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Aosdána — Time To End The Farce

Aosdána is a costly irrelevance and should be abolished.

Aosdána is tainted and should be abolished.  We can’t afford it, and the people who benefit from membership don’t deserve it.  Aosdána is a private club, an association for a set of cronies who like to call each other Artists.  It was set up by a dishonest snob at a time when the country was broke, and some of its members continue to receive a stipend from the State at a time when the country is again bankrupt.

The whole thing is straight out of a bad fantasy novel, with ludicrous archaic  titles for its members.  Here, for example is their procedure for electing a Saoi (Wise One):

Members of Aosdána may receive the honour of Saoi. This is for singular and sustained distinction in the arts. The members of Aosdána elect a Saoi. The President of Ireland confers the symbol of the office of Saoi, the gold Torc. Not more than seven members of Aosdána may hold this honour at any one time.

I saw a ceremony like that in Star Trek once, but what would you expect from something set up by a ridiculous little snob like Charlie Haughey, who called his own yacht Celtic Mist?  An appropriate name, I always thought, from a man obsessed with keeping the country in a fog of confusion while he robbed it blind.

Haughey set up Aosdána in 1981 for two reasons.

The first was to create a monument to his own enormous vanity. A deeply insecure cultural fraud, Haughey liked to be seen as a patron of the Arts (with a capital A).  In reality, he was a vulgar bully without principle or scruple.  A thief and a cynic, Haughey routinely looted the national coffers to bestow largesse on what he considered appropriate causes.

Thus, he provided Dingle with a marina, supported by taxpayers’ money at a time when the country was in a desperate fiscal state.  As a result, Haughey was regarded as a benefactor in that town, and every year travelled there to fire the starting gun at their regatta.  It mattered nothing that the money Haughey diverted to help Dingle was taken away from some other deserving community.  Haughey’s image as the local squire was secure, and paid for by the rest of us.

Likewise, Aosdána provided him with a gloss of enlightened patronage and allowed him to rub shoulders with the sort of self-regarding loveys he secretly admired.  Of course, as time has gone on, Aosdána has become a smug, self-congratulatory clique.  A hymn to banality.  A mob to howl down anyone daring to criticise its members.  Most recently, Aosdána disgraced itself by closing ranks against anyone who questioned Cathal Ó Searcaigh’s adventures with very poor boys in Nepal, and continues to deny that any wrongdoing whatever took place.  Indeed, one of Ó Searcaigh’s fellow Aosdána members, Paddy Bushe, recently made a film attempting to refute the facts reported in Fairytale of Kathmandu, the original documentary exposing Ó Searcaigh’s antics in the Himalayas.

The other reason Haughey set up Aosdána was to provide a smokescreen — a Celtic mist, if you like — distracting attention from his cynical manipulation of State funds for his own benefit, and his wholesale acceptance of bribes from every quarter of Irish business, which he rewarded with lucrative State contracts at your expense and mine.

You’ll notice that Haughey never bothered setting up a community of scientists who might perhaps have contributed to our country’s prosperity.  Why?  Because nobody would have congratulated him for it, and because scientists are not the sort of people who hold wine and cheese receptions where a man like Haughey can swagger and preen.  He’d be among people intellectually superior to him, and he wouldn’t have liked that, the ridiculous old snob.

Aosdána was a creature born out of an unholy union between Haughey’s vanity and the hubris of a self-defined Irish artistic community.  It does nothing for the arts, except to benefit a small number of individuals who are for the most part financially independent, and in some cases, very well off indeed.  Many outstanding artists have refused to have anything to do with it, fearful no doubt for their own reputations.  Brendan Kennelly would have nothing to do with it and neither would Eavan Boland.  Hugh Leonard refused outright to join, but I’m disappointed to see that Séamus Heaney accepted the position of Wise One.  Thomas Kinsella didn’t think Aosdána was any good artistically.

Aosdána is a genetic test-tube experiment: a spawn of greed and conceit, created in a  soup of corruption  and it needs to be put down.

I’m afraid it has a flawed pedigree.




Previously on Bock:  Haughey

45 replies on “Aosdána — Time To End The Farce”

Apropos Haughey’s boat, “Celtic Mist”: In German, the word “Mist” means manure. Which, with a little lateral thinking, makes the Táin into perfect bullshit ;-)
So, Bock , after this cultural gem, will you nominate me for Aosdána, please? I like the idea of money for nothing …

Celtic Mist, now there is an ideal tag for a malt.

