Look to the Planning Authority for pure business IQ in action

The Skinny | No 85 – Portrait of the Artist With No Business IQ

What are we skinning? Culture Minister Jose Herrera’s assertion that artists are not in possession of a ‘business IQ’.

Why are we skinning it? Because it’s precisely the kind of avoidable gaffe that is par for the course for our little weekly poundshop-Socratic back and forth.

To be fair, the statement seems intuitively correct to me – artists are not businessmen, isn’t that the myth? Yes, precisely: it’s the myth, the cliche... an overgeneralisation a culture minister should be wary of propagating, let alone spouting in public.

But the fateful press conference was all about providing business-based help to artists, no? It does sound like a very worthwhile initiative... but good luck machete-ing through all the outrage generated by Herrera to get to any relevant information on the scheme itself.

So you’ll admit that the outrage was a tad unfair and potentially counter-productive. Look, outrage is a grenade – sometimes, it’s lobbed for necessary demolition, sometimes it just leads to gratuitous destruction and avoidable heartbreak.

What necessary demolition was occasioned by this particular round of outrage, if any? Scraping the bottom of the barrel here, somewhat, if I’m being perfectly honest, but... it did bring back to the fore certain antiquated notions about the ‘work of art’.

Such as? Well, Herrera buttressed his misjudged claims with the assertion that for most artists, the work is a ‘vocation’...

The same can be said for teachers, nurses or any other profession. Precisely. But it also suggests that earning a living should be somehow secondary to artists – that we shouldn’t expect them to soil their work with notions of filthy lucre.

But this isn’t only a Malta-based problem, is it? It isn’t, no. It’s something of a running joke that most artists are either impoverished, or still in the business (because it is a business) thanks to family money or an economically supportive partner.

So why take Herrera to task at all? Beyond the outrage, a legitimate criticism would be the systemic one.

How would that apply in this case? Aim the guns at Herrera not for a gaffe in semantics, but for not doing enough to help ensure local artists have easier access to funding, contacts with agents, accountants and managers – professionals with business IQ presumably coming out of their ears – and a public funding model that makes export and translation easier for creatives, in a way that addresses the reality of Malta’s pool of audiences being small by necessity.

So the Maltese government should incentivize artists to leave the island as soon as possible? At this rate, do you see any other viable option?

Do say: “It’s fair to assume that Minister Herrera meant no harm with his initial comments, but neither can we deny that such statements touch a raw nerve for artists everywhere.”

Don’t say: “Look to the Planning Authority for pure business IQ in action: threaten an elderly man with a hefty fine unless he tear down a lovingly kept up shrine that gave joy to many, while nominally approving a ‘boutique’ hotel that could risk the very foundations of Mdina.”