September 22, 2003

Stupid Conservative Myth #4

I was going to say something about conservative idiots, but I guess if I've learned anything in the last couple of weeks, it's that they do just fine speaking for themselves. So. On to stupid conservative myth #4:

Liberals believe that there was no art before federal funding.

Objectively, I am certain that there is no one in existence who would make this claim with a straight face, but I guess it is fun to think liberals believe that. Of course, most great art occurs without any involvement from the public sector. But I will take the opportunity to probe the issue of whether federal funding of the arts is appropriate when budgets are being cut and we have huge deficits, etc.

First, I'd like to point you to a very good book, "Leaving Town Alive" by John Frohnmeyer, an Oregon Republican who was selected by George Bush Sr. in 1989 to head the National Endowment for the Arts. His writing is a better defense of arts funding than I can muster in a few paragraphs, and his story of conservative attempts to muzzle what they consider to be offensive art is funny and sad. It's unbelieveable how obsessed some of these Republican slackjaws are with homosexuality. Personally, I've never seen why it's such a big threat to society or marriage or whatever, but that's a topic for another myth.

For me, personally, I don't think it should be a huge priority, but I also don't think it should be zero. I think the government should play some role in helping artists establish some legitimacy through official recognition, and they can only do that through funding. A lot of times, private organizations will decide on what to fund by looking at decisions of the NEA, which pays various respected artists in a given field to form a panel of judges. Without the NEA's credibility, funding and organization, this sort of thing just wouldn't get done.

Art wouldn't wither on the vine without the NEA, but it would be less. I think part of our duty to humanity as a civilized country is to further art and culture in some sense. To help contribute something for future generations to learn from and appreciate. If 0.01% of the federal budget (which is within a factor of two of being mathematically accurate, actually) is going to the arts, that doesn't *seem* outrageous to me (but I do recognize my ignorance on this point). I've seen a lot of good stuff that wouldn't be as good (or even possible) without the NEA's backing and (more importantly) the NEA's recognition.

Another line of argument goes like this: Whom do we want to fund art in this country? People who happen to be wealthy enough to afford it or people who are in some sense "artistically literate"? I realize those two sets of people has some intersection, of course, but if we are going to fund art on some sort of subjective basis of merit, I would rather the decisions be made by the latter group. That can be done if art funding is done collectively, even at a very low funding level. Is 0.01% too high or too low? I'm not qualified to say, haven't looked into it enough.

Would I passionately defend the NEA's budget? If the chips were down and I had to make a choice between funding the NEA and funding school lunches or something, then yeah, the NEA is expendable. But we're a wealthy country, and it shouldn't come down to that choice.

At any rate, this leads to item #4 that good conservatives must believe:

The Arts Community is just a mutual affirmation society for queers and ivory tower liberals. The federal government should be prosecuting some of these artists, not funding them. We don't need any more art anyway.

Next up on the list: global warming. Pet issue of mine (toothy grin).

Posted by Observer at September 22, 2003 07:02 AM

Comments on entries can only be made in pop-up windows while those entries are still on the main index page. Sorry for the inconvenience this causes, but this blocks about 99.99% of the spam the blog receives.

I may be wrong, but I think conservatives are opposed to arts funding because of two reasons:

1) Giving people money to create art that will enrich humanity is bad... remember we must eradicate all traces of the government helping people because it's too close to communism.

2) Giving someone $10,000 to add some beauty to this world takes away from the billions of dollars needed to destroy humanity and bomb innocent people.

I must say that I hope Doc comes back. Many of these statements are nonsensical and we need him to explain what logic one needs to arrive at these conclusions. That is, if he's finished with the petty insults and threats.

We must seek to understand him. Otherwise, if we continue to insult him blindly, we are no better off, and no better than he is.

Posted by: TheLiberal on September 22, 2003 08:12 AM

No, they're pissed off at Maplethorpe. I'd have to agree that I don't call his work "art", but I'll readily admit I'm an unwashed ignorant savage when it comes to art.

I know what I like.

Posted by: Humbaba on September 22, 2003 08:58 AM

Actually, I think Mapplethorpe's "composition" was not paintings like "Piss Christ" or whatever but instead the incredibly angry reaction combined with censorship, etc. He played the ultimate joke on conservatives and made *them* the art. As such, it was probably one of the more effective, disturbing and interesting works of art in the last few decades.

Or I could be wrong and he's just a jackass.

Posted by: Observer on September 22, 2003 09:04 AM

There's a section of the artistic community whose entire goal is to do violence to what they perceive as long-standing and unquestioned ideas, in particular those having to do with beauty, goodness, virtue, etc. I genuinely believe that this is an essential thing in any society; it's your only hope for avoiding stagnation. If you think of it as I do, that these are people who are doing research into esthetics and doing consistency checks into our moral structure, I actually feel more kinship for them than I do for the bean-counter types. Note that "kinship" doesn't mean I necessarily like them or everything they produce. It means that I consider them brethren of the soul, people who are doing cutting-edge research in a regime different from the regime of objective knowledge that I used to consider my calling.

Almost by definition, this arm of the arts community is performing a function which social conservatives absolutely reject. In a way, that's their [conservatives'] function, too.