I think the problem with the Art community in Eire is that it is so small. And a bit like a family, the fights are very vicious. But it is the area of exclusion that this community comes into its own. That was the main reason for setting up Aosdána.
We have the RIA, the RHA, the RDS and the RSAI, together with a half dozen other Established organs with calls on the exchequer. And as annoying as Aosdánas funding, it is but a drop when held against the rest of them.

and remember their outragous letter to the times calling for a boycott of all things Israel,not so long ago?,I’m sure the boys in Tel Aviv must of had socond thoughts ’bout goin’ into Palastine on reading that letter…..plank yer arse in Grogans some afternoon {must be the afternoon},when your willing to waste an hour of yopur life,y’l hear all them lazy shits in their glory

i know 4 people who are members of Aosdána and while they are very talented and their work is well respected both here and abroad, they are not that very well off. I would be completely in agreement that they as a body should have denounced the actions of Cathal O’Wotshisname rather than ”closing ranks”, but the income they receive – Cnuas is approx €14,000 and I wouldn’t really have a problem with it, other than the fact they also give it to people who don’t even live in Ireland.

Hmmm… this cnuas… in the website it says it is an annuity up to 5 years, with the current value being €14,180…. is that €14,180 annually for the 130 plus members who are listed as receiving it?

And if I read the Arts council website correctly this will increase to €20,000 in the coming 2 years… so that’s… ermmmm carry the two, add the one… … around the €12mil over the coming 5 years.

To get your share you have to be elected to the club (see below), and submit “details” of your proposed work….

“Membership of Aosdána, which is by peer nomination and election, is limited to 250 living artists who have produced a distinguished body of work. Members must have been born in Ireland or have been resident here for five years, and must have produced a body of work that is original and creative.”

Where do I sign up? Seems like if you have pals on the inside, you can get in. Criteria seem vague enough.

Nice money if you can afford it.

Did Boland and Kennelly refuse invitations to join? I would be interested to know this – while I find the general clubbishness of cultural and artistic organisations objectionalbe it seems to be the nature of the beast and not a wholly Irish phenomena – interesting and nicely bitter post – but on the other hand, where would someone like Michael Hartnett have been without the genuine and deserved support from Aosdana?…Also, many of the more well known – and presumably more financially secure – members such as Heaney, Friel, Muldoon etc. do not take the cnuas….Finally, how many struggling artists out there would actually refuse to join if invited?…not many I suspect…they’d be in like a shot and f**k the begrudgers….

I reckon your right about the artists Bock, and I know you’re right about Haughey. To be honest though, even if none of what you say is true, what business has the state getting involved in any of this stuff. the state should not be funding (piss) artists at all. Glad to se Mr McCarthy the economist appears to agree with me on this.

”Many artists feel that the corruption surrounding Charles Haughey and Fianna Fail contaminates the institution (Aosdana).” Thats from Wikipedia. They do get things right now and again.

I’d go further and say that the institution was misconceived from the very start.

It’s a private club and we should not be paying for it, just as we shouldn’t have paid for Haughey’s Charvet shirts or his romantic meals in le Coq Hardi. Or the wind turbine on his island. Or the publicly-owned sewer that passes though his land at Abbeville.

The late Francis Stuart , writer and member of Aosdana who once wrote in one of his books: “The Jew is the worm that got into the rose and sickened it,” received a Saoi award in 1996 from Aosdona (the highest honor the state can give an artist). He was also known for his radio broadcasts from Nazi Berlin in support of the German war effort during World War II . Having lived in Germany for many years and studied the Nazi terror, I believe that such an award to this person was reason alone for Aosdona to have been closed down.

The poet Patrick Kavanagh lived in penury all his life and died too young. Aosdana was set up by Haughey after he got advice on helping the arts and artists-in-need from a buddy of Kavanagh’s, Anthony Cronin, the poet and novelist.

Can anybody suggest an alternative way for the state to help artists?

Writing poetry was Paddy Kavanagh’s job, but it hardly ever put buttered potatoes on the table for him. He got occasional cheques from the Irish Catholic and the Irish Independent from book reviewing. His novelist and poet friend Antony Cronin was a racing correspondent for the Evening Press. Sometimes he and Kavanagh placed bets on horses Cronin had been tipped off about by members of the racing fraternity and celebrated their winnings in McDaids off Grafton Street. The tone of McDaids has been lowered by the construction of a 5-star hotel nearby. The sight of it woulda made Kavanagh puke, and another literary habitue, Brendan Behan woulda peed in its direction as a sign of disdain.

