Tell me who your artist is, I will tell you who you are

Tell me who your artist is, I will tell you who you are

The relationship between art and government is not a new topic, but this does not mean we will not discuss it over and over again. Come on, let’s discuss it.

During the Ottoman times, the palace was the center of literature. It had been this way from the beginning. However, it was Murat II who essentially made the environment prosper for literature.
He is the first person from the dynasty to cite a poem. He is the one who gathered poets twice a week. He is the one who gave gifts to the poets. He is the one who started a tradition of giving poets a salary.

If “cultural patronage” is in question, Murat II has been a valuable patron. Just looking at which poets he supported is enough to understand that: Şeyhi, Şeyhoğlu Cemali, Nakkaş Sâfi, Şemsi, Gelibolulu Za’ifi, İvazpaşa-zâde Ata’i, Hüsami, Hassan, Aşki and Bursalı Ulvi.

Murat II not only cherished them for their writing ability, but also for their wisdom. If not, would he have been thinking of appointing Şeyhi as a grand vizier? In the end, he did not appoint him, but he had the intention to do so for a while.

During the era of Sultan Mehmed II the Conqueror, there was a cutthroat rivalry with Iranian poets. This was a reflection of the effort to make Istanbul the world’s cultural center. 

Yes, there was a patron present, and that patron was the reigning power.

The expectation of this power was eulogies written by poets correctly. The poet had to be very talented and had to write top-quality pieces, otherwise, he could not have been present at the sultan’s side.

In the Medieval ages and during the Renaissance, the system was similar in the West when it came to art. The “patron” would give an order; he would select even the painter’s material. Artists were in the category of qualified workers or craftsmen using their skills.   

Renaissance artists worked quite hard to change this perception. They wanted to be perceived as thinking people and reformists.

Today, we look back at the past and mostly think it was the artists who made a piece so valuable when, in actuality, the name of the artists did not matter at that time. What made a piece valuable was that it contained gold, or the blue paint that was made from semi-precious material.  

In other words, we can say in the past, art was under the heel of political power in the East and in the West; in both places, submission was required. However, by the Ottomans, at least, even though artists had to serve the empire’s purposes, the skill of the artist was measured by his wisdom and the artist was glorified; in that sense the West was a notch behind.

(I know I sound like Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. I know I am talking in purple prose of “how magnificent we were in the past,” but these are the facts.)

Now, let’s come to today. The word ancestry is brought up repeatedly. Even during the opening ceremony of the Marmaray, the tunnel under the Bosphorus, there was reference to the dreams of the sultans.

When it comes to culture and arts, it is a huge fat zero we have.

The government can support arts, or course, and it should.

But will it do so with people like Ece Erken, Alişan and Acun? Or will it do so by introducing the new presidential office/residence, the Ak Saray, as a piece of art and the contractor as an artist?

If the president were collecting folkloric songs and, for example, cooperating with Yavuz Bingöl in that sense, then it would have been fine; everybody would agree to that.

However, when the outcome of this relationship is that Bingöl earns a sponsorship from the municipality for a concert, then no offense but, there is nothing like supporting the production of art here. The reason for this is that there is no production here.

What is happening is obvious out there; there is no need to spell it out.