to regulate the number of artists. It was about six years ago that I started pronouncing the idea of minimal income for artists in certain professional circles. The reaction, I distinctly remember, was giggling. Next, they would typically object, that, as a consequence, everybody would start advertising him or herself as an ‘artist’ laying claim on the benefit. They usually brought up Scandinavian examples. Far be it from me to be indulging in the romantic dream of everybody becoming an artist, sooner or later realizing the ideal aesthetic state, but I do not see anything inherently wrong in the eventuality that the number of artists is somewhat increasing. We would only have to spend 15 billion on them a year instead of the present 9 billion. Still perfectly affordable. (On the other hand, I am happy that the idea of minimal income seems to be fast spreading, and the cultural sector is no exception. C.f. Zsolt K. Horváth on the subject:

(23) A good example for this is the change observable recently in film making. Film was not only long considered as a possible medium of art for the masses, but it was also seriously taken into account as a possible terrain of the eventual unification of art and scientific research, i.e. it was looked upon as the terrain of technological experimentation and innovation. In recent time, however, the opposite tendency seems to be unfolding. Artistic film-making is giving way in this domain to the film industry, renouncing on technological innovation, patienty waiting for the time when the new technologies are widespeard and cheap enough to use. Nowadays, it is quite possible to record motion picture and sound with a mobile phone in pretty good quality, then to edit the footage on an average PC and to upload the final product on the net.