It is a lie to say Aosdana closed ranks on Cathal O Searcaigh. Many members were disgusted and still are at what he got into in Nepal. Further more for a country such as Ireland that has always been quick off the mark to make a shilling out of it’s dead poets and playwrights, casting them around the globe as cultural lures, paying the living artists merely balances the scales. To the begrudgers; paddle your own cnuas.

Well, I’m really friendly and great company. That’s another thing Ireland peddles all over the world. Maybe we should pay money to everyone who can string three words together in a pub.

-ludicrous archaic titles

You mean Irish ones?

-Haughey routinely looted the national coffers to bestow largesse on what he considered appropriate causes

That’s what politicians do. You just don’t consider it appropriate.

-the money Haughey diverted to help Dingle was taken away from some other deserving community

Yawn. Again, that’s what politicians do. For every diversion of funds there is no doubt a bitter blogger harping on about it somewhere . . .

-the sort of self-regarding loveys he secretly admired

You mean artists? And it wasn’t, er, secret.

-Aosdána disgraced itself by closing ranks against anyone who questioned Cathal Ó Searcaigh’s adventures

Not true. There was notable dissent.

-to provide a smokescreen, a Celtic mist, if you like, distracting attention from his cynical manipulation of State funds for his own benefit

Yawn. How exactly is Aosdána any more of a smokescreen than any other initiative, such as the IFSC?

-You’ll notice that Haughey never bothered setting up a community of scientists who might perhaps have contributed to our country’s prosperity. Why? Because nobody would have congratulated him for it

So now the founding of Aosdána was a bid for kudos? Tired of the smokescreen theory already? Gawddd. . . . .

-He’d be among people intellectually superior to him, and he wouldn’t have liked that, the ridiculous old snob.

It is a matter of attested fact that Haughey was very intelligent, as well as very capable. Even Garret FitzGerald (a notorious old snob and author of your flawed pedigree remark) admits this.

You’ll have to do better than “Yawn”. That’s just a tad too lovey.

If you think misappropriation of public funds is acceptable, you’ve made the case for abolishing Aosdána very effectively indeed.

More of the same please.

“If you think misappropriation of public funds is acceptable, you’ve made the case for abolishing Aosdána very effectively indeed.”

You think it’s misappropriation. But you need to make a case that justifies that tag. It was entirely legal, and in the eyes of many, entirely laudable. You just don’t happen to like it.

Some contributors to the thread cast disdain on poets and painters for their political leanings, or for their alleged drinking idleness, or for hypocritical silence on some issues or for getting sums of state money – cnuas – that posters think ought to be spent on more socially needy projects (filling in country potholes?). I’d like to ask anybody paying attention: does poetry, music, the novel, painting and sculpture have any worthwhile purpose in Irish society; and should the state help artists, musicians, novelists and poets to pay their rent and bills? Do any contributors ever visit the theatre, read poetry and novels, go to classical concerts, enjoy arts festivals or look at exhibitions in the galleries? And how many of you don’t occasionally while away the idle hours gossiping and sipping pints in the local pubs?

And are you a happy, creative and normally-adjusted human being for all that? Ever heard of the word Kulsher, spelt c-u-l-t-u-r-e? Could your home town of Limerick do without the Belltable arts theatre and the Hunt art museum? Could they serve the community better as licensed Maisons de Tolerance, or pubs? Or secret interrogation centers for suspected criminal gang members?

This post is about Aosdána. It’s not about museums, galleries or theatres. It’s about public funds supporting your little mutual-appreciation club.

Stick to the point.

Without artists, dramatists, poets and other writers the theatres and galleries would be empty, and the literature sections of book shops would be half empty. Writers and artists have got to live, and in a small market like Ireland can’t sell enough of their cultural works to make ends meet. That’s why Aosdana was established, to act as a safety net against penury in old age.

A person who can’t make money from writing or painting is a hobbyist. Demanding public funds to support your hobby is the ultimate in self-indulgence. When you have no money, the traditional solution has always been to look for a job.

Poetry and novel writing requires lots of time for reflection and observation. Painters and sculptors need to get around to paint what they see in the world. Their works are published and read or seen widely and make people reflect on life’s deeper features. They are not like hobbyists who just do things in spare time to while away the boredom. The dedicated artist has a creative and socially-driven urge to communicate with the wider society; makes a reflective contribution to society; hence the need for a supporting entity like Aosdana. I might quibble the actual composition and self-elective nature of the beast, however. I’m not a poet or painter and work 9 – 5, but see the value of those creative non-nine-to-fivers in rousing those of us in the drudge economy from our robotic routines.

