The new Academy of Arts: the Dutch (pop) version

There is hope for culture in the Netherlands! After the big cuts in state financing for the arts (started in 2011 and still running), the creation of an Academy of Arts could mean some light at the end of the tunnel. At least this is what we are lead to believe, if believing that top-down solutions offer the best to the most. The Academy of Arts has been re-born, created on the 10th of February with as its main initiator the minister of Culture (OCW: Education, Culture, Science) Jet Bussemaker, and 19 founding members from the top tiers of the Dutch art scene. Check out some names: Anton Corbijn, photographer (U2’s Achtung Baby photo’s are all of his hand; as are many famous photograph’s of other musicians) and film-maker (his first film was the must see “Control” about the life of Ian Curtis, lead singer of Joy Division), Henny Vrienten, frontman of the pop group Doe Maar, (This was not all, apparently), Janine Jansen, the famous violinist and last but not least film-maker Paul Verhoeven, perhaps the most internationally well known of this group (the one that makes jokes out of stereotypes, remember Total Recall, Starship Troopers, Basic Instinct etc.).
Super cool pop music by Doe Maar “Is dit alles” (Is that all)

History and expectations

The new Academy will fall under the long standing Academy of Sciences (KNAW) of which art was an indispensable part in the beginning, 200 years ago. For the history, the Academy was founded in 1808 by king Louis Napoleon (the brother of) as Royal Institute of Science, Letters and Fine Arts. In 1851 the Institute was replaced by the Academy and during the switch fine arts fell off the bandwagon; being a luxury of course. Anyhow, the housing remains the same, namely: the Trippenhuis Building in Amsterdam.

plafondschilderingen van De Heldt Stockade

Angels working on war prevention, on the ceiling of the Trippenhuis (source

Besides these picturesque features the question asked is what the Academy is expected to do. We read that its main aim is to strengthen the relations between artists and scientists. Is this the crowning of the general tendency to connect the two, already expressed by educational programmes? We also read that the individual artist will find a voice and a platform to exchange ideas but also that the academy will have a maximum of 50 members. However confusing this may be, sounding more like an elitist club that will basically give prestige to those already acknowledged artists, we do want to know more. These first 19 members are supposed to stipulate the direction of the Academy with an initial appointment of 3,5 years and a €700,000 budget. If we look at the academy of sciences, it operates through the institutes that it supports, clearly focused on research in a number of fields and with tangible results such as publications, conferences, workshops and of course with the methodology of scientists. Research on or in art is a developing notion since the art schools in Holland and elsewhere in central Europe received the status of university education in the last decade or so. In practice this translates into studies on the theory of art and research, necessary surely, but still sidetracking from the main subject: art.

“House by the Railroad” by Edward Hopper, 1925. The painting was used as inspiration for the Bates house  in the film “Psycho” (1960)


The front line to the next frontier

As a fact, academies, when their subject is art, have a rather conservative profile (and a political correctness enlarged to match hypocrisy); think about the most famous Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (US), the one with uncle Oscar, that provide fame and money (and also jobs for a lot of people) but stay within specific limits of taste. Just to note that masters of cinema like Alfred Hitchcock were scarcely an option for awards. Of course Hitchcock was a worker of his art, shooting movies one after another with the mastery of a true artist. These artists are the ones that mainly suffer as a result of the cuts, the political decisions and the top-down visions for art. The problem comes, I think, from the common confusion between culture and art; where culture includes tradition and authority but art balances more on a sense of revolt that cannot fall under any frame, far less within the confines of systematic research in the name of science. On the other hand, science often produces results so beautiful that it equals artistic aesthetics; let’s ask the new academics why this is not art despite the aesthetics; and what is the status of art and artists in society; how and whom will be given a “voice” through their work. For themselves, picked as shining stars among the Dutchies, how this honour will affect their edge. All this with the necessary sense of “nothing if not critical”, especially applied to the “front line to the next frontier” (quote from Starship Troopers).

front line to the next frontier


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