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Visitor at the National Gallery

Opinion There should be no debate – artists need money, says Dorothy Cross

Iconic Irish artist Dorothy Cross says the debate on the economic value of the arts is a moot point.

Dorothy Cross, one of Ireland’s leading Irish artists, tells why the debate about the economic value of the arts should not even be an issue and why the amalgamation of arts institutions is a ridiculous idea:

WHEN I HEAR people debating the economic value of the arts my heart sinks – because I feel – why do we even have to talk about it. We shouldn’t even have to discuss it – it is worth funding.

I don’t even think that needs to be explained. It is as simple as that. You look at the history of extraordinary art we have in the world, whether it is the Pyramids or the Mona Lisa, whatever is your choice, it goes without saying that culture has to be funded or how else will it exist?

The importance of art

Art is important for the world. We shouldn’t just single out Ireland, art is important for the whole world. However, I don’t think that visual artists generate enough talk. I think we need to, because yes, in some ways we need to be invisible and while I never think art should be about the artist, it should be about the work, we need to talk about the works.

I don’t think that art works should be explained, but a conversation needs to be generated, this can sometimes be lacking. Art is often talked about how much it costs – but I think the reason I put myself out there into an awkward position, in terms of speaking, is because there is a responsibility around it.

I have as much difficulty speaking about visual art as anyone else, because visual art is visual art – it is not language based.

A drop in the ocean

But it is great to have someone like our president, Michael D Higgins, who understands the importance of the arts. It is brilliant we have a poet as our president – a friend of mine in the States was just saying how amazing that is.

I think yes, people are pinching for money, but money for the arts is really a drop in the ocean. It is terribly important for the people and our imagination -  can you imagine the Irish without imagination?

Of course you have to consider where the money is, but when you get to my age you hope you can survive without getting the help. It is hard to survive as an artist – but I think it always has been. I came back to this country in the 1980s and it was kind of a similar time. It is going to get tighter and tighter, there is no doubt about it. Institutionally I know people are afraid that their funding is going to be cut, but young artists who apply for a bursary for €5,000, it really isn’t a lot in terms of funding, but that is a goldmine for them.

If the focus can be turned to that rather than the focus being on the art that costs €100,000 then people will begin to understand.

I am not sure that the integrity of artist is any different than before the recession but perhaps more art will come out of this money-tight situation. In the boom time there was a lot of fluffy stuff around and I sympathise with young artists who were on the cusp of that wave and making money from that and producing art that didn’t particularly mean anything – but it was making them a lot of money. Now they are probably suffering more.

The art scene in Ireland is a vibrant scene probably even more so than when I returned from San Francisco. I wouldn’t separate it from anywhere else in the world. The young energy of making art here in Ireland should be nurtured.


There has been discussion about amalgamating the art institutions – the National Gallery, the Irish Museum of Modern Art and The Crawford Gallery.

I think that it is absolutely ridiculous and I don’t know who came up with that idea. I think there is too much meddling by civil servants and I think that it really needs to be looked into. There shouldn’t be this merging, generic nonsense of governmental notions – it’s ridiculous.

The institutions are bit removed from the melting pot of young vibrant art being created and one does worry when money is being spent on giant refurbishments and not on the art.

The desperation in modern life to simplify things is crazy, like trying to put all the institutions together – it’s madness. It will only make it more bureaucratic with more paperwork.

Dorothy Cross works in a variety of media including sculpture, photography, video and installation. Her work is included in the collections of the Irish Museum of Modern Art, the Norton Collection, Santa Monica, Ulster Museum, Belfast, Hugh lane Gallery, Dublin and the Tate Modern, London, among others.

She will be speaking at the TEDxDublin event, organised by The Science Gallery, this Saturday. TEDxDublin is hosted by The Science Gallery and is sponsored by Science Foundation Ireland.

Dorothy’s new visual book, Montenotte and Fountainstown, published by Occasional Press, is available to buy now.

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