Note — Some recent comments have been lost due to a technical malfunction which we had to fix. There’s nothing I can do about this, I’m afraid.

Bengst; I know several published writers who work fulltime jobs as well. But they put more time and effort into their “hobby” than you might think.
Sure, you won’t find their books in the bestseller’s stands in Eason’s, although if you look really hard in the local literature section in O’Mahoney’s you might find a copy or two.

These folks wouldn’t dream of being supported by anyone else, since they do what they do for the love of their art, not for the money.

Artists have an urge to express themselves in their chosen medium, that’s true, but to suggest that they have an urge to express themselves to society as a whole is simply untrue; some do, but no more than public speakers or people who seek power.
And generally speaking, those with the urge to show their work to the masses, are poor at what they do. They are the empty vessels, so to speak. Of course,that’s just my opinion, but I think you’ll find that the artists who we hold nowadays in high esteem (many of whom may I point out are long dead) did not care if their work was ever lauded; they simply were driven by their own urge to create.

If you have a hobby or urge that you can convince other people to pay you to do, well and good. But you can’t expect other people to pay for it when they have no choice in the matter. I don’t ever recall being asked if so and so was a “good” enough artist to be made a member of Aosdana, were you?

Here’s a small sample of writers who stooped to working for a living and yet somehow managed to write at the same time. I’d give you details of jobs held by more Aosdana members but they seem remarkably reticent about this aspect of their lives.

Roddy Doyle – Teacher
Salman Rushdie – Advertising executive
Gabriel Garcia Marquez – Journalist
Vikram Seth – Academic
Annie Proulx – Journalist
John Banville – Journalist
Seamus Heaney – Teacher
Colm Toibin – Journalist
John Grisham – Lawyer & Politician
Anthony Burgess – Teacher
Brian Friel – Teacher
Ciaran Carson – Administration
Edna O’Brien – Pharmacist
William Trevor – Teacher, copywriter
Ulick O’Connor – Barrister
Bernard Farrell – Administration

Roddy Doyle gave up teaching in the north Dublin school as soon as he won the Booker thousands. It’s a risky leap to give up a pensionable job and hope to support yourself from royalties, public readings at literary festivals and giving writing workshops. Only the small percentage of writers who hit the jackpot (runaway bestsellers) can achieve this. I knew a guy who won a prize or two in short story competitions who gave up his teaching job. His books have only achieved moderate sales in the Irish market. His main earnings throughout the year are from occasional radio broadcasts (including Thought for the Day sort of slots), literary festival readings and conducting writing workshops for wannabe writers and literature buffs. Without the professional income of his faithful spouse he probably wouldn’t survive financially or mentally. Colm Toibin is today one of our best Irish novelists and is achieving international sales and rave reviews, but it is only the culmination of years of hard slog, intellectual stamina and good luck, during which he did stints of journalism with Magill and book reviewing from pillar to post in order to pay the bills. Seamus Heaney could never have survived on poetry book sales alone, although Nobel fame has boosted sales enormously. American and British universities put up money for Writers in Residence in order to gain prestige. Such schemes have benefited a number of Irish writers. For the majority of writers it is slim pickings and continuous uncertainty. For every literary Big Name you have another twenty wannabes who earn crumbs. Ireland’s reputation for hiberno-english writing achievement has been exploited skilfully by Bord Failte/Failte Ireland. Posters and advertisements featuring photographs of famous writers have often been used to promote the country. Aosdana is an attempt by the state to acknowledge the international image and the earning of invisible exports for Ireland achieved by writers, painters and outstanding individuals in the performing arts.

Sorry now. Go back a minute. You were making the point earlier that writers couldn’t create original works and hold a down a job at the same time. You seem to be saying the opposite now.

What’s your view on Irish taxpayers financing Saoi’s to allegedly roger male Nepalese
teenagers Bengst?

Tony Cronin, when adviser to Haughey, suggested the setting up of Aosdana. Cronin was a close friend of Patrick Kavanagh, and had seen how Kavanagh struggled in later life to make ends meet, living in poverty at times. Cronin thought the idea of a stipend for artists who had created a significant body of work worthy and so Aosdana came in to being. If people think that a writer or artist who’s best work is behind them should, in their late 40s/50s etc, abandon their life’s work and return to the office, building site or farm from where they came from, fine. They won’t get the dole, never mind the medical card that the other elite get; the unemployed. Rent allowance, help with bills, back to school allowance for their kids…and you want to whinge about 133 artists who’ve contributed to the Irish cultural cannon? Shove your hands up your holes and pull yourselves together lads. And by the way, to qualify for the dole you have to be “available for work” And there’s the rub; the dole doesn’t recognise writing, painting etc, as work so where is a writer to go to make ends meet? Like it or not, warts and all, Aosdana is the best we’ve got for now. For a country that’s made so much from it’s dead writers it is only right that it provides financial support to it’s living. For fuck’s sake lads, get down off the cross, we need the wood.

