26 Jun 2009

Bearding Michael O'Doherty

I've just read Marketing Magazine and saw the reference to Michael O'Doherty's Sunday Times interview. I didn't read the original article unfortunately. O'Doherty is quoted as saying that the one thing he'd change in Irish tax system is the artists' exemption. "Seriously", he's quoted a saying, "why is it that someone who writes a crap book doesn't have to pay tax, simply because they have a beard, whereas a team of well-groomed people who produce a brilliant magazine, do?".


I do suppose that the man was joking [although it does start with the word 'seriously'] or else that quote would win the Double Take accolade for being, witless, peevish and ignorant all at once. I do understand that people who pay tax regularly may feel aggrieved that a whole section of the workforce seems to be treated favourably [including myself; I'm a registered artist under the exemption scheme although I do pay tax on some work]. O'Doherty's glib comments aside, it's worth examining the system as it stands. First, the scheme for the much greater part, covers people whose income would not rise to the level where it would be taxed, anyway. [There was talk of capping the scheme: Here's a quote from Visual Artists Ireland's report on how the scheme has been adjusted: "The scheme therefore does not represent a cap of €250,000 on the artists exemption scheme but rather a cap on the percentage of total income that can be exempted from tax which applies to those who earn over €250,000. High earning artists whose total income is comprised of up to 50% of creative earnings and 50% of non creative earnings (from performing or merchandising for example) will not be effected by the new proposals no matter how much they earn. This is a significant difference to the implementation of a straight cap that was initially reported." The likes of U2 are always thrown into the ring as an example of how this system is unfair but anyone working at that level of income has the motivation and resources to move their taxable status anywhere around the world.]


Art should be different from commerce; it shouldn't follow the same rules -ie. produce at best cost -then sell for best price. Each artistic endeavour is only ready when it's ready. Inordinate amounts of time and effort and research may go into a single production which couldn't be charged for with at any reasonable hope that costs may be recouped. Paintings stay on easels for months or even years being re-worked, sculptures remain unfinished, plays undergo constant rewrites, all because it's about a process which culminates in a finished unique work. It's all about the endeavour and not about the pay-off which for the large part will never come. If the bearded artist's book is crap, there's a good chance it won't sell; however, if the bearded artist's book is brilliant, there's still a good chance it won't sell. In most cases, Beardy has to continue working in the day job -and pay tax.


Artists, live in the hope that one day, the fruits of their creativity will be appreciated enough to provide an income, or even just appreciated. The Irish tax system allows artists some hope of remaining as artists. Now imagine Michael O'Doherty of VIP, producing magazines month after month for years on his own before his magazine is recognised for its brilliance, merely because he felt inspired, thought it was important and he needed to put it out? Then, after a period of modest success, it falls out of favour with the public who have moved onto something else, with no other reason than the public is fickle. Most artists produce work for long periods of their lives without ever earning a living from it.


Further to all that, this visionary system attracts foreign talent that combines with our own, hopefully creating an environment that increases the cultural capital and therefore, the international profile of this country. We have to compete, culturally, with countries that plundered many of their treasures from defeated peoples during imperial wars. In comparison, I prefer the way we're doing it. Under this system, Irish-born artists gain by having outside influences arriving at their doorstep, rather than having to leave these shores to seek them out. The fact that there are a few extraordinary and lucky characters that have risen to stratospheric levels of income is just the price we have to pay for this generally excellent scheme. And you may even find that they pay a certain amount of tax anyway.


All this is true, provided that art means something to you, of course. If all you really appreciate is superficial splendour and the trappings of financial success, then I could see your point.


Personally, I find that since the cabal of recent governments and business have made such a hames of the economy during the credit bubble, we need authenticity and creativity more and more. It's through art that we can transcend the dreary repetition of day-to-day living and through creativity that we can control something in our lives. In other words, art is vital.


Being shown the gracious interiors of celebrities' cribs and the revelry of the well-heeled month after month was always a somewhat vapid proposition and now seems somehow matted with irony and just a little embarrassing.


Finally; what's wrong with beards anyway?

No comments: