Tijdens de open dagen van de Rijksakadmie van Beeldende Kunsten hield Gijs Scholten van Aschat de volgende Engelstalige speech.

Dear ladies and gentlemen, dear members of the Rijksakademie,

It’s a great honor and pleasure to address a few words to you on the occasion of the Open Days.

My name is Gijs Scholten van Aschat, I’m an actor and the president of the Society of Arts.

As you may know, the Society of Arts is a part of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences, and comprises 50 members from all fields within the fine and performing arts.

In that sense, you, the Rijksakademie and us, the Society of Arts, share common ground.

We both offer room for experimentation, thinking and reflection, which in times like these – destitute times, in which capital reigns freely – is desperately needed.

The Rijksakademie is an institute unique in its sort, and it is difficult to overestimate its relevance for the contemporary art world.

Can you imagine what it means to an artist to have two years of total freedom to experiment, discuss, fail, think, work, fail again, develop, start anew, and fail better? And all of that in a beautiful space, such as this one, with some of the most promising international artists, unencumbered by the vagaries of the everyday.

Yes, the Rijksakademie is one of the precious art institutes of which we, here in the Netherlands, have only too few.

The history of the Rijksakademie is well known. A brief glance at its former students suffices to see in what an enormous tradition the current fellows stand: Mondrian, Breitner, Berlage, Constant, Karel Appel, Sluyters, DerKinderen, Toorop, to name just a few.

One by one, these artists were to become visionaries who changed the direction that the history of art was to take. And thereby, they often changed our society as well.

While, looking back upon the achievements of the past may stimulate the machinery of our imagination, does it really lead us forward into a bright future?

I doubt it. For what awaits you, my fellow artists?

Having tasted from the forbidden fruit for a period of two years, you know what looms: the Fall from paradise.

Back to the real world.

What is the status of an artist nowadays in our society, is it Heaven or Hell?

You will be poorly underpaid, if you are paid at all; too worried with pressing social issues, to see life ticking away; and under ever increasing demands of production, competition and the laws of the market.

Why, in heaven’s name, would one like to become an artist?

Do you really realize that the world in which you would land after two most amazing years at the Academy, is one in which 500 year old paintings are sold for insane amounts of money? Only to be stowed away in a highly protected safe, never to be shown again to the world.

The art market is no different from the real estate market; only with great difficulty could one argue it is content-driven. You, young talents, are what the art world craves for. New artists, new artworks serve as the perfect investment, but it is also a world where your work gets more interesting when you are dead. Your death is a great boost for your career. We like to invest in dead people, not in artists that live. Artists that are alive can do strange things, and can worry society. But artists who are dead are very reliable and predictable and that is what society likes. And the best time to buy your work is when you are almost dead. Cutting of limbs and suicide are also great economic multipliers for your work

But you are not dead yet! Thank God you are alive and kicking

So let me be the devil’s advocate and ask you: Do you really want to create an exhibition on climate change or poverty in a museum sponsored by Audi or Mercedes Benz, while knowing that the people that you hope to change with your work hang on the couch, holding a glass of white wine and babble away about their second house in France?

And do you really want to participate in that unnecessarily preposterous ‘knowledge-production’, so perfectly portrayed in Ruben Östlund new film The Square, where the modern museum’s own rhetoric is discussed:

‘Exhibition/Non-Exhibition. From non-site to site, from non-exhibition to exhibition, what is the topos of exhibition/non-exhibition in the crowded moments of mega exhibition?’

No, those two examples are probably not what you want.

You want something else. That is what you are here for; to find out what!

When I joined the theatre school, I was asked the following question: ‘Do you love yourself in art, or do you love the Art in yourself?” And as the president of the Society of Arts people often ask me: "Why is Art important?’ Then, I sigh and think: If you ask me this question, it is probably a waste of time to answer it. But I have to, because I care.

I once wrote Geert Wilders a letter in which I invited him to spend 15 minutes with me in a space of James Turell. The space at the museum Voorlinden. For reasons that are obvious, I disagree with most of his ideas. He is a threat to art and to the freedom of art. But I asked him to simply sit opposite me in this space. In total silence. Just to look at each other. Unfortunately, he never answered my letter. And yet, I thought it could help.

Because, art can make a difference. In beauty and in consolation. In understanding life. In seeing things from a different perspective. In being brave. In showing concern. And in brutal confrontation.

The selfishness, the stupidity, and the lack of courage in modern politics to make fundamental changes for making the world sustainable and fair is, simply, beyond belief.

I always think that each big cooperation and/or government should have a professional jester in the board, an artist of life.

The fool who is paid by the CEO to tell him the truth that nobody in the board dares to tell him. The truth that his new idea stinks, his bonus is to high, and his leadership sucks. But also to tell him that he is outstanding if he makes a real difference.

We need art not only to help us to understand why we are here, but also to kick the bullies in the balls. We need art as the last man standing in a world where you can buy an opinion, a government a newspaper, where you can buy everything. Do not let the motherfuckers buy you, because if you are good that is what they will do. It is good to say no once in a while, to be a pain in the ass.

I tell this to you and I also address myself, because I too, say yes too often, I too am a bad example.

I think you who have this great opportunity to spend two years in artistic freedom, do not need guidance anymore in your expertise.

The fact that you were chosen to be here, tells enough.

The hardest part will come. Do I make the right choices? There will be a lot of decisions to make.   And as you are all different the outcomes will differ.

To be honest with you, all I can say is that you have chosen wisely.

I can think of nothing more rewarding than having a great show, producing a great work, whether it is book, a painting, an object or a play.

And all I try to say is that the key to survival, and ultimately to success as well, is to find the right balance between the Siren call of the market and maintaining your own identity. And even if your work happens to end up deep down in the archives and depot of a museum, don’t worry.

Remember that it happened to the best, perhaps even to some whom belong to the glorious past of this institute.

Think of what Ahmet Ögüt, in his Bakunin’s Barricade, did with works that were stowed away in the depot of the Van Abbemuseum.

Destined to sink into oblivion, in the depot, as no one was aware of them any more.

And then, with a single gesture, Lissitzky, Kokoschka, Picasso, Leger, Van Elk, Daniels, and Dumas were lined up on the streets.

They formed a barricade to block the road, and regained a value – of social importance this time – of which most artists could only dream. He made a contract with the van Abbe, if you want make a barricade for a protest of any kind you can get it.

So next time you hear someone bashing the contemporary art world, trying to throw you into an existential crisis, don’t believe him.

There is always hope, even when there is none.

Try to be true to who you are and do the things that make you happy. And look for people that make you happy. And do not listen to an arrivé actor who tells you what to do.

 

Embrace the paradox. Enjoy life. Cheers!