Eamonn, of course, it all makes so much sense doesn’t it? After all, as soon as you sign on the dole they monitor you 24 hours a day and if they catch you creating art they take it away.
WTF? What’s to stop an artist signing on the dole? I know quite a few who are on the dole. In this current economy, they’re unlikely to be offered work anyway.

Also, most of the people I know who write or paint “full-time” are also working full-time as well. They’re the real artists, and the people who will actually make a contribution to society by being a living, breathing part of it as opposed to belonging to an elite clique of people who get to tell us what’s art and what’s not. That’s the whole point here; why should Aosdana get funding when everyone else doesn’t? Who gets to appoint these people as the chosen few? Is it the number of books/paintings they sell? The number of people who attend their launches / galleries? Or is it who gives the best handjobs at the Aosdana meetings?
According to Aosdana’s website, membership is by “peer nomination and election” i.e. it’s a Clique. And although you will find many prolific artists on their list of members, prolific !=good.

Well said, Eamonn. I’ve made the point above that writers and artists (and musicians and achievers in the performance arts) can be included in Invisible Exports as the literary-artistic reputation that Ireland has, partly boosted by Bord Failte/Failte Ireland publicity over many decades, draws tourists to Ireland including literary researchers who want to write scholarly books about cultural achievers.

Aosdana is elitist in that it is self-elective. So too is the French Academy (l’Academie Francaise). The writers and artists in its membership have been elected mainly for their accumulated achievement. Possibly the terms of membership could be altered so that anybody first elected under the age of, say 45, might have membership limited to ten years but could be re-elected to permanent membership in a secret ballot subject to review of work published since the first election.

Deviating a liittle from the topic I’d like to note that the term “creative writing” refers to literary works such as poetry, plays, stories, novels and literary biographies. I’d urge government to set up funding in terms of research grants, stipends and the like for published writers of nonfiction works on history, biography, philosophy, cultural criticism, media studies and economics, so that they can have the time and leisure to do the spadework necessary for writing on such subjects. I consider nonfiction to be Creative. The literary and artistic aspect of Irish culture has tended to overshadow the national and international image of Irish intellect to the neglect of the nonfictive aspect. I’d like to see the imbalance redressed.

Eamonn — Kavanagh struggled to make ends meet due to being a chronic drunk who couldn’t hold down a job because he was unemployable. He could just as easily have written his poems while working, as so many artists do when they can’t make a living from their output, but that wouldn’t have suited his inclination to hang around Baggot Street cadging drink from assorted ne’er-do-wells.

Why not have stipends for everyone? I know plenty of gifted conversationalists who enrich the world with their wit. Let’s keep them in drink-money too.

And plumbers! Some plumbers produce work that’s nothing short of sculptural. Let’s have a few bob for them.

And stonemasons.

What about chefs? Isn’t cookery an art? Let’s slip them a wad.

Wait now. Let me think. Comedians. Gardeners. Hairdressers. Tailors. Beauticians.

Accountants! What could be more creative than auditing an Irish bank?

See? And that’s before I even begin to start on mathematicians, physicists, chemists, cosmologists and travel agents.

No. Forget travel agents. That was a mistake.

I’m glad someone has begun this discussion. Every society needs to support art and artists – whether it’s painting, film, writing, music… but this closed club only supports those who have already been established and then limits new talent joining. Why don’t we learn from New Zealand and the Dutch who provide struggling artist’s with a form of dole, if they prove they’re professional and working. That would support artists at the crucial time when they’re starting out and the money could be given to those who deserve it. It would be means tested also – unlike Aosdana handouts, which are tax-free and guaranteed for five years regardless of income etc.

Unfortunately, no-one speaks out against Aosdana because if they did, they’d never get to join it. And its existence masks the need for real assistance for artists – in a way that would make them self-sufficient and help them to become financially independent.

There is an Academie Francaise, consisting of 40 members who elect new members after others have died. How should the Irish state honour artistic and literary achievement? Haughey was making up for historical state neglect of the arts and literature. Samuel Beckett had said, of cattle dealers in the Ireland of the 1940s, that “they don’t give a fart through their corduroys about literature and the arts.” He also meant the politicians of what was distainfully derided as a Grocer’s Republic.

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