Thing is, it's the conservatives who (again, almost by definition) control the material resources of society, and who try to impose and maintain their beliefs upons everyone else by force (physical, social, financial). I've never heard of artist who tried to cram his work down your throat, or make what he considers proper respect for it compulsory under pain of death. (Well, a real artist, anyway; the insane Roman emperors don't belong in this category.) Conservatives consider that pain-of-death thing a standard tool.

Posted by: Feff on September 22, 2003 09:51 AM

While I think Maplethorpe is just laughing all the way to the bank, I don't think NEA needs any more oversight than they already have. I'm sure that less than 1% of NEA funding goes for crap I think is stupid, and that's better than most government programs.

More art is a good thing.

Posted by: Humbaba on September 22, 2003 10:20 AM

Looks like you survived your death deadline Observer! Kudos to you!

I feel that funding the NEA is a good thing also, though like you it is not a huge priority to me in the "grand scheme". I take a lot of art type classes at a locally coverted high school which is solely devoted to "the arts." The state of MD started this place and there are classes in everything ranging from opera, ballet, painting, photography, pottery, basket making to jewelery and stained glass.

I must confess to being a huge fan of Rembrandt, Gericault and Delacroix and other realistic painters, I hold no personal claim on knowing what is "good art". I think that art, like beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I just don't "get" Picasso, but so many others do and that's the beauty of art for art's sake. You don't need to be a liberal to enjoy the fruits of artistic labor. (I mean even conservatives go to films, right? making movies is pretty artistic I think... But then, I'm only a liberal...) :)

Posted by: Bav on September 22, 2003 10:34 AM

Glad you haven't up and expired on us, Observer.
Quite enjoying the myth-debunkings. Carry on : )

Posted by: Dandelion on September 22, 2003 11:32 AM

(satire)Well, I have a shotgun I bought when I realized Sarah would start dating soon. I'll be in a straw hat and overalls, rocking in a big chair on the front porch with a shotgun across my lap when the first boy comes calling.

I sat on my porch, shotgun in one hand and Al Franken's book in the other, waiting for an angry Doc to show up with his military training and guns blazing, but he never showed. Probably for the best because I didn't finish Franken's book and I really want to do that before I die.(/satire)

Satire tags included for the clue-impaired.

Posted by: Observer on September 22, 2003 01:17 PM

I anticipate this will be long. Forgive me.

People tend to forget that the NEA also funds things like major symphony orchestras, folk arts, literature, and museums. It's not all just wacko nutjob freak artists getting our dough. (labels light-heartedly included for the right-leaning :-D)

For a little over a year I sat on the board of directors for a non-profit arts organization. Ultimately, the org I was a part of wanted to be self-funded through donations and grants from individuals and private organizations. And for a number of years that had been accomplished - when the economy was flying high, and the number of competitors in our market was smaller. Now ALL of the choral organizations in Austin are struggling. Our most significant competitor is over $100K in the hole. We're only looking at a $14K deficit this year. We are lucky that the local arts folks are generous, and our city council gave us a nifty little bump-up in our grant this year. But we still want to wean ourselves off of the government teat again, one day.

I need to find the statistics again, but there are some startling differences between the US and "older" societies. First, our engagement in artistic culture is extremely different than that of Europe and Britain. A vast majority of Americans do not seek out "high art." Symphonies, ballets, operas, art galleries - these are often seen as something to be derided (and avoided) because these are the product of wealth. And of course a lack of arts education means a lack of interest due largely to ignorance. Art for the people (a la the artistic revolutions of the late 40's-60's) has been replaced again by art for wealthy patrons. (a la 17-18th century Europe and Britain)

This is not so much the case in Europe. The general population of Europe is much more in touch with artistic endeavors. Yes, there is still a bit of the wealthy patronage system, but there is much more arts education IN THE HOME in Europe and Britain. I see this as America's greatest artistic weakness. It's not so much that we don't have enough arts education in schools (and we don't), but our society in general is artistically stunted. And the only way to fix that is to keep funding arts programs, both in schools and in the wider community. In essence, the government is akin to the Esterhazy family in the 18th century, but with not quite so much censorship.

Here's a little tidbit from the NEA website: "The Endowment's Fiscal Year 2003 budget is $115.7 million, which costs each American less than 40 cents per year."

That sounds like a pretty good deal to me. Then again, that's misleading, since not every single American is paying taxes. It may be as much as, oh, $10 a year for each of us. I think that's affordable art.

Posted by: Perkusi on September 22, 2003 04:12 PM

For an extra $10 a month, I promize not to satirize you in print! Pay for a year and I'll cut $3 off!

Posted by: Polerand on September 22, 2003 04:35 PM

I don't go to symphonies, ballets, operas, and art museums because I find them boring.

That's not to say I don't think they deserve some funding, especially since it's cheap, just that I personall prefer a production like "Stomp" 100 times over something like the Bolshoi Ballet. (shudder)

Posted by: Humbaba on September 22, 2003 04:59 PM

Hummer, you are the exception regarding arts funding. If you listen to a lot of "conservative" talking heads, their point is that since so many people don't "like" that stuff, it deserves to die. To them it's all about the consumerist view. I'm glad you don't think the same way as they do about art!

Posted by: Perkusi on September 23, 2003 05:31 PM